Review: The 2008 Volvo XC70 is ridiculously overqualified
You will never be left wanting more car with this AWD wagon
Even four months after my sister drove home her new-to-her car, I still hear about how fantastic it's been. It's been a while since I documented the saga of that purchase but I finally feel confident enough to put my feelings in writing. But first, some history:
The Volvo XC70 or, in its first generation, the V70 XC, ran across three generations from 1998 to 2016. The one my sister bought is a first model year example of the third generation model that ran until 2016. After 2011, Volvo discontinued the regular V70 here after selling just 5,958 units of the third gen, making the XC70 much more common with 53,761 units sold. Still, with so few sold overall with many being 10+ years old, they're hard to find for sale in decent condition.
The third generation model rode on the then-new Volvo P3 platform, a version of Ford's global midsized car platform that underpinned everything from the Land Rover Freelander to the Ford Mondeo. As such, it loses a little bit of the quirkiness of the older Ford-era Volvos that rode on their bespoke P2 platform, perhaps best known for being the basis of the first generation Volvo XC90. The tradeoff is improved parts sharing with other cars and more solid reliability that make P3 Volvos generally easier to keep on the road.
My sister was coming from a thoroughly worn out 2004 Volvo XC90 that consistently struggled to put the limited power of the 2.5T I5 to the pavement through the front wheels. My review of that car was less than favorable. Whereas that car was a tractionless wonder, the bounds of the XC70's grip are unfathomable. You would have to be driving very aggressively to break traction.
While 2WD XC70s could be had, functioning essentially as a 'fuel economy delete' option compared to the V70s, the optional AWD is really the whole point of the 'Cross Country' series of Volvos. You get 2 extra inches of ground clearance, some annoyingly high maintenance plastic cladding all around, and some fancy exterior trim bits to let everyone know you can drive up the nearest mountain if the inclination strikes you.
The car was marketed for its go-anywhere capability but the real appeal of the Cross Country model is the safety it offers, both in practice and in the feeling from behind the wheel. This car is not fazed by rain or slick conditions in the slightest. Of course, that AWD doesn't help you brake any shorter so it's a double edged sword; still, you really FEEL the boundless traction the AWD system offers, even in regular driving.
However, that fancy AWD system does take its toll on the fuel economy. 15 city, 22 highway with 17 combined is not great. With an 18.5 gallon tank it's got decent range but fill ups are costly. This is not a car for someone who does a lot of driving in urban environments.
But what about the driving experience?
This is the single most comforting car in the world to drive. It may not be appreciably taller than a regular sedan, but you wouldn't know it from behind the wheel. The XC70 doesn't just feel way taller than it is while driving, but it feels wider too. This is not a small car, but from behind the wheel it feels B I G. And not in a bad way either. There's just something about the driving position and incredible composure across any surface, no matter how slick, that amplifies the feeling of confidence in the car's abilities.
One way in which the XC70 accomplishes this is a meaty steering wheel. This thing has some girth to it, but the soft leather wrapped around it helps it fall easily to hand. The steering is weighty but precise: not too quick but not too slow. The car itself is far from comfortable in the corners but you can immediately sense the car doesn't want to be pushed. Predictable prominent understeer signals the approach of the car's cornering limits long before you actually reach them. If you get too ambitious with a corner, you'll make it, but ample body roll and understeer will ask you to take it a little easier next time. The XC70 does not enjoy being hustled around corners.
Power, however, is more than adequate. The 3.2 liter naturally aspirated inline 6 provides smooth power and plenty of torque when you need it. The 235 horsepower it generates makes this 4,092 lb car far from fast, but the 236 lb-ft of torque ensure you can you use the power you do have. I never found myself wanting more oomph than it could give.
Speaking of weight, due to the enormous cargo hold of this large wagon and large opening, it's easy to loads tons of crap in the back. The volume of space may not be quite as tall as a comparable SUV, but the area is both wide and deep, making it a breeze to load. The three way split folding rear seats also allow for a flexible division of space between people and things.
The entire trunk floor also lifts up with a convenient compartmentalized hidden storage area, perfect for keeping tools or stowing valuables. It's even got a built in hydraulic strut so you don't have to hold it up. There are also four cargo hooks that can slide along a rail and lock into place where needed for fastening down items.
The interior is full of thoughtful touches like that. It's difficult to separate the comforting feeling of driving the car from the reassuring solidity evident from just riding in the car. The P3 platform cars are generally much more quiet and refined than the old P2 platform cars and the XC70 is no exception. It's just a very nice place to be no matter how long the drive.
One thing I think the XC70 does particularly well is the push button start. You put the key fob into this little slot and then press the button. It's a convenient way to keep track of the key fob in the car. I also might be blinded by the unimaginable luxury of keyless ignition
The seats in particular are incredibly comfortable. The car my sister bought is unfortunately cursed with Volvo's infamously fragile tan interior, but it has held together better than most. Usually these tan leather seats respond poorly to even the slightest mention of the sun, cracking and drying up at an alarming rate. Time and UV exposure has taken its toll, but the leather is still soft and pliable in most places for now.
Build quality in Ford era Volvos was always a weak point. This car's luxurious feel does fall apart in a few places. Whatever glue they used to hold the fabrics on at the factory is of poor quality and does not last long. The headliner has clearly been repaired many times and needs to be replaced entirely. The fabrics on the door panels are coming off and are shedding crusty orange bits of sticky glue everywhere.
Other areas of concern are the plastics, which can be quite flimsy and don't like the sun. Opaque yellow headlamps are one common ailment as are interior plastics shedding their finish. But by far the biggest area of concern is the acres of plastic cladding that come with the XC model. They are prone to fading badly and require near constant maintenance and several gallons of ArmorAll to preserve. Additionally, the mirror caps have lost their clearcoat as is the case with most XC70s. Clearly Torslanda, Sweden, where these cars are produced, didn't plan for the effects of the relentless sun and overwhelming humidity of sunny Georgia when deciding what materials to use.
So, should you buy an XC70? If you can find one for sale that hasn't been burned to a crisp by the sun or has had maintenance deferred, yes. For not a lot more than a similar Subaru Outback you can get an incredibly comfortable and quiet interior in a great riding car with oodles of practicality and a ton of character. The XC70 is one of those rare cars that really can do it all. It's a distinctive and stylish cruiser when you want it to be and a practical family wagon when you need it to be, not to mention the dubious usefulness of its slightly increased offroad capabilities.
The example my sister picked up was in excellent condition for its 13 years and 140,000 miles but it's still a Volvo. Her previous XC90 was mind numbingly expensive to keep on the road and, while I expect this to be better, you can't continue to defer maintenance indefinitely like a Toyota. This specific one was in far better than average condition though despite being one of the cheapest available at only $5,000 advertised (before dealer fees). Most third gen XC70s seem to hover around $7,000, which isn't bad for an entry level European luxury car that doubles as a practical family hauler. You'll certainly enjoy the ride more than in a similarly priced Subaru Outback.
Have any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below.
Note: This article was also posted to Oppo's other home on The Hyphen.