There was a time when having a new Volvo wagon in your driveway said something about your personality. Those stereotypes were based on something, after all.
But today, there are no conventional wagons in Volvo's North American lineup, which doesn't bode well for that stereotype's future. All we're offered, at least for now, is the butched-up XC70 you see here. Sure, it shares its body, interior and powertrain with the V70 that's still sold en masse in Europe, but the XC70 is Volvo's un-wagon wagon.
To spice things up, Volvo has teamed up with Polestar, its Swedish-market racing partner, to add a little oomph
to the XC70 T6. We decided to check it out.
What is it?
A direct descendent of the 700 and 900-series boxes that still adorn left-leaning neighborhoods across the country, the XC70 is a kissing cousin of the more conventional V70 that was dropped from the United States a few years ago. The culprit? Weak demand, something that couldn't have been said about Volvo wagons 15 years ago.
Closely following the concept that made the Subaru Outback
a success, the XC70 is essentially a V70 with a slightly raised suspension, a body kit and, in the case of our tester, optional all-wheel-drive. A naturally-aspirated 3.2-liter inline-six is standard, while the range is topped by our as-tested 3.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged inline-six denoted by the T6 badge. Only the 3.2 is offered with sunbelt-friendly front-wheel-drive.
For 2012, buyers can opt for a $1,495 factory-installed ECU software upgrade from Polestar that ups horsepower to 325 (from 300) and torque to 354 lb-ft. (from 325). Despite the power increase, the XC70's 17/23 mpg EPA-rated fuel economy is unchanged.
In addition to the Polestar package, our XC70 came loaded up with every available option short of radar cruise control (and the kitchen sink).
What's it up against?
With its distinctively "tall wagon" appearance, the XC70 is short on direct rivals. A loaded up Subaru Outback is considerably less expensive (and less luxurious), which means that the XC70 winds up rivaling more traditional crossovers and SUVs.
Think Acura RDX
, Lexus RX 350
, Jeep Grand Cherokee
, Land Rover LR4
and Cadillac SRX
and you're on the right path.
The smaller A4-based Audi allroad
that's just now hitting dealers isn't really an XC70 rival despite its similar positioning.
How does it look?
From every angle, the XC70 looks like the butch wagon that it, well, is.
Unpainted grey body cladding dominates the lower half of our XC70 tester's squared-off curves. Still heavily influenced by the 1999 S80 that pulled Volvo out of its box-it-came-in design language, the XC70 boasts deep haunches and relatively squinty tail lamps just like that original Peter Horbury-penned design.
While the shape is starting to go grey around its temples, we generally think the XC70 is a classy-looking wagon. Some thought that the tall suspension gives it a sophomoric look, but nearly everyone was a fan of the detailing. In addition to the matte silver accents that keep the cladding from looking too dour, the XC70 boasts bold, tall tail lamps, retro-inspired wide spacing for its V-O-L-V-O tailgate logo and razor-sharp alloy wheels.
It's clear that Volvo's designers didn't sweat the small stuff, and that's important considering this vehicle's premium positioning.
And on the inside?
A minor dashboard update for 2012 brought with it a new LCD screen with the same infotainment system that could already be found in the S60 and XC60. The screen is commandingly integrated into the top of the dashboard, where it doesn't feel like the add-on that it is. From there, the Volvo-standard "floating" center stack features a myriad of small but logically grouped buttons and knobs surrounded by an ultra-glossy burled wood trim.
The driver faces a thick-rimmed leather steering wheel, through which some of the industry's cleanest gauges are readily visible. Like Volvos of yore, the XC70's big seats are exceedingly comfortable. In keeping with the slightly rugged theme, XC70s gain a thicker cross-stitching than is seen in other Volvos, but that's as far as the rugged cues go inside. Nifty pinstripe floor mats add a little flair.
Rear seat leg room is a little weaker than the XC70's exterior dimensions might imply, but there's plenty of shoulder space and our tester included a pair of integrated bolsters for wee ones. Out back, there's no longer a third row, but cargo space is expansive and we really like the innovative fold-up grocery bag holder (see photos). Insert your own Ikea cliche here.
For the most part, there's little to complain about with the XC70's basic interior layout and design, especially its excellent materials and assembly quality. We wish we could say the same for the infotainment system. Though the screen is crisp and menus are easy enough to navigate, the hardware occasionally lags and there are a few annoying quirks that could easily be fixed. Change the volume and you'll have to wait a couple of seconds before switching stations. And if you want to switch between satellite radio presets, you'll have to do so from the console; the steering wheel controls act like a tuner. Oddly, this isn't the case in FM or AM mode.
At least sound quality through the no-name audio system was stellar.
But does it go?
You might not realize it, but Volvo has a real history of making hot, turbocharged wagons, beginning with a few boxy zingers in the 1980s and continuing through T5 and R-badged models in the 1990s and early 2000s. But then, just when the automaker's best performance engine arrived, the wagon segment declined. Luckily, that's not the case any longer.
Volvo's 3.0-liter twin-scroll inline-six is one of our favorite engines, even when it is burdened with 4,150 lbs. of XC70. Mated to a syrupy-smooth shifting six-speed automatic, the turbo six proved more than up to the task at hand. Mid-range acceleration was sublime, and unlike some turbocharged engines, we found plenty of power available right at throttle tip-in. In fact, the XC70 exhibits none of the lag seen in Volvo's smaller five-cylinder turbos. With its smooth and torquey power delivery, the 3.0-liter feels more like a small V8.
That's not to say that the XC70 is anything like a sporting car, however. Its steering is precise and nicely weighted but milkshake-like in its ability to transmit road feel. So too the softly sprung suspension. Though it absorbed a rutted doubletrack off road trail with aplomb, we thought the springs felt like they were a little too eager to rebound. In turn, this gives the XC70 an unnecessarily complex ride, where every bump is felt even though none are jarring. Pricier midsize sedans and wagons from German rivals offer a little more ride quality sophistication.
The highway is where the XC70 really shines, however. The tall wagon tracks arrow straight with only a modicum of road noise whispering through. Despite the Polestar power boost, we had no problem besting the EPA's 23 mpg highway figure. In mixed driving, we netted closer to 20 mpg. With this kind of power on tap, that's pretty impressive.
Why you would buy it:
It's the last of the Volvo wagons - and it's a pretty darn good one at that.
Why you wouldn't:
It's still a wagon and that's just not something you want to be seen piloting.
Leftlane's bottom line
Enthusiasts love wagons, even though they don't generally buy them. That's a shame, since they began to fall out of favor with the mass market the moment the first Ford Explorer
That leaves the XC70 as an outlier, even though it would have been mainstream a decade or so ago. If your tastes run toward the premium end of the market and you're looking for one of the most quietly refined, upscale people haulers out there, look no further. And select the Polestar package since it makes a terrific engine even better.
2012 Volvo XC70 T6
base price, $39,100. As tested, $49,070.
Platinum Package, $4,550; Climate Package/Xenon headlamps, $1,800; Blind Spot Monitor, $700; Metallic Paint, $550; Polestar Performance Package, $1,495. Destination, $875.
Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.