Volvo has just launched the latest version of its XC70 model in South Africa.
With its sophisticated, comfortable, yet understated Swedish style and keen cross-country ability the XC70 markedly increases Volvo's presence in the SUV market segment.
Like before the new XC70 is a cross-over vehicle combining Volvo's legendary reputation for producing comfortable, stylish station wagons with some remarkably useful all-terrain ability.
No more ugly Duckling
Exterior aesthetics have been noticeably improved from the previous model which was an ungainly looking thing with way too many exterior plastic panels.
The nose profile is sleeker, and especially the front fog light surrounds, attractively mounted in rectangular curve housings have noticeably aided the XC70's aesthetic appeal.
Rear styling has been sharpened up too with the light clusters extending further down and spilling over into a triangle shape.
Interior architecture is typical Volvo with a wonderfully benevolent driving and passenger carrying environment.
Dials are easily legible, all the controls are logically places, and even more stately aged 'techno-phobes' would be comfortable operating the cabin features.
According to Volvo rear legroom has increased by 48mm and tangibly the entire cabin feels more airy.
The seats remain ludicrously comfortable too, besting many expensive lounge suites.
Owing to their heritage of building outlandishly capable station wagons there is stuff of genius in the luggage compartment.
Two aluminium rails along the sides of the load-bay floor and are equipped with easily adjustable anchor points, which are really handy for securing down bulky items which might move about too keenly during fast or undulating driving.
Neatly hinged, the tailgate is power operated, and opens up to a wider, more capacious angle, whilst retaining the fool-proof collision sensor action which stops it's closing down on your head.
There is also an ingenious little pop-up panel in the middle of the load-bay floor which has a front strap and is ideal for securing those small items which usually roll around to oblivion on an unexpected shopping excursion.
With 555-litres of space, load-bay capacity is great, yet it comes at a huge cost: the absence of a full-sized spare wheel.
Pretty and cleverly packaged, but is the XC70 worth something after you hit the starter button? Diesel power is by virtue of a 2.4-litre, inline five-cylinder turbodiesel producing 136kW at 4000 r/min and 400Nm at between 2000-2750r/min.
A petrol powered 3.2-litre inline-six producing 175kW at 6200r/min and 320Nm at 3200r/min makes up the rest of the engine line-up.
Both engines have decidedly longstroke configurations profiled for smooth torque delivery instead of all-out throttle response and drive through a six-speed automatic gearbox, with the obligatory tiptronic function, on the South African models.
With the XC70 weighing in at 1 844kg performance was expected to be reasonable, yet the tardiness of the automatic gearbox, even when coaxed about in tiptronic mode, makes the XC70 feel like it's dragging an anchor off the line.
Once at speed third and forth gear are responsive enough for most overtaking situations, and the inline configurations engines never sound strident or show any mechanical protest when being extended. Overall though the performance, especially when the claimed power figures are factored in, feels slightly limp.
The test route meandered around the Muldersdrift area and obviously the normally aspirated 3.2-litre six was always going to feel a bit slow at Reef altitudes.
The diesel though, despite its 400Nm torque peak is done no performance favours by the sloth like automatic gearbox and feels positively pedestrian off the line.
It does ride beautifully though, and although the steering is slightly fidgety, body roll is present yet controllable when negotiating sweeps at speed.
With great sound insulation, thanks in part to the double laminated, nearly unbreakable windows, a plaint ride and the most comfortable seats around, the XC70 makes a very compelling long-distance cruising prospect.
Off-road though the all-wheel drive system, with its electronically controlled hydraulic clutch transferring drive between the front and rear wheels, and equipped with the instant traction system, which shifts drive expediently to wheels with requisite grip on loose or slippery surfaces, proved very capable.
The off-road route featured loose rocky inclines, the like of which a XC70 owner would probably never contemplate negotiating. With 210mm of ground clearance and a neat underbody design without too many snag points, the XC70's, both petrol and diesel, cruised up and down all obstacles seamlessly.
As soon as the front wheels touch dust the power steering transforms and suddenly the fidgety, over-correcting nature it exhibits on-road disappears. On undulating, loose surfaces it is wonderfully communicative and accurate.
Dirt roads can be negotiated at speeds which make wildlife viewing a vertigo inducing blur, with the communicative steering just edging you on to indulge in some WRC-like antics, despite the standard dynamic stability and traction control being switches on.
A neat standard feature, considering the absence of low-range, is hill descent control, which enables a combination of compression and disc braking to control the car's decent speeds when negotiating slippery or steep slopes. The system disengages when the accelerator is pressed.
Safe and cosseting
Being a Volvo means safety is a non-negotiable. You get a whiplash protection system for the front seats, the obligatory airbag set-up, whilst the curtain airbags now extend 60mm lower to offer even better side-impact protection.
The transverse mounted inline-configuration engines lower the probability of passenger cell penetration during a frontal impact, whilst there is a list of optional dynamic safety features too.
Adaptive cruise control is one of these options, and essentially means you can have pedal-free driving, with the car sensing the distance and behaviour of other vehicles and applying brake and accelerator actions to safely keep you at a set speed. All you have to do it steer it to your destination.
Collision warning, with its emergency brake lights which pop up as a heads-up display and is accompanied by an annoying buzzer, is a less endearing option and not really a substitute for keeping you eyes on the road. On a mechanical level the brake are primed for immediate, heavy dynamic actuation when the system senses a potential collision.
The blind spot information system (BLIS) is one of the must-have options, and a makes multi-lane, congested traffic negotiation a seamless exercise by sensing the presence of a vehicle in your blind-spot and alerting you to it.
The XC70 has a plush cabin environment. With standard climate control, power seats and leather trim with wood inlays it's a refreshingly Scandinavian environment, different and in many ways more user-friendly than the overly electronically and sombre German interiors.
There are some awful interior trim options though, with a scattered 'scratched' aluminium finish which defies design aesthetic.
The standard sound system is MP3 enabled and delivers acoustically crisp sounds, whilst the optional premium sound package is simply epic.
Employing Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound, with speakers courtesy of Danish speaker specialist Dynaudio, the sound quality is stupefying.
Stylish without being overbearing in a uniquely Scandinavian way. Capacious and capable without being complicated.
The XC70 is a tremendously cosseting car to devour great distances with. It has more all-terrain ability than any of its owners could ever possibly need, and being adorned with the Volvo logo it has impeccable safety characteristics.
The options list is long though, and if you tick too many specification boxes on the order form the price will inflate appreciably.
XC70 D5: R429 000
XC70 3.2: R419 000