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The designers behind Volvo's XC70 were the first to realise that a large all-wheel drive estate car with a modicum of off-road ability and SUV styling cues could tempt buyers who couldn't quite stomach the thought of a fully-fledged 4x4. In improved second generation guise, it continues to offer either a stepping stone or an alternative to SUV ownership. The new 'Drive E' D4 engine you get with 2WD models is especially efficient.
Strange to remember it now but it took Volvo, master of the Scandinavian winter, until 2002 to bring us an SUV. Three years before their XC90 arrived however, the Swedes were dipping their toes into 4x4 territory with all-wheel drive versions of their large V70 estate. You could have the basic car with four driven wheels but for really rutted farm tracks, something a little more sophisticated was required with greater ride height. First badged XC, then Cross Country, the resulting design became a fully-fledged model in its own right when re-launched as the XC70 in 2002. We're looking here at a further improved version of the second generation model, launched in mid-2013, directly aimed at its arch-rival, Audi's A6 allroad, as well as at buyers who secretly crave an SUV but don't want to be seen in one. Chief amongst its improvements is an efficient D4 Volvo-developed engine for 2WD variants.
With a high centre of gravity and near 1.9 tonne weight, the XC70 was never going to be the ultimate driver's car, but you could argue that it's close to being the ultimate driver's compromise. Unless the optional FOUR-C active suspension system has, rather unwisely, encouraged you to throw the thing around, you'll find it pretty much like a standard V70 to drive day-to-day, complete with slightly vague steering and ride quality that's better at higher speeds than it is around town. Yet venture onto the dirt and you'll probably find it will do 99% of what most SUV owners require. You shouldn't read too much into that as in general, these requirements don't tend to be too onerous. Still, a raised ride height that sees this car sitting 74mm higher than a standard V70 and a sophisticated Haldex four-wheel drive system, along with an electronically-controlled hydraulic clutch which distributes drive to whichever wheels can best handle it, should help your XC70 deal with muddy carparks and snowy snaps in its stride. Approach, departure and breakover angles all better those of Audi's rival A6 allroad (though that car counters with clever height-adjustable air suspension that this one lacks) and a wading depth of 300mm should see you through the worst of the winter's storms. All this does not a Land Rover make but Volvo have at least borrowed the Solihull company's clever Hill Descent Control system which, where fitted, uses the ABS to ease the car down extra steep slimy slopes keeping 10mph as a maximum. Under the bonnet, there's a 306bhp T6 petrol variant still on offer but almost all XC70 buyers opt for a D4 diesel. The 2WD variants get Volvo's new 2.0-litre 16v 181bhp 'Drive E' unit capable of 0-62mph in 8.8s on the way to 130mph. Unfortunately, this hasn't been developed to work with AWD, so if you want your XC70 D4 with four driven wheels, you have to have the old 2.4-litre Ford derived engine, now also putting out 181bhp. That same 2.4-litre unit is also used in the AWD-only 215bhp D5.
The styling is probably the ace in the XC70's hole. Where the Audi has become more restrained, the XC70 opts for a beefier, more macho look and it suits it very well. Mind you, you'll certainly have to know this car well to notice the aesthetic changes visited upon this revised version. There's a smarter front grille, Daytime Running Lights and added chrome touches to give the car a more upmarket and luxurious feel. The rear has completely redesigned bumper and tail lights. Inside, the emphasis remains on serious carrying capacity. It's still extremely space-efficient with a class-competitive 485-litres of fresh air in the boot, while a massive 1,641-litres can be liberated if you fold the rear seats down and stack your cargo to the roofline. You'll also find luggage nets and hooks to help secure any items with wayward tendencies. Slip behind the wheel and you're treated to an example of Scandinavian design at its very best. The Adaptive Digital Display we first saw in the smaller V40 has been added to allow users to adapt the look of the instrument panel. New to the range is the Sensus Connected Touch infotainment system with its 7-inch centre touchscreen and microphone above the driver to enable voice control. Via this, you can connect to the internet using a mobile 'phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. This allows you to connect to apps like Spotify.
List prices suggest that, depending on the spec you've chosen, you'll be paying from just over £34,000 to just under £45,000 for your XC70. Opt for a 2WD XC70 and that represents an £1,000 premium over a comparable V70 model. Opting for AWD rather than 2WD in the D4 variant adds £1,800 to the price. Whichever XC70 variant you choose - D4 or D5 diesel or even T6 petrol - you should find this car to be reasonably equipped. Alloy wheels, roof rails, four electric windows, an 8-speaker MP3-compatible CD stereo, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and rain-sensing wipers are standard across the range. Parents will want to specify the option twin child booster seats that fold out from the rear seat cushions. And you get 'Volvo On Call', the brand's roadside assistance and emergency set-up which can be combined with the available Bluetooth mobile 'phone service. Safety-wise, there's freshly developed Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection technology which scans the road ahead and, if necessary, helps you to brake when a person or a bike veers into your path. There's also an upgraded version of Volvo's City Safety system that automatically brakes at up to 31mph to avoid low speed traffic collisions. And Active High Beam Control to dip your lights for you at night.
Your XC70 needn't cost the earth to run. The D5 engine, after all, should regularly average close to 50mpg if you drive it conservatively. The D4 models come with various modifications to improve economy and return 62.8mpg on the combined cycle and 117g/km of CO2 in two-wheel drive guise. We'd suggest though, that the absence of four-wheel drive removes much of the point of the XC70, so if you want an AWD variant in D4 form, you've to accept running cost returns from the older 2.4-litre diesel engine that are rated at 53.3mpg and 139g/km. Depreciation won't be quite up to Audi levels but should be very close. Insurance costs are always a consideration with premium brands like this one but typical Volvo customers tend to have long and careful track histories that keep costs down in this regard.
Volvo sells five standard V70 models for every XC70 it sells in the UK, a ratio which is exactly reversed in the States, where this car is five times more popular. Who has it right? On paper, you can't help wondering whether an XC is worth its premium but on the road, it's a car that might well grow on you. Rather than parade around in an SUV that draws all the wrong sort of attention, this Volvo's image is at the same time lower profile but in many ways harder hitting - an appealing balance. All right, so these are hardly unique virtues in an all-wheel drive estate but you have to point out that this car's only real rivals are either smaller or considerably more expensive. In the final analysis, this XC70 is everything you'd expect a go-anywhere Volvo estate to be: rugged, practical, beautifully engineered and supremely reliable. Very Scandinavian.