The Volvo XC70, a jacked-up pseudo off-road estate car, remains rare in the UK. On average, Volvo sells more than four V70s in the UK for every XC70 it shifts. In an odd quirk of statistics, however, that ratio is almost exactly reversed in the US, where the XC70, along with other cars of its ilk, is five times more popular.
The latest incarnation of the XC70 benefits from a range of updates and improvements shared with the current V70.
It gets a stiffer chassis, a slightly roomier cabin and a bigger boot, while this quasi off-road estate also gets a slightly less incongruous SUV-inspired bodykit. This includes plastic bumper and flank cladding, plastic wheel arch extensions, chromed scuff plates and embossed roof rails. Any off-road ability is provided by a raised ride height (74mm higher than the V70) and, in the all-wheel drive versions, a Haldex four-wheel drive system.
Power comes from the same choice of several diesel engines and one petrol now rolled out across much of Volvo’s line-up. The 300bhp, 324lb ft 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol takes the headline spot, but it is best passed over in favour of one of the diesels, either the 2.4-litre, 212bhp, 324lb ft D5 or the 2.0-litre, 160bhp D3 available with either 309lb ft or 295lb ft in the ES and eco-friendly DRIVe models.
We’ve driven the XC70 in D5 SE and SE Sport trims, and also in its D4 SE Lux Geartronic form. Most recently, we tried the 212bhp 2.4-litre motor – finding it to be competent enough but with a power range that is small and brutal, rather than continuous and smooth. The saving grace was the standard six-speed manual gearbox, which gave fast and smooth changes throughout.
Volvo also points out that that XC70 now has greater approach, breakover and departure angles, but it’s still no cleverer a companion on the Tarmac. This is a big problem when you consider the huge step forward that Audi recently made with its A6 Allroad, the Volvo’s most obvious market rival.
Unlike the Audi, the Volvo cannot change its ride height with sophisticated air suspension. It falls back on Volvo’s Four-C adaptive dampers to make up the difference on the road. Unfortunately, they are not very effective at reigning in the body movements of this two-tonne estate.
The XC70 rolls and bucks wildly in the face of only mild provocation. Body control is scant through corners and over swells. Performance is reasonable enough in a straight line – compared with a V70 – but the XC70’s handling is much too compromised almost everywhere else. And improved as its off-road ability may be, we’d be amazed if it was good enough to redeem the car.
On the plus side, the steering is light enough to manoeuvre the car around town without too much trouble. It’s lighter, certainly, than the rock-like heaviness of the XC60’s wheel.
To be fair the XC70’s interior is luxurious, especially with the gorgeous chocolate leather interior that came in our test car. The diesel engines are also adequately refined. Problem is, you get all this with the common-or-garden V70 for less money. Oh, and the V70 handles better, avoiding the wallow that the high-riding XC70 suffers from.
If you want the butch looks of an off-roader, but don’t want to feel like a social pariah, then we can’t stop you going for an XC70, and as a guilt-free school-run 4x4 it makes an acceptable choice. For almost every other situation, though, we’d choose an ordinary V70 every time.