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

Our Opinion

We like
Flexibility, interior presentation
Room for improvement
Brakes, overly-soft suspension

1 Aug 2001

By BRUCE NEWTON July 18 2001

THERE'S been the safe Volvo, the environmentally clean Volvo, even the sexy Volvo. Now with the Cross Country, we've got the rough, tough off-road Volvo.

Well, rough and tough by Volvo standards anyway. The Cross Country for all its blacked out guards, big wheels, jacked up suspension and four-wheel drive would still have sand kicked in its face by any self-respecting LandCruiser.

Which is as it should be considering the Cross Country is what's termed a "soft-roader". That is a car that can go off-road, but not too far. Think of the Subaru Outback and Audi Allroad other examples of the same breed.

The Cross Country is not the first Volvo soft-roader. That was the V70XC, which appeared here in February 1998.

It was based on the front-wheel drive road-going V70 2.5T wagon and added just a touch of macho in an attempt to cash in on the explosion of interest in 4WDs that swept the USA and then the world in the late 1990s.

Based on the new generation V70 2.4T, the Cross Country takes the concept that little further, differentiating itself a little more from the donor car. Enough work's been done for the Cross Country to qualify for Australia's lower 4WD tarriff level.

That helps with pricing naturally, but the fact is both the base model and the up-spec SE aren't cheap - sitting about halfway between the Outback's value proposition and the Allroad's $100K exclusivity.

You get plenty for the money though. Both models share the 2.4-litre low-pressure turbo inline five-cylinder engine that is also seen in the S60, a viscous-coupled four-wheel drive system, a large and flexible five-seat body and a host of safety features including six airbags.

Comfort features include standard dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, AM/FM stereo system with radio cassette and CD player, cruise control, trip computer and power windows, mirrors and steering.

The SE adds alloy wheels, cross bars for the roof rails, heated front seats, leather upholstery, power adjustable driver's seat with memory, pollution-detecting active carbon filter for the air-con, and a ninth speaker and four-disc in-dash player for the Dolby sound system.

But the mere list of features doesn't do justice to the quality and presentation. The coarse stitching of the leather - meant to remind us of sailcloth apparently - is a distinctive and attractive feature while the seats are large, plush and supportive.

The controls and dash presentation are distinctly Volvo, which on the whole is a good thing as the functionality and quality is high. It's just that the stereo and climate control are bespoke items which means you have to have a study and a fiddle before working it all out. You might even - shock, horror - have to read the instruction manual.

There are few downers, like the number of blanks on the control panel the noisy sunroof and the grab-handle that sits too close to the driver's head.

But it's the flexibility that makes the interior a triumph. The rear seats perform all sorts of gymnastics - split-fold, flip up, fold forward - and even the front passenger seat tucks down to provide a flat surface for maximum space utilisation.

The luggage area is broad and flat with few intrusions and true carrying capacity - unlike some of its European bretheren - thanks to Volvo's dedication to the squared off rather than flowing rear-end design. Some things change, but some, thankfully, stay the same.

There's plenty of detail design that speaks volumes about Volvo's attitude too - height and reach adjustment on the steering wheel, cup-holders, coat hooks, elasticised pockets, 12-volt outlets galore, two pop-up kiddie seats and tie-down points in the rear.

There's a plethora of options too, including a double split-fold rear seat, a third row kids' seat, an electric cooler box, a PC table, a picnic table and so on and so on.

You could turn your Cross Country almost literally into a house on wheels - which is appropriate because the downside of this story is it drives a bit like one.

Volvo is not renowned for its dynamic abilities and the Cross Country is no exception to the rule. Its long travel suspension and quite soft set-up means there's plenty of bodyroll and wallowing, although annoyingly there's not enough payback in ride quality terms at suburban speeds, it's simply too jittery over most surfaces.

The steering is devoid of feel, the car a safe understeerer as speeds rise - to the increasing accompaniment of whine from the overly-noisy Pirelli Scorpian tyres. Grip levels are good though, and there's no doubt this is a trustworthy and benign device from that perspective.

But the brakes. In theory the set-up seems capable, but in practice we found them to be overly-sensitive to pedal pressure, the ABS anti-lock settings to be poorly tuned for Australian dirt road conditions and the stopping longevity lacking when asked to cope with a long, twisty downhill run.

The turbo engine is game enough and for the most part smooth - except for a couple of buzzy patches around 4500rpm and 5500rpm - but it struggles against the kerb weight of the Cross Country, which at 1700kg isn't outrageous but hardly makes it a lightweight either.

The engine does combine well with the five-speed automatic transmission with Geartronic semi-manual function, although there is some initial hesitation from launch thanks to the long-travel acclerator pedal.

Combine that hesitation with the over-sensitive brake pedal and you can spend your time in the suburbs rocking along - literally!

Get off the beaten track and the Cross country proves itself to be true to the "soft-roader" description. There's no low range, there's no traditional diff locks, and it shows. We were able to halt its progress over a small hill that any self-respecting true 4WD would eat before breakfast.

Ground clearance seemed to be better than the Subaru Outback, though, and it looks to be well protected underneath although a sumpguard is only optional.

Stick to the well worn tracks, however, and the Cross Country delivers relatively smooth and graceful progress. This car fits the bill for trips to the fishing hole, beach house or snow fields.

In those situations you'll probably love your Cross Country. And at least you won't have any trouble packing all you need to make it a great weekend!

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