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Car reviews - Volvo - XC70 - D5 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Attractive and well laid-out interior, excellent fit and finish, diesel’s economy and mid-range torque, Volvo attention to safety detail
Room for improvement
Less than silk-smooth engine, slow transmission response, steering feel and handling, space-saver spare

Volvo logo14 Aug 2008

IF THERE are two things Volvo does very well, it is station wagons and safety. Practical, well-executed wagons are a trademark Volvo thing: like clockwork, every Volvo wagon that comes out is as good if not better than its predecessor in its practical people-hauling nature and safety is never compromised.

Even though many other manufacturers have caught on to what Volvo is doing, the Swedish company is still among the best in the business for conveying the family in safety and comfort.

There are plenty of SUV competitors vying for the same buyers that Volvo hopes to sign up to XC70.

While anything in the loosely termed ‘luxury SUV’ market - from a Jeep Grand Cherokee to a BMW X5 - offers similar levels of equipment for a roughly similar price to the top-of-the-range XC70 D5 LE ($66,950), now that the Honda MDX has gone, there is nothing that has the same all-wheel drive wagon-on-stilts feel of the XC70 in the luxury market, and especially not a diesel.

Not only is the new XC70 interior one of the best in the business for its satisfying and practical features, it manages to have the hewn-from-rock, expensive ambience of a much more costly car, too.

Even though improvements in design, technology and materials means even a humble Kia can look pretty sharp on the inside, the Volvo is a genuine class act.

While such things can be quite subjective, there is a real sense of style to match the Volvo’s quality. This is not the most flamboyant mobile lounge suite you’ve seen, but it is certainly one that makes you feel you’ve spent a lot more money than you have.

The front seats are well contoured and supportive, but have soft padding in Volvo tradition. You don’t quite feel as if you should plump the cushions before sitting on the seat, but the slightly softer top padding makes these plush seats seem more like a lounge than car seats, and the heated front leather is a boon on cool winter mornings.

Like previous Volvo wagons, two child booster seats are equipped in the outboard positions. Legroom is tight for adults when the front seats are set back, but the seat itself is supple and supportive.

The seat split-folds in one-third sections, which adds to versatility, but Volvo charges an additional $250 for a centre armrest with integral cupholders.

Volvo has allowed acceptable rather than generous storage space, with a deep-lidded centre bin and ample door pockets.

The vision out of the Volvo is very good for such a wagon, with the rear bench easier than most for the driver to see over to the deep rear window when reverse-parking.

The centre head restraint is recessed into the seatback when not in use and the outer head restraints are not the huge tombstones some manufacturers insist on fitting. Side mirrors are usefully large and the only blind spot is at the rear three-quarters.

The cargo area is a wide if not especially tall squared-off space and has a cargo blind standard, but for all the Volvo’s safety features a cargo net is on the options list at $295.

The (space-saver) spare tyre is fitted underneath a storage tray under the false floor. The floor section is quite large, and would be heavy to lift - except that Volvo has fitted a neat hydraulic strut to make it much easier.

The bonnet is also strut-mounted and Volvo has chosen an open position that allows good access to the engine bay but requires a tall garage ceiling to open it in, and anyone short in stature will find it quite a stretch to close the bonnet.

The D5 turbo-diesel is the same unit used across a spread of Volvo vehicles. It is a promising engine on paper, and the way it delivers its power and torque is very good - there is only minimal lag and the engine spins up to its 4800rpm change point eagerly and easily.

The D5 is not nearly as smooth as many of its better diesel competitors though, with a lumpy idle and a coarse, five-cylinder roar though the rev range that you’ll either love or hate.

The level of noise is not a conversation stopper but just an observable contrast in sound and feel coming from the engine bay, compared to the otherwise hushed, high-class feel of the cabin.

Fuel consumption on test averaged 11.2L/100km in town, with 8.5L/100km achieved on the highway.

The six-speed Aisin-Warner auto has a manual mode but no sport mode. The box is smooth but not smart - it take an age to kick-down a gear - unless you floor the throttle - and has a weird, hunting sensation when accelerating through the lower gears as if the torque converter can’t make up its mind to lock-up or not.

The auto is adaptive, but seems a slow learner. Without a dedicated ‘sport’ mode, you have to use manual mode to get crisp kick-down. The manual mode doesn’t hold gears to the 5000rpm redline, upshifting automatically 200rpm short of that point instead.

The XC70 is a little disappointing through the corners, with an ample degree of body lean and steering that lacks much feel at all.

Press-on though your favourite twisting road and you are never completely sure what the front wheels are up to, and despite the all-wheel drive system there are twinges of torque steer when accelerating on uneven surfaces. The XC70 is rather nose-heavy, too, in tight corners.

Grip levels are more than enough in the hands of the average driver and it is only really in press-on conditions on twisting roads that you begin to notice the lack of dynamism in the XC70.

At least ride quality is good, with the supple and quiet suspension only marred by a slight floating sensation on some roads, serving as a reminder that this suspension is tuned for boulevards, not backblocks.

The Volvo has a Haldex clutch-operated four-wheel drive system, plus a conventional, single-range automatic transmission and a decent 210mm of ground clearance. The air intake in positioned at headlight height, so shallow water crossings will not be an issue (the water crossing height limit is 300mm).

The underbody has all vital components tucked up out of harm’s way but you would not try being aggressive on a rocky trail or on the dunes with the XC70 as the turbo intercooler is positioned low down behind the nose of the car, just above the lower engine cover. It wouldn’t take much to damage it off-road.

The XC70 is no better or worse than most of its soft-roader competitors. In the hands of the right driver it will go all sorts of places off-road but for most owners a realistic proposition would be threading this $70,000 car though a light forestry track at the most, and not shot-putting it through the Simpson Desert.

The XC70 is a very appealing family wagon that signs off on its core responsibilities extremely well - carrying a family in comfort and safety - though keen drivers may find that one of the most solid, comfy and classy lounge suites on wheels doesn’t actually like to be hauled around in a hurry.

The Volvo may have lost a bit of handling finesse from the previous model, but it has gained a whole lot more interior polish and though not cutting-edge in refinement, the D5 diesel performs very well.

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