Way back in the late 70’s, my wife owned a Volvo 164, which was the top of the heap for the boxy Swede. Leather seats, a crank open sunroof, power everything and a big, torquey six cylinder behind the formal grill all made her feel like she was chopping in tall cotton. Volvos occupy that netherworld in the automobile pecking order. They are reputedly built like Mercedes; they aren’t quite, and as safe as a house, which they probably are although I haven’t slammed a 3-bedroom ranch-style into a brick wall lately.
But one thing they never were was trendy. For what seem like decades, Volvos have been pretty dull boxes. From the 122 that looked like a ’48 Ford, to the 144 series that looked like the box the car came in, Volvo never seemed to worry about style. But the new XC70 is fairly swoopy…well…for a Volvo. Rounded corners, huge taillamps, and a modern, low version of the upright Volvo grill, our all-wheel-drive test car looked very clean and neat in its ash gold metallic paint. The purchase of Volvo by the Ford Motor Company didn’t dilute the legendary quality of the brand. And now they are independent again, and still, all pieces were fitted with care and were of excellent, but not Mercedes level quality.
Our all-wheel-drive T6 version is aimed directly at the BMW 3-series and Audi A6 all-wheel-drives, and while it may measure up in many ways, the other two, especially the Audi, are just flat prettier. But when you twist the key and the turbocharged 3.0-liter twin-cam 6-cylinder engine throbs to life, and the 6-speed automatic gearbox sends its 300 horses to all four wheels, the XC70 responds like the thoroughbred it is. The car, equipped with standard 4-wheel ABS and optional dynamic stability and traction control, turns this Dr. Jekyl family car into Mr. Hyde with 18-inch wheels. The sports suspension straightens out a twisty country road and the car never loses composure no matter how many s-curves and switchbacks you throw at it. Mileage is 17 city – 23 highway.
An upgraded stereo and a host of other amenities that ought to be standard on a $38,000 car are options. They take the XC70 to $49,000.
At least the wood is real these days for that kind of scratch.
It’s a truly lovely machine with road manners that will have you daydreaming about a drive through the Alps. But at this price, it is up against some legendary sporting marques, and the Volvo mystique has always been more brains than flash. They have their work cut out for them.