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.
Judges Donald Bell, Anngie Dehoyos, and Kurt Wolff get ready to listen to the Volvo's stereo system.
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.
The XC70 includes five-band equalizers for the front and rear seats.
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.
We love the look of Volvo's radio display, especially with the virtual FM tuner.
We went into detail about the audio quality of the stereo system above. For sources, the system in our test car had a single CD player, which could read MP3 CDs, an auxiliary input, and Sirius satellite radio. The interface for navigating channels on satellite radio isn't great--you can't choose individual channel categories and can only spin the tuning knob to go through channels one at a time. You can see a listing of folders on MP3 CDs, however. iPod integration is available as a dealer-installed option, suggesting a system that doesn't offer full track, artist, and album selection from the car audio controls. According to Volvo's site, there is no option for a six-disc changer.
For more individual audio entertainment, an option gives the rear-seat passengers their own headphone jacks and audio controls. Another option not present on our car, is a full rear-seat DVD entertainment package, which includes headrest-mounted LCD monitors.
Although it wasn't mentioned on our car's sticker, we had a Garmin Nuvi 760 mounted to the dashboard.
Our car came with a clamp for a Garmin Nuvi 760 portable navigation device mounted on top of the dashboard. Although Volvo's site doesn't mention this option, we have heard through other sources that you can get the Garmin Nuvi 760 as a dealer option. (Here is a review of the Garmin Nuvi 660.) Alternatively, you can get Volvo's fully integrated navigation system with a larger screen that pops up from the dashboard. We tried one of these out in the Volvo C70 and found that, although the system was usable, the screen was very susceptible to glare.
Other dealer options include a rear-view camera and a Bluetooth cell phone integration module. From Volvo's site, the latter looks like any aftermarket type of unit. We would rather see factory-installed Bluetooth that takes advantage of the keypad in the car's center panel.
Under the hood
The 2008 Volvo XC70 drives exceptionally well for a jacked-up station wagon. We enjoyed its handling and the responsiveness of its 3.2-liter straight six-cylinder engine. Even with all-wheel drive present, we could feel the engine's 235 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque. It gave us good boost off the line and continual smooth power delivery. When we wanted to play, we put the six-speed automatic into manual mode, letting us select gears with the shifter. Of course, there is quite a bit of lag before the transmission actually makes the gear change you select.
This 3.2-liter transversely mounted straight six-cylinder engine offers an excellent balance of power and economy.
The steering response was as good as the throttle response, showing very little understeer, a surprise considering the XC70 is a long wagon that's raised up. As we took it on some wet mountain roads, we appreciated the all-wheel drive, which helped keep the car planted. In fact, we started to think Volvo should be entering World Rally Championships, until we felt the automatic transmission's shift lag. Around one particular corner we pushed it hard enough to get some wheel slip, at which point the car shook and skittered instead of delivering a smooth slide.
At 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, the EPA numbers for the 2008 Volvo XC70 don't sound particularly good, but we had no problem staying well within that range during a good mix of city and freeway driving. Our average observed fuel economy during our time with the car came in at 19.8 mpg and never dipped below 18 mpg. This engine balances power and economy well. Better yet, the car gets a ULEV II rating for its emissions from the California Air Resources Board, a step better than the minimum LEV II rating.
You enter manual gear selection mode by pushing the shifter to the right.
As this is a Volvo, it offers a number of innovative safety technologies as options, including BLIS, or blind spot information system, which flashes a warning when you signal for a lane change into an occupied lane. In practice, we've found this system works very well. Other safety tech comes in the Collision Avoidance Package ($1,695), which includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and Collision Warning with Auto Brake, which intervenes if it detects that the gap to the car ahead is suddenly reduced by sounding a chime, flashing a warning light, and preparing the brakes for a hard stop.
The most individual tech feature on the XC70 is also part of the Collision Avoidance Package. Driver Alert Control is designed for situations where the driver is most likely to lose concentration, according to Volvo, for example on a "straight, smooth road that lulls the driver into a sense of relaxation." Using sensors that monitor the road markings, DAC determines the danger of the driver losing control. If it detects that the driver's attention is deteriorating, the system alerts the driver by sounding a chime and showing an image of a coffee cup in the driver-information display.
Our 2008 Volvo XC70 starts with a base price of $36,775, which is somewhat hefty. Our options included metallic paint for $475, the Dynaudio premium audio package for $1,650, the Premium package for $2,995, the Climate package for $875, and alloy wheels at $550. Add the $745 destination fee, and our total came out to $44,065. We don't have an indication of the portable navigation device dealer install price, but the factory navigation system will add $2,120. The XC70 quickly becomes a very pricey wagon.
But we found a lot to be impressed about with this car and give it high ratings for design, performance, and cabin tech. On the cabin tech front, it gets docked points for the somewhat haphazard nature of the dealer accessories and the poor audio control interface, but gains a lot back for its sound quality and the availability of rear-seat DVD. Performance is, overall, excellent, but we have to fault it for the slow transmission shifts and the lack of composure when it is pushed to the point of wheel slip.