2009 Volvo XC70 T6 Review
By Kevin Miller
The Volvo XC70, affectionately known as the “Cross Country” (though that moniker has been quietly dropped from Volvo’s lexicon), is a version of Volvo’s popular V70 wagon featuring all-wheel drive, a raised suspension for higher ride, and lower-body cladding for an off-road look. Autosavant recently spent a week with a Volvo V70, which is available only with a 235 HP 3.2 liter inline six and front wheel drive, and found it to be a comfortable, capable wagon.
For 2009, the XC70, is available either with a 235 HP, 3.2 liter inline six, or in T6 guise, with a 3 liter turbocharged six delivering 281 HP. I was eager to sample the XC70 T6 because its 281 HP approaches the 300 HP of my own 2004 Volvo V70R, the powerful flagship model of Volvo’s previous generation wagon. As a Volvo wagon owner, I’m in a good position to see what has been improved in the current generation. After spending a week with a 2009 XC70 T6, I can tell you that the vehicle is a big improvement over its predecessor- and the T6 is a big improvement over the 3.2.
My lasting impression after a week with the XC70 T6 is that the wagon is incredibly smooth. The engine seems to idle without vibration, unlike the previous generation’s 5-cylinder engines. It is always quiet in the car’s cabin, whether on a poorly-paved interstate at 80 MPH or cruising through the suburbs at 35. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels perfect and smooth. The flowing shapes and rich materials in the car are harmonious. It is evident that this vehicle was engineered as a luxury wagon, rather than being a wagon merely dressed up in luxury trimmings.
Volvo’s advertising and press photos show the XC70 fording streams, descending incredibly steep grades using its standard Hill Descent Control, and perched on rocky outcroppings at the end of some rugged trail. While the XC70 does have all-wheel drive, underbody skid plates, and reasonably tall ground clearance, most of these vehicles will surely spend their lives in the suburbs, safely shuttling families between the grocery store, work, and school in quiet comfort.
The interior of my Caper Green XC70 T6 was finished in a beige color that Volvo refers to as Sandstone. The exact shade of beige was color matched by the dashboard, door trims, center console, steering wheel, steering column stalks, and most other interior surfaces. Only the dark brown dash top and the aluminum and wood accents were a different hue. The overall effect turned out to be a little too beige for me. With the steering wheel and seating surfaces such a light color, it seems the surfaces touched every day would quickly become dirty. Moreover, the whole effect was very monochromatic, almost in a monotonous way. Using a different color (or treatment) on the door panels would go a long way toward breaking up the barrage of beige in the otherwise tasteful and nicely-assembled cabin.
The front seats were flawlessly comfortable, which is a hallmark of Volvo seating. The seats cushions were flat, however, providing virtually no lateral support. Combined with slippery leather seating surfaces, which were included as part of the Premium Package, taking corners aggressively caused me to slide around in the driver’s seat. Sport seats with some bolstering would be a nice option.
The XC70 rides nicely on its standard suspension, which is calibrated to iron out road imperfections, silence road noise, and deliver a comfortable ride. Volvo’s electronic suspension is available as an option in some markets, but it is not available for 2009 in the US. The ride of the standard suspension is good enough, though that I wouldn’t bother with the electronic option.
The tall ride height of the XC70, combined with exposed sills below the door openings, mean that it is easy to rub the leg of your pants against a wet, dirty sill when getting in or out of the car. The first few days I drove the XC coincided with record rainfall in Washington state; I dirtied the calves of three pair of pants in two days getting out of the car during wet weather.
The instrument panel in the XC70 T6 features large dials for speed and engine RPM, each with a circular electronic display screen in its center. The scale around the outside of each of those instruments is set into a very nice looking metallic bezel, but those bezels can reflect ambient light in such a way that the scale becomes difficult to see, marring what is otherwise a very nice looking gauge. Fuel level is indicated on one of the electronic screens, there is no engine temperature display. All of the XC70’s controls were easy to understand, though the front and rear defroster buttons were a bit small and didn’t stand out quite enough on the climate controller. The stalks on both sides of the steering column were obscured by the steering wheel spokes, rendering the buttons on the face of each stalk not visible.
While the T6 has a reasonably powerful engine which is nicely responsive when underway, the 4200 lb curb weight of the car means there is a lot of inertia to overcome when setting off from a stop. A prod of the gas pedal results in a moment’s pause as the vehicle rolls forward, then it accelerates nicely as the turbocharger spools up. Although the all-wheel-drive system in the XC70 has Instant Traction (a system that pre-loads the Haldex AWD coupling), that instant traction can be overcome on hard acceleration, leading to a spinning front wheel when accelerating around a corner from a stop- even on dry pavement- before the rear wheels kick in again. Not exactly the behavior one would expect from a European all-wheel drive wagon. The next-generation Haldex AWD, which I experienced in the Saab Turbo X earlier this year, was far superior in AWD functionality. Most buyers of the XC70 are unlikely to drive this aggressively, so it is not much of an issue.
The six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission has a gate for manually shifting or holding gears, but there is no Winter mode nor Sport mode. The transmission shifts smoothly though not quickly, and using the manual gear selector gate doesn’t hasten shifting- it merely actuates shifts. A Sport mode which increases throttle and shift responsiveness would be a welcome addition, though it would likely decrease fuel economy.
For 2009, all Volvo models (finally) incorporate Bluetooth hands-free telephone functionality. It was easy to pair my iPhone to the system in the Volvo. Once paired, I was able to access my list through the head unit. Phone calls were very easy to hear thanks to the quiet cabin. Directly entering phone numbers was also easy using the telephonic keypad on the vehicle dash. The numeric keys also serve as memory keys for the AM, FM, and Sirius stations. Both Sirius and FM have two sets of presets, with ten keys, for a total of twenty memorized channels each. The upgraded Dynaudio audio system included as part of the Technology Package had great sound, though it only had a single-disc CD player in the dash.
The screen that displays audio and climate system information does a good job showing only necessary data. Its basic layout shows climate information in a band along the bottom, with telephone or audio information shown in the main upper section. However, when adjustments are made to the climate control, or when tuning a radio station or adjusting volume, the entire screen briefly shows a graphical display of the setting being adjusted, then returns to the main layout. When listening to RDS-enabled FM stations or Sirius satellite radio, the station name and song information is displayed. When playing CDs encrypted with track information, that track information is displayed.
The XC70 (as well as Volvo’s more pedestrian V70 wagon) has two features which make it an incredibly handy vehicle for people with small children. The first is Volvo’s integrated two-stage child booster seats. The adjustability for use by smaller children helped my three-and-a-half year old daughter fit easily into the seat. I have Volvo’s older, single-stage booster seat in my 2004 V70, and the two-stage booster in the XC70 I tested fits her much better than the single-stage booster in my own car. The second incredibly useful feature is the electrically-actuated child locking of the vehicle’s rear doors. The same button that electrically locks out the windows also activates the child locks. The beauty in this setup is that the locks can be set while underway to prevent accidental door openings, but then can be disabled at the touch of a button when at your destination, so that a child can let herself out of the car. It really is a useful feature for “big kids,” preventing the driver from needing to play chauffeur and open the door each time the child needs to get out of the car.
The XC70’s cargo area was quite large, and the seatbacks fold forward in a 40/20/40 split to form a completely flat load floor. The front passenger seatback can also fold forward to facilitate loading of very long items. The cargo area has a retractable cargo cover and adjustable aluminum load-securing hooks which fold out of tracks recessed in the floor. The T6 version I tested lacked the grocery bag holder, cargo net, tinted rear glass, and electrically-operated tailgate of the $1195 Convenience Package, so my grocery bags did slide around and tip over on a trip home from the store. A simple cargo net used with the load-securement hooks would take care of that without having to buy the expensive Convenience Package.
During my week with the XC70 T6, a friend who sells Volvos asked me to drop by her dealership to show it off, as they hadn’t received stock of any XC70s with the T6 power plant. In return for giving the dealership employees the opportunity to check out the new-for-2009 T6 in the new-for-2009 Caper Green color, I was able to take a brief drive in a 2008 XC70 with the 3.2 liter inline six. Suffice it to say that the T6 engine makes the XC70- it is the one you’ll want to buy. With the base 3.2 liter as the only engine available in both the XC70 and the V70 through 2008, it is no wonder I have seen so few of the current-generation cars on the road. I was not impressed with the lazy acceleration of the 3.2, and was very happy to get back into the T6 I was reviewing. With the XC70 3.2 starting at $37,250 and the T6 starting at $39,500 (with equipment levels otherwise identical), choosing the T6 should be a no-brainer, especially when you look at the fuel economy ratings.
The XC70 T6 has an EPA rating of 15/22 MPG city/highway, with a combined rating of 18 MPG. The 3.2 liter base engine isn’t really any better, with an economy rating of 15/23 MPG, and 46 fewer horsepower. I reset the fuel economy and average speed values in the Volvo’s trip computer when the XC70 T6 was delivered so I could track consumption. I drove about 300 miles during my week with the T6, and 100 of the first 150 miles were on a freeway drive, mostly in light traffic. After those 150 miles, I had an average of 21.7 MPG with an average speed of 41 MPH. At the end of the week with, most of the rest of the miles being in mixed driving, I had an average fuel economy of 19.3 MPG from an average speed of 33 MPH. Not exactly an economical family car, though somewhat better than larger crossover vehicles or SUVs.
The 2009 XC70 T6 I drove had a base price of $39,500, with a few additions: metallic paint for $525, Premium Package (power glass moonroof, leather seating surfaces, power passenger seat, inside rear view mirror with compass, HomeLink integrated garage door opener, wood interior inlays) for $2995, and Climate/Technology/Booster Package (heated front seats, rain sensing wipers, headlamp washers, heated windshield washer nozzles, dual integrated two-stage child booster seats, dual xenon headlights with Active Bending Light, Dynaudio sound system, rear seat headphone jacks with audio controls, and Sirius satellite radio) for $3170. Including the $795 destination charge, the total MSRP was a not-insignificant $46985.
Although that price is steep, there are deals to be had on these cars. While reviewing the XC70 I got a flier from Costco in the mail, stating that Costco Auto Program is running their Volvo Winter Savings promotion between November 20 and January 5. That promotion is selling Volvo XC70, V70, and XC90 models for $1000 below the Volvo Employee Price. Additionally, the purchaser will receive a $750 “Volvo Gift Card” which may be applied to the purchase price, any discounts and incentives offered by Volvo at the time of purchase, and a $500 Costco cash card for filling out a Costco Vehicle Program survey. This sounds like an easy way to shave a few thousand dollars off of the price of an XC70.
Overall, I found the XC70 T6 to be a very smooth, luxurious family hauler. The tall wagon drove nicely, was comfortable to sit in and drive, and was easy to use. This version of the XC70 is far more refined than the previous generation, both in terms of powertrain smoothness and in interior design, fit, and finish. The current XC70 provides a useful increase in rear seat legroom and cargo space, and the T6 engine has a respectable amount of power for moving the wagon down the road. I didn’t expect to like the XC70 T6 nearly as much as I did; I truly enjoyed the time I spent driving this car. During my week with the XC70 I came to appreciate the thought that Volvo put into the car’s details, which make it an easy vehicle to live with and to drive with confidence.
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