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Right on the heels of our 2008 Volvo V70 review comes the 2008 Volvo XC70, basically the same car but with some off-road gear. The V70 impressed us with its performance and considerable high-tech safety options, and the XC70 has similar attributes, but where the V70 was definitely asphalt-bound, the XC70 feels as if it could go anywhere.
The XC70 is raised up higher than the V70 and has all-wheel drive. Other than that, it uses the same engine and transmission. Its cabin electronics options are all the same as with the V70. Where our V70 tester was stripped down, our XC70 came with the premium Dynaudio audio system. We also had an interesting addition in the form of a Garmin Nuvi 760 portable navigation device, a dealer option.
Test the tech: Supreme Court of sound
With the premium stereo system in our 2008 Volvo XC70, we subjected it to the golden ears of our CNET colleagues, Donald Bell from CNET's MP3 player channel and Kurt Wolff and Anngie Dehoyos from CNET Music Downloads. The system in question is powered by a 5x130 watt amplifier with Dolby ProLogic II surround sound. It gets 12 speakers from Danish audio company Dynaudio, packing a tweeter in each A pillar, a mid and a woofer in the front doors, a tweeter and a woofer in each rear door, a subwoofer in back, and a center fill in the dashboard.
The system allows for a great degree of tweaking, with five-band equalizers for the front and rear. There are also simple bass, treble, fader, and balance controls for quick adjustments. You can lower or raise the surround effect and adjust the volume of the center-fill speaker separately. There is a digital signal processor effect called Sound Stage that can be set for the driver seat, the front seats, or the back seat. Unfortunately, it doesn't have an all seats setting. For our test, we let our judges experience the Sound Stage setting in both the rear and front seats.
We chose three tracks for our judges from different musical genres. Track No. 1 was an electronic piece titled "Sun, Moon, and Stars," by Thievery Corporation, off the Covert Operations CD. Second was an acoustic bluegrass number called "Chip of a Star" by Chatham County Line, off of their album titled IV. Finally, the judges listened to a modern classical piece, the fifth movement, titled "Red Cape Tango," from Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony.
Our judges' total average score for the Volvo XC70's audio system came up to 8 out of a possible 10. With the exception of Wolff, the judges were generally very impressed with the audio quality.
Bell sat in the front passenger seat, and noted that "between the two switchable Sound Stage settings, I preferred the rear setting best because it made the total experience more immersive." He also said, "the sound system did an excellent job presenting clear, detailed stereo separation. During the symphonic piece, I could not only hear where instruments were placed left and right, but also sense their distance."
From the back seat, Dehoyos noted "the overall sound of the classical soundtrack was pretty awesome--sounding as if I was in my own control room with THX surround sound." But she also noted some speaker rattle during the electronic music pick, which admittedly had a very heavy bass line. Wolff picked up on the speaker rattle, as well, and said that "in many cases the bass comes across heavy duty and dominant in this sound system." Wolff was impressed by the classical music, writing that "once the piece kicked in a bit, the midrange and treble were crisp, bright, and balanced."
Our judges found that, with the Sound Stage set for the front seats, the rear speakers were turned off, cutting into the overall immersive experience.
In the cabin
Volvo created one of the most interesting modern interior designs for its current model lineup, with elements such as the floating center panel and the driver silhouette fan control buttons. The materials and build quality mostly justify the price of this upscale car. The steering wheel has a nice, thick feel, while its integrated cruise and audio controls are kept simple. The paper-white radio display looks good and is very readable, while screens in the center of the speedometer and tachometer offer a variety of information.