2003 Volvo V70 Reviews and Ratings

Wagon 4D XC Turbo AWD

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2003 Volvo V70
Mitch McCullough

Volvo wagons have never been better. Volvo's flagship 70 series wagons range from comfortable sophistication to off-highway capability to high-performance barnstormer.

The Volvo Cross Country can be a great substitute for a sport-utility. It boasts an elevated chassis for ground clearance, no-dent body armor to brush aside trail debris, and all-wheel-drive traction for slippery conditions. Yet it offers the smooth ride, agile handling of a luxury car, while coddling occupants in a luxurious leather cabin.

The Volvo V70 2.4 offers a soft, smooth ride and front-wheel drive. The V70 T5 offers stellar performance and handling with the refined demeanor of a European luxury sedan.

Volvo V70 and Cross Country wagons are based on the same platform as the silky smooth, flagship S80 luxury sedan. Their interiors are elegant and well designed. All are practical wagons with an adaptable seating arrangement and a cavernous cargo compartment complete with tie-down hooks and other useful accessories. Unlike many SUVs, the cargo floor is flat when all the seats are folded.

Add to that Volvo's traditional dedication to safety: Occupants are shielded by a safety-cell structure and active seats designed to prevent whiplash injuries. Airbags are positioned ahead, beside and above. Responsive steering, electronic brake enhancements, and optional traction control help avoid accidents in the first place.

Volvo has reduced prices across the entire V70 range, from $2155 to as much as $3355, depending on model. Leather upholstery and the sunroof are now optional.

Model Lineup
The Volvo 70 series offers a choice of engines, suspensions, and packaging.

Volvo V70 2.4 ($27,870) is powered by a 2.4-liter five-cylinder engine that develops 168 horsepower (165 in California) and drives the front wheels. It comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic is optional ($1000). Standard equipment includes power four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS, 15-inch aluminum wheels, and a long list of luxury, safety, and convenience features.

V70 2.4T ($30,870) uses light-pressure turbocharging with intercooling to coax 197 horsepower from the same basic engine. The five-speed automatic is standard on this model, while Volvo's Geartronic automatic with manual override is a optional ($200). Befitting its extra brawn, the 2.4T comes with wider tires on 16-inch wheels, and adds power seats and automatic climate control.

V70 T5 ($33,870) comes with 247-horsepower 2.3-liter inline five-cylinder engine with high-pressure turbocharging and a five-speed manual gearbox. The Geartronic is available as an option ($1200). The T5 also comes with firmer suspension settings and wider (P215/55R16) tires for a sporty flavor, and adds a few more comfort/convenience items to the standard-equipment list. Volvo's DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) is standard.

XC70 Cross Country ($33,870) features all-wheel-drive, a higher ground clearance, a front skid plate, and unique appearance and trim items. It is powered by a 2.5-liter inline-5 with light-pressure turbocharging, developing 208 horsepower and 236 pounds-feet of torque. Cross Country comes standard with the Geartronic automatic transmission. In its luxury appointments the XC70 resembles the T5, but it uses a simpler traction control system (called TRACS, with the more sophisticated DSTC as a $695 option) and slightly taller P215/65R16 tires.

V70 2.5T AWD ($32,620) shares Cross Country's all-wheel-drive system, as well as its 208-horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged engine and Geartronic transmission. Otherwise the 2.5T AWD is equipped the same as the front-drive V70 2.4T

A long list of additional options and option packages is available. Premium Packages for each variation add a sunroof and leather upholstery, plus a selection of the comfort and convenience items that come standard on higher-level models. (Premium Package prices range from $1995 for the T5 to $2995 for the basic 2.4.) Volvo also offers leather as a stand-alone option for $1450 in the T5 and XC70, $1400 in other models.

Volvo's computer-linked Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) system may be added to the 2.4, 2.4T, or 2.5T AWD ($695). A navigation system ($1895) is optional on all models. Also available is Volvo's new On Call telematics system with a mobile phone ($835).

All V70s uphold Volvo's tradition of safety, with dual-threshold front airbags, dual side-impact airbags, front and rear head-curtain airbags, WHIPS active whiplash protection, and both ISO-FIX and LATCH anchors for child seats.

The overall shape of the Volvo V70 looks boxy at first, but closer scrutiny reveals styling innovation for such a large package, and an aggressive stance due to a relatively wide track. There's also something here that was missing from the typical tank-like shape of previous Volvo wagons: shapely curves.

The V70 stretches long to form a wedge silhouette that's cocked high at its boxy tail but slammed low in front for a tapered nose, capped by Volvo's signature diagonal-slash grille. Hard creases in the bowed hood thrust the grille forward as the leading edge of the vehicle. Headlight clusters unified behind curving polycarbon lenses notch into recesses flanking the grille, while body-colored bumpers trimmed with black molding wrap around the V70's face to meet the front wheel wells.

Roof pillars and side glass curve inward to meet the roof panel, softening hard corners and diminishing the visual massiveness of the wagon's rear bay. The rear liftgate also bows slightly in a curvy profile, but maintains an essentially vertical plane to maximize interior cargo space. Composed of steel-reinforced polyresin fiberglass, the back door tucks between two thin vertical taillights that boldly extend from bumper to roof. We pulled an empty car trailer with a Cross Country and appreciated the high-mounted taillamps.

On the Cross Country, protective cladding rings the base of the body, matching deep front and rear bumpers, wheel-well flares and door sills. The molded cladding contrasts with the painted metal upper surfaces to create the illusion of an even higher stance. The plastic compound is tinted a dark shade so off-road scrapes and scratches will not be obvious. On the roof, a pair of rails linked by two sliding cross braces form a flexible car-top carrier for extra cargo or sports equipment such as bicycles and kayaks.

The stylish interior of the Volvo 70-series models features rich appointments with an understated air of elegance. Muted tone-on-tone colors are enhanced by sparing touches of ersatz redwood trim (optional on 2.4, standard on the others). It's a clean design, with buttons and switches in logical positions and analog gauges housed in an uncluttered instrument panel. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is now standard in all V70 models, along with a single-disc in-dash CD player.

The V70 2.4 we drove featured a nice interior, fully trimmed in leather. It was well appointed and nicely trimmed, though not at the levels of the T5 model. Like the other models, the V70 2.4 has great heating, ventilation, and air conditioning controls on Volvo's nicely textured, flat-charcoal panels. Controls for front and rear defrost and seat heaters were easy to find. Volvo's cupholder for the driver is cleverly designed and takes up little room when not being used.

The Cross Country we drove came with the Premium Package, which includes leather upholstery, eight-way power for both front seats, a power tilt-and-slide moonroof and a trip computer. The seats were plush and luxurious. Their dark brown color was very appealing to most people. While some of us prefer lighter shades, others loved the dark brown in the Cross Country. The seats are extremely comfortable. They are intelligent seats, loaded with technology designed to enhance safety. The front seatbacks incorporate mechanisms to guard against whiplash from a rear-end impact. During such a crash, the seatback moves rearward to reduce acceleration forces on the rider's back and neck, as the headrest pushes forward and upward slightly to meet the neck and head as they are thrust backward.

The broad rear bench fits three adults comfortably, and features three-point safety belts for all three positions. It splits 60/40, and each individual section can be flipped forward to form an extension of the flat cargo floor to the rear. The rear bench also provides anchors for securing two different types of rear-facing child's safety seats. One style fits infants weighing up to 20 pounds and another suits a toddler up to 40 pounds.

The cargo area is perfectly flat, unlike that of many SUVs. The back cargo bay can be fitted with available convenience items from Volvo, like a container for shopping bags or a table that pops up from beneath the second-row seat, for use with an optional third seat sized for children. A Versatility Package ($1250-$1300) includes the third seat with integrated booster seat, the folding table, and a 12-volt outlet.

Appointments in the Cross Country we drove included power operation for virtually everything, as well as automatic climate control. It had the premium 200-watt stereo with Dolby Pro-Logic Surround Sound and a four-CD changer ($1,200). Volvo has its own approach for channel presets, understandable once learned, but most of us don't need to save 20 stations. Audio controls on the left side of the steering wheel work well, with cruise control buttons on the right.

Driving Impressions
The driving experience of the Volvo V70 wagons varies by model. The V70 2.4 is soft and smooth. The V70 T5 is firmer and sportier. The Cross Country is firm, but doesn't have the sporty crispness of the T5. Engine response varies by model as well.

The Volvo V70 2.4 rides very nicely. Its soft suspension dampens bumps well. The tradeoff is that it leans in corners and the nose dives under hard braking. The base 2.4-liter engine works great on the highway. With just 168 horsepower, however, it lacks the responsive performance of the more powerful models. It's sluggish when quick acceleration is needed for low-speed maneuvers around town or in stop-and-go traffic. Depending on your temperament, driving style and patience levels, you'll either find it fully adequate or sluggish and slow to respond.

The other models use turbocharged engines in various states of tune and are far more responsive. The Cross Country, for example, has plenty of power with strong torque. We used it to pull an empty car trailer and couldn't hardly tell the trailer was back there.

The Geartronic transmission works well. The shifter has a feeling of quality with short, precise selections. The manual mode can, at times, be enjoyable. We found it works best to wait until we were ready to accelerate before downshifting, rather than downshifting sooner to use engine braking.

On pavement, the Volvo Cross Country behaves like an agile European touring car, with a plush but firm ride quality and quick steering responses. It was very stable. Away from the pavement, the XC70 changes character and acts more like an off-road vehicle, thanks to its elevated chassis, nubby Pirelli Scorpion tires and an all-wheel-drive system that automatically channels engine torque to the wheels with the best traction.

That all-wheel-drive system is all-new for 2003. Previously, both all-wheel-drive V70s used a viscous coupling to direct driving torque where it could do the most good. But that setup has been replaced by an all-electronic system from Haldex, the same system Volvo uses on the S60 AWD and flagship XC90. According to Volvo, the Haldex system reacts extremely quickly to wheel slip, routing power to the wheels with greater traction almost instantaneously: just one-seventh of a wheel rotation to be exact. The system is fully automatic; no input from the driver is ever required.

The performance-oriented T5 delivers sheer driving excitement, handling kinks and curves with precision and control. Its lively kick and lithe attitude kindle a soothing sense of confidence.

The T5's high-pressure intercooled turbo-motor puts out 247 horsepower at 5200 rpm, and churns 243 pounds-feet of torque across a flat band spread between 2400 and 5200 rpm. Turbo lag is minimized and, with high torque at relatively low rpm, this engine impressed us with its performance and quiet demeanor.

The T5's available five-speed manual gearbox, rarely found in a wagon, has a sporty short-throw stick for crisp control. The optional five-speed Geartronic automatic allows shift-it-yourself maneuvers by simply throwing the gear selector lever to the left and locking it in the gate. Then push the lever forward to bump up a gear, or tip it rearward to shift down.

Push the T5 through downhill curves and it remains anchored to the pavement, with the body maintaining a level stance. There's little lateral lean through the turns, and scant dive from the nose when standing on the brakes. Nor does the tail dip during a sudden acceleration.

Volvo's Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) is standard on T5. It employs an on-board computer and various motion sensors tied to the anti-lock brakes. This sophisticated device monitors the vehicle's forward progress and, if potentially dangerous oversteer or understeer is detected, acts automatically to correct the instability by braking one or more wheels.

All models come with great brakes, smooth and easy to modulate. Four-wheel disc brakes do a good job of slowing the car, and electronic brake distribution (EBD) ensures shorter stopping distances by directing the braking forces to the tires with the best grip. ABS kicks in when needed to help maintain stability and steering control on pavement as well as dirt.

The Volvo 70-series wagons are luxurious and enjoyable to drive. The base model offers a smooth, soft ride, but the engine lacks the sporty response of the other models, which come with turbocharged engines.

The all-wheel-drive XC70 Cross Country offers many of the sure-footed benefits of a rugged sport-utility, but without an SUV's poor ride quality and sluggish handling traits. It comes with body armor and a tall suspension for easy off-road forays. Yet on pavement it delivers the plush ride of a refined European touring car. Its engine is responsive. It features luxurious appointments in a spacious passenger compartment.

T5 is an agile car, capable of sporty moves and high performance, but it's easy to control and exudes the flavor of a plush luxury sedan. It comes with a powerful 247-horsepower engine.

Model as tested
Volvo XC70 Cross Country ($33,870)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Torslanda, Sweden
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Premium Package ($2595) includes leather seating surfaces, power tilt-and-slide moonroof, trip computer, eight-way power passenger seat; Touring Package ($795) includes Air Quality System, auto dimming interior rearview mirror, Homelink transmitter, laminated security side windows, cargo protection net, grocery bag holder; Premium audio system with four-disc in-dash CD ($1200)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
V70 2.4 ($27,870), V70 2.4T ($30,870), V70 2.5 T AWD ($32,620), V70 T5 ($33,870); XC 70 Cross Country ($33,870)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags, side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, 3-point front seatbelts with adjustable anchors, front seat Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS), rear seat ISOFIX child restraint anchors, ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD)
Safety equipment (optional)
2.5-liter dohc 20-valve turbocharged inline-5
5-speed Geartronic automatic

Specifications as Tested
electronic climate control, central locking system with keyless entry, security system with battery back-up siren, exterior approach lighting with mirror puddle lamps, fog lights, roof rails, power heated exterior mirrors with memory, power windows, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, AM/FM/CD/cassette with six speakers, power sunroof, eight-way power driver's seat with three-position memory, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob

Engine & Transmission
2.5-liter dohc 20-valve turbocharged inline-5
Drivetrain type
all-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
208 @ 5000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS, EBD
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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