Volvo XC70 is top-of-the-hill in safety

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What's the difference between a station wagon and a crossover utility vehicle?

Volvo's XC70 has an off-road feature called hill descent control to reduce speed going downhill.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Volvo's XC70 has an off-road feature called hill descent control to reduce speed going downhill.

If you're a Volvo fan, it could be as subtle as the 2008 XC70.

Revamped as a third-generation model, the XC70 and its sibling, the V70 station wagon, have a new platform, new six-cylinder engine, more high-strength steel in their structures for better rigidity, and new features.

Whereas the V70 looks like a traditional station wagon, the five-door XC70 has plastic cladding on some lower body parts in a faux-SUV style, rides about 3 inches higher above the pavement than does the V70 and comes with standard all-wheel drive.

The "XC" in the XC70 name denotes "cross country."

As if that's not enough to convince consumers that the XC70 can really go off-road, the 2008 model has a new, off-road feature called hill descent control. This system automatically uses brakes and engine braking to provide slow, controlled descents on even steep, treacherous hills.

No matter whether consumers consider the XC70 a wagon or crossover, it is pricey, with a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $37,520. This is a higher starting price for a station wagon other than those from luxury brands Mercedes-Benz and BMW. And it compares with the $31,262 starting retail price for a 2008 Volvo V70.

For the price, consumers get a full complement of standard safety equipment that they've come to expect in a Swedish-built Volvo. Everything from electronic stability control and side curtain air bags to front-seat, anti-whiplash head restraints come with the car.

Many other safety features, even including a side-view blind spot alert that's not offered on most other vehicles, are options.

But the rear-seat children's booster cushions are the niftiest option to me. They are integrated nicely into the regular seat cushions but can pop up and be positioned at one of two heights that are higher than the regular seat cushions.

As a result, youngsters who sit on these booster cushions are properly positioned for correct use of the shoulder belts in case of a crash.

Additionally, these boosters give children a much better view out of the side windows. And Volvo engineers made sure to lengthen the side curtain air bags by more than 2 inches to better protect children in side crashes.

When not needed, the boosters fold down into the regular seat cushions and aren't even noticed.

The federal government has not yet released crash test ratings for the car. It is heavy, weighing more than 4,000 pounds. This is up more than 400 pounds from the previous XC70, and I noticed the heft immediately.

The vehicle doesn't spurt forward in a rush of power. Instead, there's a steady-as-she-goes sensation as the engine power gets the car moving.

The previous XC70 had a turbocharged, five-cylinder engine, and I can understand why Volvo officials moved up to a larger, 3.2-liter, naturally aspirated, inline six-cylinder with 24 valves and dual overhead cams developing 235 horsepower.

This is 27 more horses than last year's engine.

Even the bigger six cylinder, with torque peaking at 236 foot-pounds at 3,200 rpm, works at it to get this heavy car moving, and the 0-to-60-mph time of 8.1 seconds is a tad longer than the 2007 XC70.

The only transmission is a six-speed automatic that includes a shift-it-yourself-without-a-clutch-pedal mechanism.

There wasn't much difference in performance if I let the automatic do its job or I shifted.

Fuel economy is surprisingly low at just 15 miles per gallon, according to the federal government's 2008 statistics.

Highway mileage for the XC70 is just 22 mpg, according to the government.

The ride is stable, and the test car felt well-planted to the road. There was no spinning of tires on wet, slick pavement, and the all-wheel drive worked without fuss. There's no need for the driver to do anything, since the system monitors where the power is needed and shifts the torque accordingly.

In hard driving, the brakes did not appear to fade.

In the test XC70 everything seemed to go as a safety-minded driver would want -- without surprises and with a secure feeling.

SPECS

THE VEHICLE: 2008 Volvo XC70, a front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger, midsize station wagon


BASE PRICE: $36,775


DESTINATION CHARGE: $745


PRICE AS TESTED: $44,065


ENGINE: 3.2-liter, double-overhead-cam, inline six-cylinder producing 235 horsepower


TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic


EPA MILEAGE: 15 mpg city, 22 mpg highway


TOP SPEED: 130 mph


LENGTH: 190.5 inches


WHEELBASE: 110.8 inches


CURB WEIGHT: 4,092 pounds


BUILT IN: Sweden


OPTIONS: Premium package (includes power moonroof, leather seat surfaces, real wood inlay trim), $2,995; Dynaudio package (includes premium sound system with 12 Dynaudio speakers, rear-seat headphone jacks and audio controls, Sirius satellite radio with free 6-month subscription), $1,650; climate package (includes heated front seats, headlamp cleaner, heated windshield washer nozzles), $875; 17-inch Sargas alloy wheels, $550; and Oyster Grey metallic paint, $475

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