Reviews

2012 Volvo XC70 Walk Around

The Volvo XC70 is built on Volvo's large-car platform, which it shares with the flagship S80 sedan, so it has more in common with Volvo's big sedan than it does with any of Volvo's smaller models. The XC70 wheelbase of almost 111 inches puts it (by today's somewhat downsized measure) at the small end of the big-car spectrum. It certainly has plenty of room inside. In overall length and width the XC70 closely matches a BMW 5 Series wagon, albeit on a wheelbase that's 3 inches shorter. In weight the Volvo and the BMW are just about dead even.

The Volvo XC70 structure was developed with Volvo's attention to impact-dissipating crumple zones, and both have fully laminated glass. The only unique XC70 structural feature is an extra lower front crossbeam, added to account for its higher ride height in an impact.

In styling, the XC70 follows the current trend at Volvo, with a look that's instantly recognizable, yet smoother, less gangly and visually tighter than the Volvos of just a few years ago. In profile, the character line at the bottom of the windows rises dramatically (for a Volvo), suggesting a forward leaning, dynamic stance. The window pillars are blacked out, which makes all the windows look like a single element. The rear glass angles slightly forward toward the front of the car, rather than dropping cliff-like from the back edge of the roof, yet there's still plenty of cargo volume inside.

Large, sharply defined headlights sweep back into the front fenders. Below each light is a prominent pad of dark plastic, suggesting two individual bumpers, or bumperettes, separated by that bold, protruding grille and the trapezoidal air inlet that echoes underneath it. The bumper pads are finally connected, at the very bottom, by the front edge of the skid plate. Set into each of the pads is a small foglight surrounded by a bold outline of brighter-colored material.

From the rear, the XC70's hexagonal shape reminds us of the C30 coupe. The tail lights are large enough and bright enough to do Las Vegas proud, and the rear glass window extends down lower than the side windows to improve rearward visibility. The hydraulically operated power tailgate is handy if you approach the back of this car with arms loaded, and it keeps hands cleaner if the tailgate is coated with grime.

Interior

The Volvo XC70 cabin is understated, but elegant and nicely polished. Materials and overall finish are high grade. The XC70 interior uses design themes and components from the S80 luxury sedan.

The leather upholstery is smooth and stretched tautly over the front seats, and the seats themselves are excellent. It's hard to find a better mix of comfort and support for typical driving. Visibility outward is good, forward and aft. The rear-most side windows are imbedded with their own electrical grid for defrosting.

The XC70 driver sits before a fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, looking at big, crisp gauges with bright-white backlighting and number gradients that are easy for the brain to absorb.

The center stack is a thin panel, no more than two inches thick, with open space behind it. Most controls are placed here, with audio above climate and a display at the top, arranged in a neat, symmetrical pattern. The primary knobs are big and raised substantially from the surface, and the airflow controls are fashioned in an icon shaped like a seated person, so there's absolutely no confusion about directing air toward the face, feet or windshield. It's all clean and pleasing. Most significantly, measured by function and simplicity of operation, the XC70's various controls are better than most other luxury brands, particularly German brands.

The navigation system screen pops up vertically from the center of the dash, though it's canted forward at a strange angle. The driver surfs through menus and makes choices with buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes, almost where you'd expect paddle shifters for an automatic transmission. We think it's better than many other systems. The menus are no more difficult to learn, and they're managed without taking hands from the steering wheel and fishing for the controls. Passengers can control the system with a remote. There's also a rearview camera.

Cubby storage is lacking in other Volvo models but a bit better in the XC70. The center console and glovebox hold quite a bit of stuff. The pockets behind the front seatbacks are handy and the cupholders work well.

The rear seat is not the roomiest, given the apparent size of the vehicle it's in. We wouldn't recommend it to six-footers for a cross-country trip. There's enough room that someone 5-feet, 9 inches won't get claustrophobic or cramped riding in the back of the XC70 across town, however. And we think it would be fine for families until the kids are well into their teens. With the stereo upgrade, there are redundant audio controls and headphone jacks for rear passengers.

The cargo area is one of the XC70's strengths. The back seat folds easily, 40/20/40, so the center section can work like a pass-through for skis or hockey sticks. With a maximum cargo capacity of 72.1 cubic feet, the XC70 compares favorably with the larger, heavier Mercedes M-Class (72.4 cubic feet) and BMW X5 (75.2).

The cargo floor is perfectly flat with all the seats folded down, providing a smooth, friendly area for cargo as well as dogs or even people: One or two people could sleep comfortably back there. We tested this. It's a useful feature for camping or for stopping for a nap on long road trips, a potentially important feature not found on many vehicles. A perfectly flat cargo floor can be critically important for some owners so be sure to check this on any wagon or SUV on your shopping list.

A fold-flat front-passenger seat is a valuable feature that should not be underestimated. The XC70 has such a seat and the fold-flat design does not seem to diminish seating comfort. The seatback can be folded forward to the same level as the folded rear seat and cargo floor. This allows the XC70 to carry long narrow items such as ladders, two-by-fours securely inside, rigged fly rods, or maybe a kayak. Under the load floor is a lockable, shallow storage area, no more than six inches deep.

The cargo floor itself features aluminum rails with movable anchorage points for securing loads. The anchors can be tucked down into the rails when not used, to keep the floor perfectly smooth, and there are more anchorage points in the side panels. Accessories are available to secure your cargo: hooks, nets, space dividers, and a cargo cover. A steel cargo barrier is available that flips down from the ceiling behind the back seats and a safety net that pulls from behind the back seats; marketed as protection from flying cargo, they could also help corral pets, though a harness is still recommended. Or favorite is a drawer, a sliding floor that locks into the rails and pulls out beyond the bumper for easier loading. It will easily support 50 pounds. One disadvantage of the XC70 compared to the typical SUV is a lower ceiling; an SUV will accommodate taller items, or items in an upright position. In practice, we've seldom found this an issue but it does occur. The XC70 has a lower liftover height than most SUVs do, which makes it easier to load cargo and makes for a lower height for dogs jumping in and out.

The seats are designed to help reduce whiplash injuries. During a rear-end impact, the WHIPS seatbacks move rearward to reduce acceleration forces on the occupant's back and neck, while the headrest pushes forward and upward slightly to meet the neck and head as they are thrust backward. Power rear headrests are available.

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