The XC70 and XC90 models are the Volvos you turn to if a basic V70 with all-wheel drive isn't quite enough to cut it for the kind of muddy excursion you have in mind. The XC70 isn't quite in the same league as the most purpose-built XC90: instead picture a V70 estate with extra ground clearance and durable body protection and you've just about summed it up.
Still, the XC70 makes a good showing for itself in the showroom, with an electric driver's seat with memory controls, leather upholstery, electronic climate control, an electronic information centre and a pumped-up stereo featuring Dolby surround sound, plus Dynamic Stability Control on the petrol version. Pay a little more for SE Lux trim and you get the remainder of the options list thrown in as well. As well as a satellite navigation system with integrated television, there are electrically adjustable heated driver and passenger seats, rain sensing windscreen wipers and a headlamp wash wipe system for when the going gets majorly muddy.
The dashboard looks smart, with aluminium inlays and a three spoke steering wheel. Though there are no extra passenger spaces in the estate compartment, the rear seat has been cleverly designed with a backrest that can be locked into either of two positions for maximum comfort or vital extra luggage space. Uniquely, it also splits 40/20/40 so that you can drop just the centre section, comfortably accommodate four people and still take skis or other long items. When flat, this section becomes an instant children's play table or optionally, can convert into a cooler box. Another nice touch is the heavy grille that comes down from the interior roof to partition the loading area from the passenger compartment, guarding against flying luggage or over-friendly dogs. Whichever version you choose, there's the peace of mind of Volvo's WHIPS anti-whiplash protection system and a complete complement of front and side airbags.
The Volvo XC70 is a rugged thing and has yet to report any significant faults although as with any estate car, check the rear load bay for signs of damage. The interior trim is hardy and the fittings are well made, so the interiors tend to bear up pretty well. You may well want to check for correct wheel alignment and inspect the suspension and exhaust if you suspect it may have been subjected to something more arduous than a grassy car park. The ramp and departure angles of the car aren't great so take a look at the underside for scuffing or other damage.
(approx based on a 2003 XC70 2.5T) Volvo consumables aren't going to break the bank. A new air filter for the V70 is around £12, whilst a fuel filter will be £20. Spark plugs retail at £15 whilst a cam belt is £40, and an oil filter £8.
When the XC70 was launched, it retailed at around £3,000 less than the equivalent XC90. Volvo had seriously misjudged the demand the big XC90 would create and two years later, the price differential between equivalently specified XC70 and XC90 models was a yawning £8,000. This means that if you need a 4x4 Volvo, the XC70 is the value pick. We'd certainly recommend an XC70 over the conventional V70 AWD model, since the premium buys you not only the extra ground clearance but a much more sophisticated 4x4 system.
Instead of a viscous coupling in the propshaft distributing power between front and rear wheels, the XC70 opts instead for a far more sophisticated Haldex differential that works in a quicker and more intelligent fashion than the viscous set-up. We'll spare you the technical details on how the whole thing works but the bottom line is that the next time you're in a muddy carpark with a heavy towing load on the back, you'll be in a much better position to avoid borrowing the local farmer's tractor.
Two engines are on offer and the choice between the two will be clear-cut, depending upon your priorities. The entry-level price buys you the engine most owners will probably choose - Volvo's excellent 161bhp turbo diesel D5 unit, capable of a 33mpg average, plus sixty from rest in 11.5s on the way to 121mph. Spend a little more and there's also the option of the light pressure turbo 2.5T 210bhp petrol unit which suffers a little more at the pumps (a 27mpg average) but is considerably more rapid, making sixty in just 7.5s on the way to 140mph. That's close to Audi Allroad 2.7T pace for thousands less.
The diesel engine mated to Volvo's clever Geartronic automatic box is a particularly good combination in the D5 variant, the 2.4-litre all aluminium five-cylinder engine receiving additional strengthening to cope with the torque loading and stresses of a diesel unit. If you don't like that, there's a 6-speed manual to consider. Talking torque, the D5 generates a healthy 340Nm at just 1750rpm, which is more than Volvo's 250bhp T5 petrol unit and only 10Nm less than the larger-engined BMW 525d Touring. Don't be tempted to think that this amount of lugging power comes at the expense of refinement. Twist the key and you'll get a slight thrum that'll remind you which pump to pull up at but nothing that's going to make you invest in an uprated stereo system to drown out the din. On a par with the better diesels from Audi and Mercedes, if not quite BMW standard, engine noise is well controlled even when ascending the rev range, when this powerplant takes on an impressive, albeit muted, induction roar like a very powerful petrol unit.
Unlike many diesels, there's a useable amount of flexibility to be had near the top end of the rev band, although a bit of a hole exists at the bottom end. So, a diesel that revs like a decent petrol engine and sounds like one too - does it have the performance to match? To be frank, no it doesn't. Audi's 2.5 TDI Allroad easy has the legs on this XC, though to be fair, it can't match the Volvo's fuel economy, is less well equipped and costs more. You pays your money.
The Volvo XC70 is a well-judged study in compromise. To find yourself in the target market, you need a little off road ability but not too much, a modicum of extra ride height but nothing excessive and you want a prestigious badge without lapsing into ostentation. If that's you, then you'll be pleased to know that used examples of this car are relatively plentiful and - by and large - well looked after. The D5 diesel version gets our nod and makes a very satisfying option if you need one quality vehicle to fulfil a number of tasks.