- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

What’s the difference between a station wagon and a crossover sport utility vehicle?

If you’re a Volvo fan, it could be as subtle as the 2008 XC70.

Revamped as a third-generation model, the new XC70 and its sibling, the Volvo V70 station wagon, have a new platform, new six-cylinder engine, more high-strength steel in their structures for better rigidity and new features.

But while the V70 looks like a traditional station wagon, the five-door XC70 has plastic cladding on some lower body parts, such as doors, in a faux-SUV style, rides some 3 inches higher above the pavement than does the V70 and comes with standard all-wheel drive.

Indeed, the “XC” in the XC70 name denotes “cross country.”

As if that’s not enough to convince consumers that the XC70 can really go off-road, the 2008 model has a new, off-road feature called hill descent control. This system automatically uses brakes and engine braking to provide slow, controlled descents on even steep, treacherous hills.

No matter whether consumers consider the XC70 a wagon or crossover, it is pricey, with a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $37,520. This is a higher starting price for a station wagon other than those from luxury brands Mercedes-Benz and BMW. And it compares with the $31,262 starting retail price for a 2008 Volvo V70.

The XC70 starting retail price also is higher than many other traditional-looking crossover SUVs. For example, a 2008 Saturn Outlook with all-wheel drive starts at $28,981.

But for the price, consumers get a full complement of standard safety equipment that they’ve come to expect in a Swedish-built Volvo. Everything from electronic stability control and side curtain air bags to front-seat, anti-whiplash head restraints come with the car.

Many other safety features, even including a side-view blind spot alert that’s not offered on most other vehicles, are options.

But the rear-seat children’s booster cushions are the niftiest option to me. They are integrated nicely into the regular seat cushions but can pop up and be positioned at one of two heights that are higher than the regular seat cushions. As a result, youngsters who sit on these booster cushions are properly positioned for correct use of the shoulder belts in case of a crash.

Additionally, these boosters give children a much better view out of the side windows. And Volvo engineers made sure to lengthen the side curtain air bags by more than 2 inches to better protect children in side crashes.

When not needed, the boosters fold down into the regular seat cushions and aren’t even noticed.

The federal government has not yet released crash test ratings for the 2008 XC70.

But it is a heavy car, weighing more than 4,000 pounds. This is up more than 400 hundred pounds from the previous XC70, and I noticed the heft immediately.

The XC70 doesn’t spurt forward in a rush of power. Instead, there’s a steady-as-she-goes sensation as the engine power gets the car moving.

The previous XC70 had a turbocharged, five-cylinder engine, and I can understand why Volvo officials moved up to a larger, 3.2-liter, naturally aspirated, inline six cylinder with 24 valves and dual overhead cams developing 235 horsepower.

This is 27 more horses than last year’s engine.

But even the bigger six cylinder, with torque peaking at 236 pounds-feet at 3,200 rpm, works at it to get this heavy car moving, and the 0-to-60-miles-an-hour time of 8.1 seconds is a tad longer than the 2007 XC70.

The only transmission is a six-speed automatic that includes a shift-it-yourself-without-a-clutch-pedal mechanism. But in the test car, there wasn’t much difference in performance if I let the automatic do its job or I shifted.

Fuel economy is surprisingly low at just 15 miles per gallon, according to the federal government’s 2008 statistics.

This is near the bottom for U.S.-sold wagons and is even less than the 17 mpg city rating that a 2008 Toyota Highlander SUV gets with four-wheel drive.

Highway mileage for the XC70 is just 22 mpg, according to the government.

The ride is stable, and the test car felt well-planted to the road. There was no spinning of tires on wet, slick pavement, and the all-wheel drive worked without fuss.

There’s no need for the driver to do anything, since the system monitors where the power is needed and shifts the torque accordingly.

I enjoyed the strong, ready feel of the brakes and the progressive braking response as I pushed harder on the pedal.

In the test XC70 everything seemed to go as a safety-minded driver would want – without surprises and with a secure feeling. Even the XC70 doors closed with solidity, not a tinny, cheap sound.

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