Thunder rumbled like a backline bass beat to the rhythmic slapping of the wipers.
A warm front was meeting a cold front and spring was in the air, literally, as the rain pelted down from the sky above.
I was snug as a bug in my Volvo XC70.
Oh, I know, any car can keep you safe and dry and out of the elements.
But the XC70 was a particularly calming oasis in a storm that seemed to be beating with purpose against glass and steel.
Maybe it was the new car aroma that inspired the calm—the Volvo-specific scent of premium leather that wafted from the warm embrace of heated seats. Or perhaps it was the smooth ride, the sure handling and inherent reassurance of all-wheel drive abilities.
Or maybe it was because my iPod, normally shuffling through everything from Handel to hard rock, had randomly selected a soft classical counterpoint to the maelstrom outside.
For whatever reason, when you blend those soothing sensory inputs with a few less tangible qualities, like Volvo’s legacy of dependability, its design solidity and the company’s single-minded dedication to a safety ethos, you wind up with a vehicle that can’t help but inspire confidence, comfort and maybe even some sales.
Now, putting it plainly, Volvo’s XC70 is really nothing more than a station wagon pimped up with SUV pretensions.
As a response to the anti-minivan backlash and the resulting sport ute craze of the 1990s, the V70 Cross Country (or XC) wagon followed the same crossover formula as the Subaru Outback—namely, jack up the platform for extra ground clearance, slap on some butch body cladding, and bolt on bigger wheels and tires for a more aggressive stance and macho attitude.
Like the Outback, the XC70 managed to cash in on the sport utility fever and both vehicles fought a holding action while their respective manufacturers scrambled to add actual SUVs to their lineups.
But while it’s tempting to be a little flippant about the legitimacy of its origins, 15 years later, the XC70 has proved to have real staying power, blending wagon practicality with all-condition, all-roads, all-season abilities that have evolved with luxuries and technologies worthy of the premium wagon segment.
The lineup starts at just over $40K and customers can choose from two engines, four trim levels, assorted option packages and a list of accessories that will soon have top-end prices edging the $60K mark.
The XC70 3.2 starts with a 3.2-litre inline six-cylinder DOHC engine (240 hp, 236 lb/ft) with a fuel economy rating of 11.6/7.8L/100km (city/hwy).
Volvo Canada imports only all-wheel drive models and, as expected, even the base model comes loaded with standard features that include an automatic transmission, ABS braking, Dynamic Stability & Traction Control, front and rear skid plates, fog lamps, 16-inch alloy wheels, rain sensing wipers, headlight washers, power driver seat and mirrors with memory settings, heated front seats, tilt/telescopic steering with cruise & audio controls, dual zone climate control, 650-watt Premium Sound System and a whole lot more.
The content builds with each step up the trim ladder—Premium, Premium Plus and Platinum—adding leather seating, more technologies and more goodies, too many to list here.
Next, we move up to the optional turbo.
The XC70 T6 model harnesses a more powerful 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder DOHC engine, boosted by a Twin-Scroll Turbo (300 hp, 325 lb/ft) with a fuel economy rating of 12/8.5L/100km (city/hwy).
The T6 model line starts one step up in Premium trim and is also available in Premium Plus and in the top-of-the-line Platinum level.
Which pretty well describes our test model.
In fact, this XC70 T6 AWD Platinum model gets one final nudge to the top of the Volvo food chain with the Polestar package, a dealer-installed tuning adjustment from Volvo’s racing and performance division that bumps the turbo-spooled power up to 325 hp (up from 300 hp) and torque to 354 lb/ft (up from 325 lb/ft) without affecting fuel economy.
This is called “having your cake and eating it too”, blending a mix of rough and ready abilities combined with luxury and comforts, five passenger roominess, 2044 litres of innovative, tracked cargo space with under floor storage and a fold-up grocery storage system, in a car that goes like stink.
And, getting back to fuel economy, my real world results worked out to 13.3L/100km, a combined average I don’t begrudge, considering how much fun I was having and also considering that the turbo makes power honestly with regular octane fuel (although premium is recommended for best performance).
Some Polestar vehicles come dipped in a distinctive blue paint job but, in this case, only a small blue Polestar badge separates this barnstormer from the rest of the herd.
I haven’t even mentioned the long list of stand-alone and packaged available technologies that fall under Volvo’s safety mantra—Active High Beam, Road Sign Information, Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, Driver Alert Control, BLIS, and automatic braking systems that include City Safe, Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian Warning with Full Auto Brake.
There’s not much to complain about in the XC70, especially at this top-of-the-line Platinum level.
The steering feels slightly heavy, probably to tame the power of the normal front-wheel drive bias of the all-wheel drive system. The cabin is roomy enough and the leather seat surfaces are sofa soft. The instrument panel still features the perfect human-shaped HVAC controls and a multi-buttoned array. Which is fine with me, compared to endless menu scrolling of other techno-centric cars.
Although, Volvo is making a nod in that design direction, recently debuting the 2014 model at the New York auto show with a new Sensus Connected Touch seven-inch touch screen, new gauge cluster and other interior refinements along with continued commitment to the XC70 exterior cosmetics with a wider grille, bigger badging, a stronger emphasis on the black body cladding and new lights in front and back.
But even this 2013 XC70 has introduced new packaging tweaks with active Xenon headlights, active high beam, a Road Sign Information system and more.
And that yearly evolution of product has kept the XC70 relevant as a technologically sophisticated premium vehicle, offering station wagon utility, luxury sedan-style accommodations and enough all-weather prowess to not only see owners through an occasional storm or the worst of Swedish or Canadian winters, but also providing safety, security and driving enjoyment all year long.
The Volvo XC70, in whatever trim level you prefer, is certainly worth a test drive.
Volvo XC70 T6 AWD Polestar 2013
Body Style: premium wagon.
Drive Method: front-engine, all-wheel drive.
Engine: 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder DOHC Twin-Scroll Turbocharged engine with Polestar tuning (325 hp, 354 lb/ft) with a fuel economy rating of 12/8.5L/100km (city/hwy).
Fuel Economy: 12/8.5L/100km (city/hwy).
Cargo Capacity: 2,044 litres
Towing Capacity: 1,500 kg.
Price: As tested $56,445 based on 2013 XC70 Platinum—$52,500 plus Twilight Bronze Metallic paint ($800), Climate Package with heated rear seats ($850), BLIS ($800), Polestar Performance Software ($1,4950).
Not including Destination Charges ($1,095)
Web Site: www.volvocars.com/en-CA