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.
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 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 percent 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 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, 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 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.
This compares with the 212-horsepower, six-cylinder engine with 210 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm in another hybrid wagon, the new Subaru Outback H6-3.0 VDC with starting price of $32,390.
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, while the Outback with six cylinders is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 27 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. This third row, however, doesn't provide a lot of headroom, so it's best used for children.
Other seat positions are mostly on a par with competitors. Front-seat headroom of 39.3 inches compares with 39.5 inches in the Lexus RX 300, for example.
The RX 300 has 40.7 inches of front-seat legroom and 36.4 inches of legroom in the back compared with the V70 XC's 42.6 inches in the front and 35.2 inches in the rear.
The 2001 Lexus RX 300 has a starting price of $34,400 for a two-wheel drive model and $36,150 for an all-wheel drive model.
People who are chemically sensitive will find the V70 XC interior textiles comply with the world's leading eco-label requirements and are free of harmful substances and residual products.
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