Versus the competiton:
Sick of big sport-utility vehicles? Miffed at minivans? Well, before the lights go out on the 2001 model year, maybe what you’re looking for is a crossover vehicle that has not necessarily grabbed big headlines but represents a nice compromise.
That would be a 2001 Volvo V70 XC, with the XC standing for “Cross Country.” OK, so Volvo is not one of those automakers that gets the pulse to racing. But hang on. Here’s a list of just some of the things you get in the Volvo V70 XC: All-wheel drive, a 2.4-liter light-pressure turbocharged engine with five cylinders, four-wheel traction control, four-wheel power disc brakes, enough air bags to envelop an elephant (including a marvelous curtain side-impact protection device), radiator technology that shuts out ground-level ozone in favor of oxygen, dual interior climate control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a folding rear seat with a 40/20/40 configuration and a power package that includes heated outside mirrors with memory function.
My test model was further dressed up with a touring package, cold-weather package, leather treatments and an upgraded security package (including motion sensors). That brought the bottom line on the sticker to, ahem, $40,925. Uh, yes, that’s about $7,000 more than the starting price on a Lexus RX 300 sport-ute and about $10,000 more than the base price on a Chevrolet Suburban 2500 LT with all-wheel drive. Throw out the optional extras that I had on my Volvo, and the starting fare is $36,100.
Better? Yes, much.
So, why would one want a Volvo that looks like a station wagon but is marketed to appeal to those looking for an uplevel SUV? Well, besides the fact that you could probably drive one off a cliff and easily survive thanks to Volvo’s outstanding safety systems — did I mention that even the sound-system components have been safety tested to see how they will break apart in a crash? — the automaker hopes buyers will like the vehicle’s utility and its decidedly car-like handling.
No problem there. The 2.4-liter turbo power plant combines with all-wheel drive to make the XC a potent road warrior. The all-wheel-drive system instantly transfers necessary torque to the rear wheels when needed, and the shifting of the five-speed automatic is seamless. There’s a winter mode for folks who want even more mobile security in the snow.
It took me a couple of days to master the rhythm of the light-pressure turbo. Once mastered, the Volvo whipped around pokes seemingly without strain. Likewise, the V70 XC showed plenty of spirit taking on the Sierra foothills on a blistering-hot August day.
I tried desperately to spin the wheels in a direct challenge to Volvo’s state-of-the-art traction-control system. In two words, technology won. I couldn’t even get a minor squeal out of the tires.
The XC’s cargo-carrying capabilities are more than adequate with 75.1 cubic feet available when the rear seat i s folded. Carrying a lawn tractor is impossible, but 75.1 cubic feet will carry a lot of stuff for someone who is not a hard-core SUV buyer.
In the pleasant surprise department, the 360-degree visibility from the driver’s seat was exceptional — even for a station wagon, let alone a vehicle with SUV aspirations. I didn’t come close to chopping the front end off another car during a whole week in the Volvo.
So, to sum up: extraordinary safety engineering, enough comfort/convenience features to please a jaded first-class traveler, outstanding performance and handling, a cargo hauler that doesn’t hog the road, acceptable fuel-economy ratings of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway and pleasant exterior styling.
Would I buy the Volvo V70 XC instead of a loaded SUV? Probably not.
But then, Volvo didn’t have me in mind when they built the Cross Country. The automaker said the household income of the typical Volvo V70 XC buyer $155,000 — which probably translates to someone who wants Volvo quality/safety features in the second family car but doesn’t want that car to be a traditional sport-ute. For that customer profile, Volvo’s crossover wagon absolutely fills the bill.