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Double duty: Volvo offers a worthy hybrid

01-15-2002, 10:05 AM
The 2001 Volvo V70 XC is well disguised.

It looks like a beefed-up Volvo station wagon, but it's really a sport utility vehicle, a sports car and a safety showcase - all wrapped into one.

2001 Auto Show

The 2001 Volvo V70 XC may look like a station wagon but it's actually a hybrid of a SUV and a sports car.


Dates: February 24 through March 4
Location: Midwest Express Center‚400 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Phone: (414) 908-6000

Monday - Thursday: 3 to 9 p.m.
Friday: 1 to 10 p.m.
Saturdays: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sundays: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Adults (13 & older): $7
Senior Citizens (62 & older): $4
Children (7 to 12): $4
Children (6 & younger): Free

• Section: 2001 Auto Show

Volvo says this flagship model of its V70 wagon lineup is for car buyers "who like the SUV concept but want something a bit more sophisticated."

They get it.

The ride in the V70 XC is smooth and car-like, not truckish as in some sport utilities.

And even with an SUV-like ground clearance of 7.6 inches, the V70 XC feels sure-footed on the road, even on tight mountain curves. There's little body lean in aggressive maneuvers, and there's plenty of all-wheel-drive tracking.

The turbocharged, five-cylinder engine provides lots of zip for a sports-car feel, and the V70 XC includes some safety features not found on most SUVs. Moreover, this five-door wagon's maximum 71.5 cubic feet of cargo room rivals that of some SUVs.

Too bad all this comes at a steep starting price of $35,475, which includes manufacturer's suggested retail price and destination charge.

Whether you consider this a hybrid SUV, as Volvo hopes, or merely a very sporty station wagon, Volvo has done well.

The 2001 model year marks the second-generation V70 XC, which made its debut in 1997. While its overall look may not be that distinguishable from its predecessor, Volvo emphasizes that the new V70 XC is a completely new model.

It's based on the same platform that's used for the other Volvo V70 wagons and the S80 sedan.

But the new V70 XC gets greater ground clearance this year and seat height is increased an inch so riders have a better view - not anything close to that of a high-riding SUV but better than in a low-slung sports car.

As did the earlier model, the 2001 wagon includes standard all-wheel drive. The system puts 95% of the engine power to the front wheels in normal conditions but automatically transfers a greater percentage of power to the rear wheels if it detects a need for greater traction.

Drivers don't notice the seamless power transfer, and they don't need to push a button or shift a lever to activate the system. It's on, monitoring the car's movements, all the time.

For 2001, Volvo made the all-wheel-drive system lighter by about 12 pounds. But it doesn't include a low gear for really rigorous off-road going. In fact, the company's press materials note that the XC, which stands for Cross Country, "is designed and built to be driven on roads, good and bad."

The V70 XC also has standard four-wheel traction control that can intervene to halt wheel spin at a singular wheel. This system, too, is automatic.

I was especially impressed at how well the test V70 XC made an eight-hour, long-distance drive.

The thickly supportive leather seats were so ergonomic that they warded off fatigue.

And passing maneuvers on the highway and on country roads were relatively quick, thanks to the turbocharged engine with a new, sport-minded, five-speed automatic with Geartronic.

Geartronic allows drivers to shift from gear to gear without a clutch.

The new V70 XC retains the 2.4-liter, five-cylinder engine of its predecessor, but modifications improve performance and fuel economy and reduce emissions and vibration.

Horsepower is up to 197 from 190, and torque is increased 11 foot-pounds.

Note that the maximum 210 foot-pounds of torque is available at a low 1,800 rpm.

Fuel economy, however, is not particularly impressive in the V70 XC. This model is rated at 17 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway.

New comfort, convenience and security features highlight the new Volvo.

The second-row seats don't just split in two and fold down as they do in most vehicles. There is a middle section in the V70 XC rear seat that can be folded down by itself to accommodate long items - with the two rear outboard seats still available for people.

Two third-row seats are optional, offering seven-passenger seating in the V70 XC.

And, as you'd expect in a Volvo, safety features abound. They include anti-lock brakes, anti-whiplash front-seat head restraints and inflatable curtains that deploy from the ceiling in side crashes.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Feb. 23, 2001.

01-15-2002, 10:07 AM
For affluent members of the motoring public who can't abide sport utility vehicles - and there must be at least three of them out there somewhere - the new crop of mid-size luxury station wagons offers an enticing alternative.

They convey comfort and gobs of cargo space without the tippy handling, harsh ride and fuel slurping propensities of the sport utes.

Obviously, the downside is that you can't go mucking around in the boondocks, but almost nobody does that anyway - not even owners of pricey SUVs with brush busters and skid plates.

There's a decent selection of posh mid-size wagons, all of them from European manufacturers: The Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, Saab 9-5, Audi A-6 and the tested Volvo V70. Of the five, the former two are rear-drive designs and the others come with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

If you're not so wealthy or don't want to spend the bucks it takes to drive one of those, there are other less-expensive choices: Ford's Taurus and Focus, the Mercury Sable, Volkswagen Passat, and Subaru's Legacy and Outback.

But Volvo, which has been building box-like station wagons since the 1960s, has been the traditional leader in the import mid-size class, and it's doing its best with the new V70 to hold onto the title.

The tester was the sleek new 2001 V70 T5, which features a turbocharged 2.3-liter in-line five-cylinder engine with a whopping 247 horsepower, so there's plenty of performance to complement all the luxury touches.

Zero to 60 acceleration is a tick over seven seconds with the five-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually at the driver's discretion. A manual gearbox is standard.

There's some turbo lag - that feeling that the engine is holding back until it spools up and kicks butt - but it has been mostly dampened out. Similarly, there's a modest amount of so-called torque steer - that tug at the steering wheel on front-drive cars that happens when you're turning at the same time you're mashing the pedal.

Under hard acceleration, the automatic transmission shifts abruptly - and sometimes harshly. You can overcome those tendencies, however, by using the manual shift mode, which Volvo calls Geartronic.

In the main, however, this is a civilized conveyance that handles and feels more like a sports sedan than a station wagon. With that driving enjoyment and its 38 cubic feet of cargo space, which jumps to 72 cubic feet with the rear seat folded, it's hard to imagine that anyone needing that hauling capability would opt for a sport ute.

The T5 doesn't come cheap, however. Its base price of $33,975 looks relatively modest, given the company it keeps, but options on the test car bumped that to $42,705.

That included virtually everything you could lay in for a long relationship, including a third seat back in the cargo area (suitable only for kids up to about 11 years old), integrated toddler seats in the middle row, leather upholstery, a sunroof, power seats with memory settings, automatic climate control and a high-zoot stereo system.

A note about the stereo: Auto manufacturers seem to be convinced that the more a car costs, the more complicated the stereo controls should be. The V70's are unlike anything you see anywhere, and you have to study the owner's manual to figure them out. It offers the same dubious pleasure as programming a VCR.

No Volvo would be complete without a long list of safety equipment, which on the T5 includes traction control, side air bags, seatbelt pretensioners, whiplash protection and too-bright daytime running lights that are identical to the night lights.

On the upside, of which there is much, the T5 may have the most comfortable front seats of any car anywhere. They're large and deep, with a softness that belies their solid support of both the tush and backside. The seats are so good they could be a success in the aftermarket.

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