The Volvo XC70 Cross Country can be a great substitute for a sport-utility as we found out on rough, rock-strewn trails in the Baja. The Cross Country 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 and agile handling of a luxury car, while coddling occupants in a luxurious leather cabin.
The Volvo V70 2.4 offers a smoother ride and front-wheel drive. The V70 T5 kicks it up a notch with sharper handling with the refined demeanor of a European luxury sedan; the T5 gets more power, sportier handling and other improvements for 2005. If that isn't enough for you, there's the V70R, a high-performance model with big Brembo brakes and a 300-horsepower engine.
The V70 and XC70 wagons are based on the same platform as Volvo's ultra-smooth flagship sedan, the S80. 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.
Safety is what made Volvo famous and the 70 series is no exception: 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 are designed to help drivers avoid accidents in the first place.
V70 2.5T ($32,110) has more power, using light-pressure turbocharging with intercooling to coax 208 horsepower from the same basic engine. Volvo's Geartronic automatic with manual override is standard. Befitting its extra brawn, the 2.5T comes with wider tires on 16-inch wheels, and adds power seats and automatic climate control.
For 2005, the V70 T5 ($36,010) comes with a more powerful 257-horsepower 2.3-liter inline five-cylinder engine with high-pressure turbocharging and the five-speed Geartronic automatic transmission. 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 Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) is standard.
XC70 Cross Country ($34,810) features advanced Haldex 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 pound-feet of torque. Cross Country comes standard with the Geartronic automatic transmission. The XC70 uses a simpler traction control system called TRACS; the more sophisticated DSTC is optional ($695). For 2005, the sophisticated Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) active chassis system of adjustable shock absorbers is available as an option ($995). The Cross Country comes with slightly taller P215/65R16 tires. Luxury appointments resemble those of the T5.
V70R gets a turbocharged, twin-intercooled 300-horsepower version of the 2.3-liter engine, featuring bigger brakes with four-piston Brembo calibers, a six-speed close-ratio gearbox, and the exotic active Four-C suspension system.
Many options and option packages are available. Premium Packages for each variation add leather upholstery, a sunroof and features that come standard on higher-level models. Leather upholstery is available as a standalone option for the T5 and XC70 ($1450) and V70R ($1550).
Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) may be added to the 2.4, XC70 or 2.5T ($695). A navigation system ($2120) is optional on all models.
Safety features include dual-threshold front airbags, dual side-impact airbags, front and rear head-curtain airbags, WHIPS active whiplash protection, and ISO-FIX and LATCH anchors for child seats.
The V70 is a sleek package that's been improved for 2005 with a new grille, new headlights and tail lamps. The V70 stretches long to form a wedge 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 (bi-Xenon lamps are optional) 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.
On the XC70 Cross Country, protective cladding rings the base of the body, matching deep front and rear bumpers, wheelwell 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 nose of the V70R is smoother, with a smaller, lower grille crosshatched in anthracite gray. There's an integrated spoiler with a large air inlet for the twin intercoolers. Strategic aerodynamic shaping of the spoiler reduces lift and increases stability at high speeds. There's an optional spoiler over the rear glass that, along with the Pirelli P Zero P235/45ZR17 tires, make this a conspicuously mean-looking wagon, especially in black.
The V70 2.4 we drove featured a nice interior, fully trimmed in optional 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 XC70 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, and the dark brown color was appealing. 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. We did not test this aspect of the seats, but Volvo is a leader in this technology.
The broad rear bench seat 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 seat also provides anchors for securing two different types of rear-facing child 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 ($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.
The best-selling model is the Cross Country. Volvo insiders tell us that active outdoors enthusiasts tend to buy the XC70, while Volvo's XC90 SUV is more popular among urban moms hauling groceries and kids around town.
To demonstrate how effective the XC70 Cross Country is off-road Volvo bravely took dozens of journalists down to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. During a seven-week period a gaggle of XC70s were thrashed over rocky roads used in the famous Baja 1000 off-road race. For two days each week these cars were driven by journalists at speeds up to 100 mph on the faster sections and crawling along at 20 mph in rock strewn tracks often washed away during several rain storms.
We, along with other normally jaded journalists, were astounded at how well the cars stood up to the brutal test. Yes, there were some punctures and one engine got damaged when an over exuberant journalist hit a rock at speed and punctured the skid plate under the engine. Yes, some of the cars were suffering from some squeaks in their shock absorbers. Yes, some had dings in the air conditioning evaporators located at the front below the radiators. However, all but one were in fine driving condition.
We attended the last of the three-day test drives, inheriting cars that had covered more than 2,000 grueling miles in the previous seven weeks. We immediately felt confident on the loose surfaces as the all-wheel-drive system automatically switched power to the wheels that had grip. Most of the time the system sends power to the front wheels. Our car was fitted with the optional Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) system, which further enhanced stability. Although we didn't want to push our luck, it seemed as if it was impossible to spin out even when going fast around sandy turns.
The XC70 we drove also had the optional Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) active suspension system, previously only available on the sporty V70R model. The computers continuously adjust the damping rates in the shocks so that the wheels stay in better contact with the ground for improved handling while also giving the vehicle a better ride.
After driving the XC70 across such a variety of tracks we would have no qualms tackling trips that most would only consider in an SUV or 4WD truck. We came away with the same opinion after driving an XC70 Cross Country from Anchorage to Fairbanks and on to Prudhoe Bay at the top of Alaska in February. Yet on dry pavement, the XC70 behaves like a sporty European sedan.
The least-expensive model is the Volvo V70 2.4, and we found it offered a nice smooth ride. 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, but with just 168 horsepower it lacks the responsive performance of the more powerful models. It was sluggish when quick acceleration was 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. If you're willing to shift gears, go for the manual transmission as it improves response. The other V70 models use turbocharged engines in various states of tune and are far more responsive. They also benefit from Volvo's more sophisticated Geartronic transmission. (The base model offers the regular five-speed automatic as an option.)
The T5 is lively and lithe with its bigger horsepower and tighter handling. It's an exciting car. Its high-pressure turbocharged and intercooled engine puts out 257 horsepower at 5200 rpm, and churns 243 pound-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 handles winding roads with precision and control. Push it 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 squat during hard acceleration.
Volvo's Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) 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. It is standard on the T5 and V70R, optional on other models.
All of these cars have great brakes, smooth and easy to modulate. The four-wheel disc brakes do a good job of slowing the car. Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) helps shorten 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 V70R pumps out 300 horsepower with its turbocharged 2.5-liter engine with a turbocharger having 20 percent more capacity and twin intercoolers. The engine delivers 295 pound-feet of torque with the new six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox, and 260 pound-feet with the five-speed automatic. Standard equipment includes electronic all-wheel drive, DSTC and big Brembo brakes with four-piston calipers, which stop the car fast and true.
The V70R is rock stead at high speeds. We drove one for hours on choppy, twitchy and undulating Nevada back roads. On one stretch of very remote road, dead straight with visibility for miles, we achieved a very high speed. Despite the undulations and patches, the V70R was rock steady. A button on the dash allows three settings, Comfort, Sport and Advanced, which address the shock stiffness and engine management. There is a distinct difference between the three settings, and each performs exactly as defined by the buttons. This means you don't have to suffer compromises with the ride of your car. You have a suspension that's soft when you want it to be, and stiff when you need it to be.
The Geartronic automatic transmission available for all but the base 2.4 model works very well. Put it in Drive and the shifts come in all the right places, and they are wonderfully smooth and tight. Most of the time we left it in Drive, but the Geartronic automatic features an enjoyable manual mode. It has a feeling of quality with short, precise selections. Slide the lever to the left to lock it in the manual-mode gate. Then push the lever forward to bump up a gear, or tip it rearward to shift down. In manual mode, Volvo engineers show respect for the driver with almost no programming of the transmission to shift on its own. However, the manual upshifts are too slow; there's a time lag between the lever movement and the shift itself. We found it works best to wait until we were ready to accelerate before downshifting, rather than downshifting sooner to use engine braking.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed this report from Mexico's Baja Peninsula; with Sam Moses in the Pacific Northwest and Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.
Model as tested
Volvo XC70 Cross Country ($34,810)
4 years/50,000 miles
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
Premium Package ($2995) 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; Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) ($995); Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) ($695); Climate Package ($625) includes heated driver and front passengers seats, headlamp washer/wiper, Rainsensor windshield wipers
Model Line Overview
Volvo V70 2.4 ($28,760), V70 2.5T ($32,110), V70 T5 ($36,010); XC70 Cross Country ($34,810); V70R ($38,750)
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
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
208 @ 5000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
Independent, multilink with coil springs
Independent, Macpherson struts
Independent, multilink with coil springs
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear