Volvo XC70 takes adventure to the hills |

Volvo XC70 takes adventure to the hills

Andy Stonehouse

The appearance of parents shilling Girl Scout cookies for their beloved moppets in my office reminds me of a few things: I’m not really a big Tagalongs fan, and, by gosh, automobiles are sometimes made with families in mind, not just hell-bent, speed-freaks with empty back seats.

Hence the existence of the entire minivan genre, which I normally pay about as much attention to as I do new innovations in strollers and baby monitors.

Nonetheless, apparently more than a few of you out there are interested in vehicles which look good, go fast when they have to but can safely and stylishly transport your brood to and from family events ” and it is for this reason that the totally redesigned Volvo XC70 might just be the ticket.

If things had worked out the way my mother wanted, I’d probably be driving an XC70 right now, robust in its mixture of flashy yet practical style, its tremendous package of safety innovations and its rugged and sporty nature. And I’d be spending a lot of time driving between my imaginary children’s Ski Club Vail racing events and Junior Achievement meetings. This is not the case, but the auto seems totally suited for that sort of work detail.

The third-generation XC70 has upped the ante in the design department, incorporating a foreshortened stance that’s much more crossover than hippie hearse. New, angular, silver-edged lighting surfaces and skid plates both front and back make the vehicle look like something you’d special order from the REI catalog: super-outdoorsy in that upwardly mobile kind of way.

Which, as usual, is a nice way of saying that the 4WD XC70, now equipped with a Land Rover-styled hill descent control system, a healthy ride height (8.3 inches of clearance) and “Instant Traction,” will indeed be capable of taking up overgrown mining roads to remote summer camping sites, but will probably be relegated to pavement-only usage for the bulk of its motoring.

The wagon’s ample storage capacity, however, and a slick interior tiedown rail system and roof rails mean that you can load oodles of sports equipment and head off to the slopes in a tremendously confident fashion.

Moreover, the XC70 is specifically designed with family travel in mind, and not just in its bordering-on-excessive electronic safety features: the rear seat includes a built-in, height-adjustable child booster seat, plus a billion or so airbags and high-tensile steel body construction.

Driving the XC70, kids or no kids, is an exercise in pure pleasure. The heated leather seating is sumptuous ” as flowery as that may sound ” and controls are laid out in an absolutely intuitive fashion, with many controls replicated on the wheel. Interior design is also stunning, with genuine hardwood highlights, a clean look and the added benefit of satellite radio and an absolutely astounding 650-watt, 12-speaker audio system (which one of my fellow auto journalists had apparently partially destroyed by playing Spanish techno at too-high levels). There’s also a great heating system, featuring the very cool, silvery human symbol which helps determine air flow, yet glows blue at night ” a system with just one operational issue, which I will mention in a moment.

The new Volvo’s only shortcomings, in my experience, related to its choice of footwear and a powerplant that shouldn’t be compared to the offerings in other sport crossovers, but kinda has to be done.

Those spending their winters in snowy climates (such as those, uh, here) quite simply have to equip the XC70 with aggressive snow tires; even with moderately chunky Continental off-road rated rubber, I slid the 4,100 pound Volvo right through an icy roundabout into oncoming traffic (“you’re just testing the car, right?” my passengers breathlessly inquired) and then, the next day, got completely stuck in a very small snowdrift on the edge of Georgetown Lake, and needed a gentleman riding by on a bicycle to come and help push me out. The car seemed otherwise fantastic during highway usage, well-balanced and full of good braking power, but I would invest in the Blizzaks for low-traction situations.

Secondly, the XC70s’s inline six, generating 235 horsepower and 236-pound-feet of torque, will gallop along at comfortably high speeds but took quite a while getting there, something I found a little more than petulant on the approaches to the passes. The exchange was reasonable but not earth-shattering fuel economy (24 tops on the highway).

The Volvo’s six-speed Geartronic system was helpful for carefully modulating speed while coming down from the tunnel; some day I’d be happy to try the hill descent stuff to drive down the middle of a grass-covered ski run, but such was not the case.

Like the new S80 I drove last year (with whom the XC70 now shares many major components), the new XC comes with enough Euro-specific safety doodads to be just a tad tiresome … those crafty Swedes. It is apparently impossible to both defrost the windows and warm the cabin at the same time and the rear defroster always immediately comes on when you start up the car (hopefully not in the middle of the summer); large, floppy windshield wiper blades insist on sweeping at least four times, assuring an even and thorough distribution of mag chloride, and those damned, unstoppable headlamp washers ensure you’ll go through a gallon of window fluid on every drive to Denver. You can also upgrade to options including the adaptive cruise control, blind spot blinkers and even the heartbeat monitor intruder alert stuff I found so Orwellian in the S80.

Suited for a slog through the backcountry but equally at home while making a run to Costco, the XC70’s quite the machine. Mom would be proud.

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