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Volvo XC70 D5 AWD SE Lux Geartronic

Click to view picture gallery“In Japan, serious car collectors
  keep their cars in their living rooms.
  During a week spent with Volvo
  XC70, I was tempted to do the
  same — just to sit comfortably while
  watching a Blu-ray...”

FOR AS LONG AS I'VE BEEN TESTING CARS (some thirty years now) Volvos have always had brilliant chairs. Great seats not only make every trip a pleasure, whether it's to your local Tesco Express or hundreds of family holiday miles, they also ensure that driving off-road doesn't leave you black and blue.

And as Volvo's all-wheel drive XC70 model is designed to take the off-road rough with the smooth, that's good news indeed.

Dual-usage is a tricky mission statement to fulfil but the XC70 manages it neatly. It looks the part for both on and off-road driving. On the one hand its long, streamlined five-door estate-style body is smart enough to hold its head high at rest in the best car parks, while on the other its high-riding ground clearance — 210mm — and tough body protection shows it's able to tackle forest trails and worse.

“While the old saw
about there being no
substitute for cubic
inches still holds true
on-road, off-road
there’s no substitute for
tons of torque.
And the best engine to
satisfy both these
demands is Volvo’s
five-cylinder turbodiesel,
the D5
While the old saw about there being no substitute for cubic inches still holds true on-road, off-road there's no substitute for tons of torque. The best engine to satisfy both these demands is the five-cylinder turbodiesel D5, as tested here.

The more powerful of the two diesel units available for the XC70, the five-cylinder inline 2.4-litre D5 pumps out 212bhp and 324lb ft between 1,500 and 3,000rpm. From inside the cabin you can't tell it's an oil-burner; you're only really aware of it under hard acceleration, when it lets out a pleasing growl.

On the road, the twin-turbocharged D5's 212bhp takes the Geartronic (automatic) version to a top speed of 127mph with the benchmark 0-60mph seen off in a brisk 7.8 seconds; off-road there's a consistent supply of low-down grunt for controlled manoeuvrability. The 20-valve turbodiesel is happy to rev and serves up its power willingly — you won't want for acceleration, and it always feels like there's some more in reserve.

With a large strong body (1,860kg kerb weight), all-wheel drive and automatic transmission, you might expect to pay dearly at the pumps. Officially, this XC70 does 41.5mpg in the combined cycle (urban 32.5; extra-urban 49.6mpg). A week's hard use in our hands over a mixed bag of roads saw a real-life average of 36.9mpg — pretty good and not that far off the official figure which, as we all know, very few cars ever match. Even so, that will get you in the region of 550 miles; and if you're travelling on motorways, you could stretch that to 700.

Volvo's six-speed Geartronic auto 'box is a smooth operator — quick to respond to your right foot as well as to manual demands via the selector lever in manual mode, and ensures stress-free driving whether you're mixing it with rush-hour commuter traffic or sailing smoothly down the motorway with the family troop.

And wherever you find yourself, you can bank on one thing above all else — you'll be supremely comfortable. The recently improved front seats really are of the just-leave-me-in-the-car variety and those on our test car were both heated and cooled. Materials are top-drawer — our test SE Lux model was upholstered in soft leather that was an appropriate match to the 39,400 price tag.

The interior is attractively and sensibly laid out with Volvo's by now ubiquitous 'floating' centre stack. Fit and finish is also first rate with plenty of attention to detail (such as the filleting to the audio and climate control knobs) and the cabin majors on quality. And it's not just roomy in all directions in the front — there's room for the whole family to travel first class.

“Wherever you find
yourself, you can bank
on one thing above
all else — you’ll be
supremely comfortable.
The recently improved
front seats
really are of the
variety and those on
our test car were both
heated and cooled
and upholstered in soft
cream leather
It's easy to set an ideal driving position from behind the smart, thick-leather-rimmed multifunction steering wheel — the driver's seat is 8-way power-operated with three memory settings, there's generous height and reach adjustment of the wheel, a height adjustable seatbelt plus a 3-stage heated and cooled front seat together make it all tickety-boo.

Just as satisfying, everything from the SatNav to the climate control to the one- shot windows works efficiently. The attractive Chronograph-style dials are crystal clear, the digital bar graph for fuel is easy to read quickly, and visibility out is fine.

The well-sited seven-inch screen displays information and images from the navigation system, phone, reversing camera, DVD player and digital TV, while the Bluetooth manages both hands-free phone conversations as well as music streaming from a Bluetooth-enabled portable music player. And a mobile app keeps you in touch with your parked XC70 via an iPhone or Android smart phone.

Saving room for storage (a handy bin with a neat sliding lid) between the front seats is an electric parking brake, operated by a switch on the fascia. You simply press to engage and conveniently, so long as you're belted-up, it releases automatically as you drive off. Other nice touches include the useful pouch pockets along the front of both front seats.

The SE Lux specification is all you'd hope for and includes leather upholstery, voice activated SatNav with 7-inch screen, electronic climate control with air quality system, heated front seats, high-performance multimedia sound system, electric windows, cruise control, electrically-adjustable driver's seat with memory function, electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors with powerfold (on demand and on locking), power-folding rear headrests, auto lights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, pop-up two-step child booster cushions (both rear outer seats), rear park assist, load-compensating suspension, power-operated tailgate, power parking brake, keyless entry and start, driver's information centre, USB and Aux, Bluetooth handsfree, tinted windscreen and, of course, electronic all-wheel drive and a set of distinctive 18-inch alloy wheels.

The usual Volvo safety aids are all present and correct: DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control), ABS, Brake Assist, and plenty of airbags. More sophisticated features include City Safety and Collision Warning with Auto Brake and pedestrian detection (automatically brakes if the driver doesn't respond in time when the car in front slows down or stops, of if the driver is driving too fast towards a stationary object) along with Hill Descent Control (for controlled and safe 'crawls' in bottom gear down steep off-road slopes), adaptive brake lights, active bending Xenon lights with headlight cleaning and even heated washer nozzles (you'll be very glad of these during the winter months).

The good news is that although this Volvo 'estate' can safely be taken off-road, it handles more like a car. That's mostly down to Volvo's Four-C 'active' chassis which continuously monitors the car's behaviour and modifies the dampers to best suit road conditions, be it tarmac or forest track — modes are Comfort, Sport and Advanced.

“Driving on less
restricted open roads,
the Geartronic is nicely
responsive and the
handling assured;
a nice accompaniment
to the supple,
easygoing ride — it’s
especially smooth
in Comfort mode
— and the unruffled
cabin ambience
On blacktop, the XC's all-wheel security and computer-damped ride lets you press-on knowing that it isn't going to do anything worrying grip-wise. Select the Sport mode and it's really in the zone.

Driving on less restricted open roads, the Geartronic is nicely responsive and the handling assured; a nice accompaniment to the supple, easygoing ride — it's especially smooth in Comfort mode — and unruffled cabin ambience.

Driven in town it's no lumbering 4x4 either, proving to be unexpectedly manoeuvrable; even supermarket parking proved to be hassle-free courtesy of the XC's good all-round visibility and accurate parking sensors.

Boot space is a family-friendly 575 litres — or a cavernous and perfectly flat 1,600 litres if you drop down the 40:20:40 split rear seats and more than enough to transport a whole tribe's outdoor paraphernalia; camping gear, bikes, etc.

Also extremely useful is the pop-up boot partition that separates the boot into two and stops shopping and the like sliding around. A 3D Cargo Load System (aluminium Cargofix rails with four attachments and four aluminium high level anchor points) is also provided. And for extra-long loads the front passenger seat forward folds.

For maxed-out family outings you'll appreciate the very large (and lockable) multi-section tray under the boot floor, while roof rails add the option of carrying even more while optimising cabin space for people.

The dog guard is another well thought-out piece of kit — neatly contained in a cartridge along the top of the rear seatbacks, it simply pulls out and locks into the roof. And if you've just returned from a muddy walk (with or without the dog), Volvo have it covered — just flip over the boot mat and make use of the durable non-slip rubber surface on its reverse.

Most people never 'get' Volvos until the pitter-patter of tiny feet enters their lives; but you don't have to be a parent to appreciate the all-wheel drive XC70 — it makes a persuasive alternative to a traditional SUV. It's also about as safe as you can get, versatile, spacious and exceedingly comfortable and, like a good butler, can deal with just about any sane demands you make of it. The only downside — parking one in your living room could be tricky! — MotorBar

Volvo XC70 D5 AWD SE Lux Geartronic | 39,400
Maximum speed: 127mph | 0-60mph: 7.8 seconds | Overall test MPG: 36.9mpg
Power: 212bhp | Torque: 324lb ft | CO2 179g/km