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

Our Opinion

We like
Versatility, solidity, improved seats, ground clearance, performance, sound system, safety, extra equipment, value
Room for improvement
Minimal cosmetic changes, lack of change to driving experience, wooden cornering feel, huge turning circle, lack of suspension finesse - even with optional semi-active suspension, stability control not standard

19 Nov 2004

HANDWS-UP those who failed to identify the 2005 version of Volvo’s XC70, nee Volvo V70 XC.

Don’t go to the back of the class if you qualify, because you’ve got plenty of company. Only a geek would spot the visual differences between 2004 and 2005 XC70.

They are there, though, and if it interests you they identify a re-thought, slightly reconfigured XC70 that is available only in one version, the XC70 LE (for Lifestyle Edition).

The LE refers to the type of buyer Volvo is experiencing with its wagon-based medium-size SUV. Surprisingly high numbers, according to Volvo executives, actually do lead an active lifestyle that includes, exactly as the magazine ads suggest, surfing. Parents and teenaged children apparently gather regularly to seek the best waves, at the best surfing beaches, in their XC70s.

The 2005 edition is more a revisiting of something familiar than a new experience.

In this case that’s not a bad thing. It reminds you of the good and bad features of the V70-based SUV.

For one, the Volvo is a really good wagon. It’s solidly made, the seat-folding business is easily mastered and results in very handy load space, and there are the roof rails you’d except of something that purports to be at home on the surf coast.

There’s pretty good passenger space too, maybe not super generous in the back but certainly offering more rear-seat headroom than, say, the S60 Volvo sedan.

The front seats have been improved, apparently, but they were already pretty good anyway, and the new centre console contorts into all sorts of configurations so you can hold cups, butter a sandwich on the small tray or hook up your mobile.

The driveline remains the same - a Haldex AWD system that uses a multi-plate clutch to decide where the drive should be sent, and a turbocharged five-cylinder 154kW 2.5-litre engine that drives through a sequential five-speed automatic gearbox.

The all-wheel drive system normally sends about 95 per cent of power to the front wheels but will segue into a 50-50 split if necessary, progressively sending as much as 95 per cent to the rear wheels in certain circumstances.

It’s not as focussed an SUV as the larger XC90, but it does offer more security than a regular front-drive vehicle in slippery conditions. At about $8000 more than the front-drive V70 wagon, it’s the sort of vehicle that makes people think "why not?" – to the tune of around 600 sales for 2004 where the V70 will manage only about 100.

Not so long ago Volvo was selling about 1000 medium-size front-drive wagons a year.

To drive, the 2005 XC70 is no different to the 2004 version. It’s a jacked-up version of the V70, with a decent 205mm of ground clearance and the extra wheel articulation that goes with it.

This means a solid-feeling ride and a certain wooden-ness about the way it steers around corners. The XC70 is stolid and predictable rather than responsive and brisk.

Even with the optional Four-C semi-active suspension that regulates the shock absorbers according to what the driver wants (Comfort and Sport modes are available), the XC70 feels somewhat primitive.

The suspension can be heard and felt working away where most prestige-class competitors are remote and subtle. And it has that horrific Volvo turning circle.

The new S40-V50 series show the way future Volvo suspensions will work, not the current medium and large models.

The XC70’s engine, on the other hand, feels powerful, refined and relatively thrifty. It certainly handles the XC70’s 1655kg easily enough and there’s never any feeling it’s lacking punch.

As far as equipment is concerned, the standard high-tech sound system, sunroof, heated front seats, bi-xenon headlights, climate-control and Volvo’s family-friendly fold-out kid’s seats all make the 2005 XC70 very attractive.

But why electronic stability control remains an option at this level of the prestige market remains something of a mystery, remembering that Volvo has always taken the high ground on vehicle safety.

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