2008 Volvo XC70 – Snow-mobile

Looking rugged enough to grace a Mountain Equipment Co-op catalogue, the redesigned for 2008 Volvo XC70 hails from Sweden, a land that knows about a fate few Canadians escape – winter driving. A number of lukewarm reviews for this all-wheel drive station wagon have been written in sunny California, but what happens when the XC70 is held to a more Nordic standard of performance?

The XC70’s design might not pull the Swedish lads out of the hot tub, but it promises to get them to the cabin in style.

The look, part of Volvo’s renewed design vernacular, has classic 60’s hints in the hood folds, taper to the headlights and rear-end treatment, taking Volvo from flat-pack boxy to clean with an elegant flourish.

The XC70 features some robust and well thought out touches for “temperate” climates. Durable plastics clad the lower portion of the XC70 saving the paint from the ravages of salted and gravelled winter roads. The thick and deep paint resists chipping from rocks flung up by passing traffic. The rear side widows are equipped with defrost. Not to mention an ample 8-inches of ground clearance for when the land is covered with white, or worse, spring run off’s mud.

Breaking the promise of practicality is the XC70’s “softbeige” interior with the sinuous dash finished in textured brown. The light cream colour picks up smudges and grime instantaneously, and color scheme ages you 20 years even as you sink into the comfortable seats.

The colours will delight grandmothers and elderly queens, but outdoors enthusiasts will flock to other interior options.

Beyond the tone, the cabin is stylish, well appointed, and phenomenally comfortable. There’s crosshatched stitching on the leather upholstery. Storage cubbies are everywhere. The floating central console, housing audio and climate controls, defines Scandinavian minimalism and elegance. Better, its features are an intuitive antithesis of BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI.

Roomy? Think Halls of Asgård.

The XC70 seats four and cross country gear comfortably. With rear seats folded flat there’s 2,042 litres of storage – that’s a whole lot of Swix wax. At 6’2” I could comfortably sleep in the back – handy if you’re outdoorsy and want to forgo the tent, or fancy an upwardly mobile affair. From the outside no one would hear the noise, the insulation is near impenetrable. Doggers certainly would see the Scand-i-wagon a’ rocking though.

In Comfort Mode the electronically adjustable suspension is on the soft side of marshmallow, and the XC70 corners like a 300lb Drag Queen on an aquavit bender. It’s and odd feeling motion. In the turns the XC70’s hefty 1,891kg seems to pivot around the wagon’s front, an action paired with considerable body-roll.

OutDrive.ca tip: If you have children bring car sickness bags, or use the suspension’s Sport or Advanced Settings to reduce the yaw and roll through corners.

These settings, despite the incongruous labels for a wagon of this mass, transform the handling. The best cornering requires light, smooth, and constant acceleration though the turns. Regardless, the XC70 holds tight thanks to a slathering of traction oriented technologies; Dynamic Stability and Traction Control System, Electronic Brake Distribution, and Yaw Control.

Huffing the XC70 up to speed is a smooth 3.2 litre in-line-6 cylinder. This engine develops 235 hp at 6,200rpm and 236 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,200 rpm, but passes and hills reveal the XC70 is no Jack Rabbit Johansen.

For such athletics forgo the smooth shifting six-speed automatic transmission’s hunt for a non-existent optimal ratio and switch over to the manual-shift programming. The XC70 would benefit from less weight or more torque – the All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system capable of handling more power.

The Volvo began use of Haldex all-wheel drive systems in 2002 with the launch of the S60 AWD. Since then it has made its way across most of the Volvo line up. And as a measure of its effectiveness the Haldex system has even show up on the XC70’s corporate sibling, Land Rover’s LR2. Remarkably effective at playing torque ring-around-the-rosy, the system shifts power from slipping tires to those with traction. The result?

Equipped with Gislaved Nord Frost 5 winter tires the XC70 is more snowmobile than car.

In British Columbia’s central interior, privatization of “public works” has seen cost saving measures, like not plowing the “unnecessary” passing lanes. The XC70 executes 120kph passes in this snow and ice slurry with only slight float, causing Kevin to remark, “I wonder if you could rally one of these?”

Probably not, but the XC70 has authored a sporting moment in station wagon history – dropping a BMW 525xi in the snow-covered corners heading to Manning Park’s Cross-Country Ski area. The beemer made up the difference on the straights but didn’t seem to have the confidence in the turns.

Further off the beaten track, where urban SUVs fear to tread, the XC70 displays exceptional surefootedness on roads you’re hard pressed to walk down – steep gravel grades covered with ice, compact snow, and then a layer of fresh white for good measure.

While we were U-turning for a photoshoot on a steep incline, a local stops to ask if we’re, “Alright.”

He was in a 4×4 pickup, loaded with wood to keep the rear end planted and with chains wrapping the winter tires for traction.

From the Volvo we joke, “We can pull you out later if you get stuck.”

The coup de grace (or is that glace) is that the XC70 is as competent on hazardous downhills as up.

The transmission’s manual-shift programming allows you to avoid braking by downshifting seamlessly and smoothly, ensuring the XC70’s traction isn’t upset. Steep grades can be taken in 1st or 2nd gear, allowing engine resistance to handle the braking. The conditions requiring the XC70’s Hill Decent Control, lifted from Land Rover, must be truly terrifying.

The XC70 isn’t so much a car as a thesis on why you don’t need to buy an SUV. Many all-wheel drives, 4×4s, and SUVs have the aura of being ridiculously capable in winter conditions. The XC70 delivers.

Don’t feel too smug about not driving an SUV though, our XC70 gulped down an average of 12L/100km on the highway.

Recently a nice couple of ladies asked us to recommend safe SUV for their family. Before they land themselves SUV purgatory, we’d suggest the XC70. It’s bubble wrapped in safety.

There’s the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which uses digital cameras housed in the side-mirrors to detect vehicles in your blind-spot, then illuminates warning lights on the windshield’s A-pillars. The Collision Warning system uses radar to detect impending doom and not only sounds the alarm but prepares for panic stops by pre-charging the brakes. The list goes on; Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS), Inflatable Side Curtains (IC), driver and front passenger multi-stage air bags, Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) w/ Side Impact Air Bags (SIPSBAG). Strangely all the acronyms are more pronounceable than an Ikea catalogue.

At $59,145 our tester came with our two favourite automotive technologies. First there’s Adaptive Cruise Control that, unlike the regular system, is useful someplace other than crossing the prairies. Set your desired speed and the minimum time gap between you and the vehicle ahead and this radar driven brilliance not only adjusts the throttle, but also applies brakes if necessary, maintaining the optimal gap regardless of whether the traffic is flowing smoothly. The result is a relaxed drive in “slinky” traffic and improved fuel efficiency. Until the novelty wears off, be prepared for passengers to be asking, “Is that you braking, or the car?”

The second technology? Active headlights. The XC70 comes equipped with a set of Bi-Xenon blinders that swivel up to 15 degrees into your chosen path as you corner; a brilliant technology (pun intended) one hopes will percolate down to all ranks of autos.

We expected the 2008 Volvo XC70 to be so smothered in safety technology as to be completely lifeless. Instead what we found was a car that is absolutely spectacular for winter driving. That may not mean much in many parts of the world, but in Canada it can be more important than 0-100kph, torque or horsepower figures. The ten year-olds can keep their posters of Lamborghinis and Ferraris, but cross-country skiers and other winter drivers have a new pin-up in the 2008 Volvo XC70.

Model as Tested: 2008 Volvo XC70

Exterior Colour: Seashell
Interior Colour: Leather Softbeige

Engine, Driveline & Chassis

  • 3.2 Litre, in-line-6 cylinder engine
  • 235 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 236 lb. – ft. @ – 3,200
  • Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT)
  • 6-speed automatic transmission

Options as Shown:
Premium Package – $2,500

  • Leather XC Upholstery
  • Retractable Sideview Mirrors
  • Power Child Lock, Rear Doors
  • Power Passenger Seat

Luxury Package – $2,850

  • Four-C Active Chassis
  • Active Bi – Xenon Headlights
  • Parking Assist, Front and Rear
  • Two stage integrated child booster cushions
  • Rain Sensor

Convenience Package – $1,950

  • Privacy Glass
  • Homelink
  • Adjustable Speed Sensitive Steering
  • Grocery Bag Holder
  • Humidity Sensor
  • Power operated Tailgate
  • Private Locking, Trunk
  • Sunglass holder
  • Mass Movement Sensor
  • Level Sensor

Premium Sound System – $1,500
Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) – $750
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
with – $1,500
Collision Warning and
brake support (CWBS)
Personal Car Communicator (PCC) – $950
Metallic Paint – $650

Total: $59,145

For more information: http://www.volvocanada.com


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