Volvo has always been a leader in vehicle safety as well as the unofficial savant at designing practical, family-hauling wagons, and the 2011 Volvo XC70 exemplifies the two.
With family-centric safety features such as available integrated booster seats, a seat belt reminder for all five seating positions and, of course, the huge cargo area afforded by the wagon design, the XC70 is a fantastic option for families wanting hauling space but not an SUV.
The XC70 is a long wagon with a cavernous cargo area. Despite the length, I was impressed with its reasonable turning radius of 18.8 feet, which is close to the 2011 Subaru Outback's 18.4-foot turning radius.
To a driving enthusiast, the ride might feel floaty, but the drive quality was spot-on for daily family hauling and soft enough for light off-roading without too much bumpy discomfort. Optional all-wheel drive helps the XC70 manage rugged terrain. Speaking of off-roading, families who camp will also enjoy the standard hill descent control feature that keeps scary-looking hill descents feeling safe and manageable.
The XC70 starts at $32,150, and my test car, a top-of-the-line T6, had a top-of-the-line price of $45,675.
The Volvo XC70 is the closest car on the road today to the old wood-paneled station wagon that I rode in to school in the neighborhood carpool as a child. The shape really hasn't changed much. Sure, the corners have been rounded off a bit, but it's still square, still boxy and still has a big butt. Some people really like that kind of thing. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure there are websites dedicated to it; others take spin class every day to manage it. It's subjective.
Because the XC70 is indeed designed for some light off-road usage, it has a good amount of ground clearance. This, in addition to the lack of a reachable B-pillar handle, might create a slight challenge for young kids climbing in and out of the XC70 on their own.
Conversely, the cargo floor's load height is manageable, even for families regularly hefting double strollers in and out of the cargo area. There's no lip on the cargo floor to have to lift things up and over. The cargo floor is also used to disguise an under-floor system of storage compartments. Sweet! The liftgate opens manually — no optional power liftgate here — but it's low enough that I could reach it even though I'm 5-foot-3.
The XC70's large rear end doesn't slow my test car down too much since it sported an optional 300-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that's paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. This engine uses premium gas and gets an EPA-estimated 17/22 mpg city/highway. The standard engine — a 240-hp, 3.2-liter six-cylinder — gets 18/24 mpg when paired with all-wheel drive.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
Volvo has a great start on the XC70's interior. The front seats are impossibly comfortable, and there's enough backseat legroom to accommodate gangly teens or kids in rear-facing child-safety seats. And to keep those kids cool while they're busy growing, separate air vents are provided for backseat passengers.
There are a few major missteps with the XC70, however. This is 2011 and I want keyless entry with keyless start. In the T6 trim level I drove, I could get into the car without the use of my key, but then I had to fish through my purse to find the key, insert it in the slot and then press the button to start the vehicle. What's the point of keyless access without keyless start? Keyless start is available on the XC70. Volvo should make this a standard feature, and it did for the 2012 model year.
The XC70's navigation system needs a complete overhaul. Someone at Volvo thought it'd be high-tech and gadgety to use a remote control to operate the nav system. That's right; those gurus of safety will make you keep track of a loosely floating remote control inside the car. These are the same people who will tell you that anything loose inside a car can become a dangerous projectile in a crash.
As the driver, you can control the navigation system through some difficult-to-decipher steering-wheel-mounted controls. Theoretically, the remote allows the front passenger to use the navigation system while the driver is busy driving. That definitely doesn't jibe well with Scandinavian simplicity.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
This is a Volvo so it will shine in the safety arena. It has standard front-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, traction control and six airbags.
My test car also came equipped with the optional Technology Package that includes adaptive cruise control, driver alert control to make sure you don't fall asleep at the wheel, a lane departure warning system and collision warning with auto brake. All-wheel drive and a backup camera are also optional features.
My all-time favorite in-car feature is in the XC70 and that's the available integrated booster seats. The XC70 has two of them in the backseat's outboard seats. They adjust to two different heights to keep the seat belt properly positioned on kids ranging in weight from 33 to 80 pounds. The integrated seat was especially useful for my 11-year-old daughter who is itching to get out of a booster seat, but at only 62 pounds and 4 feet 6 inches, she still needs a little lift. The XC70's integrated boosters are an awesome way to quietly keep her in the booster for as long as possible.
With three kids in booster seats, I wanted a third pop-up booster in the center seat. However, there was enough space between the two integrated boosters to squeeze a narrow aftermarket backless booster into the center position. This solution worked perfectly for us, though it did make for a tight squeeze when it was time to reach their seat belt buckles.
With little ones it seems I'm always waiting to make sure all three girls are safely buckled before I start driving. The XC70's standard Belt Minder gave me a visual indication in the driver's instrument cluster of which occupied seats were buckled and which occupied seats were not yet buckled. This seems like a small feature, I know, but for a busy family, this thoughtful element made things just a little simpler for us, and I'll take all the help I can get.
After many years of writing about this, I'm still amazed that Volvo has some of the most difficult-to-access lower Latch anchors of all the cars I've test-driven. The XC70 is no exception. The two sets of lower Latch anchors are buried in the seat bight, where the back and bottom cushions meet. It's a tight squeeze to try to get fingers and/or the Latch hook wedged into it.
Get more safety information about the 2011 Volvo XC70 here.