SExterior Design: *** The 2009 Volvo XC70 T6 is one of the best looking Volvos currently made, which sounds like it could be a dig but isn't at all intended that way. The classically strange Swedish proportions combined with the elevated height and dark plastic cladding accented by satin metal create a tasteful effect that makes the regular V70 wagon the XC is based on look like the odd-man out. This is a marked improvement over the previous generation, which looked like a Volvo wagon with Honda Element ground effects glued onto the body.
Interior Design: **** Half the fun of owning a Volvo is the quirkiness. They've rarely been able to compete with the other premium automakers on design, materials, usability or features. But they're different. The XC70 is a bit too modern, a bit too soft and a bit too well designed to be a Volvo. The center stack floats above the tunnel, which isn't quirky so much as just different. Thank God for the bizarre controls, which include adjusting air distribution by punching a graphic of a little reclining man in the crotch, and a built-in number pad, something most automakers abandoned in the early 1990s.
Acceleration: *** If you're going to get an XC70, pay the extra for the T6 version. The 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six pumps out 281 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of glorious torque. Though not as punchy as BMW's comparable I6, the Volvo has a fairly linear power delivery and propels the heavy (hey, safety has a cost) AWD wagon off-the-line with surprising vigor. Will you get smoked by a 3-series wagon? Probably. But if you're buying an XC70 you're not racing people at stop lights. You're racing to a sale at Crate & Barrel, and for those rare moments the kids are at their grandparents', you'll be able to race home and make clumsy love to your translucently pale yuppie bride. Braking: ** The brakes work well, bringing all that safety equipment to a rest quickly and with quick distribution of stopping power to all wheels. The biggest shortcoming, especially if you're going to constantly slam on the brakes, is an uncomfortable mechanical feedback at about 80% brake engagement. Most people may not even notice it but it bugged the hell out of me. Ride: **** If you opt for the light-colored leather interior and have kids, there's always the risk of having little Madison or Tristan spill organic juice everywhere after hitting a pothole. The addition of larger shocks makes sure it'll stay in the bottle. The big Volvo manages to maintain a smooth, mostly luxurious ride without feeling too disengaged from the road. Handling: *** Anyone buying an XC70 and expecting a corner carver is going to be disappointed. It's a wide, raised wagon with all-season tires that weighs more than 3,600 pounds. Despite everything working against the Volvo it handles well, with the AWD noticeably kicking in only when pushing it beyond reasonable limits (though you'll definitely notice it when it kicks in). Calling it an off-roader is maybe pushing it, but it runs across dirt paths with the sure-footed confidence of a small SUV. Gearbox: ** Left alone, the six-speed transmission adjusts to changes quickly and, lacking a Sport mode, chooses fairly aggressive shift points if you slam on the go pedal. The geartronic autostick is super annoying, though. You can almost hear the Volvo's internal computer asking "f'real?" (or whatever the Swedish equivalent of "f'real" is), pausing for a second, and then letting you shift. It's fine for in-traffic maneuvering, but let the autostick do its job if you're going to start doing Lewis Hamilton impressions. Audio: *** The controls of the Dynaudio surround system are ridiculous, but the inclusion of a numeric keypad means you can program up to 9 favorites, which is helpful if you're going to use the satellite radio to scan for the latest political news or, if you're a Volvo owner, world music. But it doesn't make up for the fact that you have to click through four menu buttons to change the tiny display from showing you a band name (say, Ladysmith Black Mambazo) to an album name (Long Walk To Freedom) at which point you'll have already crashed through a fence. The sound is great, though. Clear. Strong. Great. Toys: ** The toys are great for a parent, but less than stellar for a kid or kid-at-heart. Integrated child seats that fold out of the regular seat. Boring. Headphone ports for kids in the back. Who cares? Fold-flat seats? Meh. Integrated Bluetooth phone system? Seen it on a Caliber. Value: ** At $39,500 for the no-frills T6, there's nothing at all that's a great deal about the XC70. It is expensive and the price rockets up after a few completely necessary adjustments if you're a parent. If you're even thinking about shopping for an XC Volvo wagon you don't really care. At the end of the day, it is a niche premium vehicle, and seen through that prism it isn't that bad. Overall: *** If you need or, more accurately, think you need an AWD, rugged off-road premium station wagon with a cozy leather interior weighed down with every imaginable piece of safety equipment, then this is the car for you. It isn't a large niche (explaining why the allroad is the only real competition) but it fills it well and it has something important over the competition: it's a Volvo. That means something to some people and, after a little more than a week with this one, it means something to me. I'm not ready to trade in my balls for a balanced stock portfolio, three kids and a five-bedroom Tudor in Grosse Pointe, but if I did the XC70 would be near the top of my list. Also see: