If there’s a better way to gather information for an auto blog about a new family car than to pack a family into it and go on vacation… There just isn’t. It’s a brilliant idea and in lieu of conducting a useless Google search to verify it’s never been done before, one that I’ll take full credit for coming up with.
It didn’t hurt the press car in question was a Volvo XC70: A crossover of sorts that draws its inspiration from the Volvo V70:
A station wagon: The classic family hauler that over the decades has carved itself a special place in the heart of the American vacationer as a trusty steed capable of transporting nine or more people from the drudgery of the work-a-day world to the Grand Canyon, Grandma’s house, roadside attractions showcasing the world’s biggest inanimate objects and beyond.
Appointed with every luxury option and technological advancement in the book, our leisurely five hour drive to the Oregon coast would have been a fat pitch for the XC70 to knock out of the auto review ballpark, were it not for the lurking threat of familial melt downs the family car plays host to all too often.
The scene is all too familiar - Every four hundred miles or so, with their complex and often delicate relationships condensed together tighter then Timmy, Tommy and Sarah’s thighs on the rear bench, a family's vacation-mobile will erupt into an inescapable sweat-coffin of the “So help me, I’ll pull this thing over if I smell that again!” variety.
Luckily for our family, the intrigue of the XC70’s fineries continued to absorb much of our attention long after we merged onto I-5 South.
Edmunds.com noted the matte wood and white leather trim adds to the cabin’s “showcase of modern Swedish style,” But went on to lament, “Sadly, the navigation system remains cumbersome because of an awkward interface that utilizes steering-wheel-mounted buttons and a handheld remote that duplicates those controls for the passenger.” (1)
Indeed, the XC70’s interior ensemble made the Ikea furniture in my apartment look like a pile of dirty park benches, but the excitement of logging our destination into the GPS and tracking our progress down the coast was stifled by the navigation system’s… cumbersome awkwardness.
Eventually I became so absorbed with trying to figure out how to set Lincoln City as our endpoint I was reduced to a monkey-like state, prodding at the steering-wheel buttons with dumb inarticulate fingers.
I began to drift out of our lane.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
The Volvo’s lane departure warning system had recognized I could barely operate a flip phone and was warning me to stay focused on the driving portion of my duties behind the wheel.
Never having been reprimanded by a car before, I set the cruise control to seventy miles per hour, as if to say, “Do you want to drive?”
The Volvo did, and could.
When we started to run up behind a slower moving Ford Explorer in our lane I began to move my foot towards the brake to disengage the cruise control, but the Volvo was already slowing us down.
Our speed dropped to sixty-five miles per hour to keep pace with the Explorer at a safe distance of about four seconds behind.
Eventually the Explorer moved out of the carpool lane to let us pass. As soon as it was completely out of the way, the Volvo accelerated back up to seventy miles per hour again, not in the way pressing “Resume Acceleration” on an older car will jack the RPM’s up to redline and splatter juice boxes against the rear window, but in a smooth… human way.
James Cameron had warned of this sort of thing.
Before there was time to wrap my head around what had just happened, the navigation screen rose unexpectedly from its resting place within the dashboard.
Sweet Schwarzenegger maid, were the machines really taking over?!
No. My dad had discovered the screen’s remote control in the center console and had figured out how to program our destination into the GPS from the back seat.
Moments after the fear subsided, a calm British voice came over the speaker system:
“Take exit 17 to Salem in 43.7 miles.”
We named him Smithers. He was pleasant, dutiful, and added a much needed human element to the artificial intelligence. Under his care, we turned our attention to XC70’s long list of amenities, and eventually began to flatter ourselves silly with luxury.
One notable shenanigan included cranking up the AC to sub-fifty degree temperatures until the cabin was frigid cold, then turning on the heated seats to simulate blasting through the desert at night in a convertible on an impromptu trip to Vegas.
For audio enjoyment, I located Tom Petty’s XM Sirius satellite station. His vintage rock and roll deep tracks flowed magnificently in high definition from the 650watt 12-speaker Logic II Surround Sound system.
During a song break, Petty’s nasally drawl was interrupted abruptly with directions from a voice we hadn’t heard before, an American voice - bland and boring.
We named him Craig and despised him.
At the next rest stop the navigation screen turned on, showing nothing but a glowing red orb. Smithers’ voice came over the speakers:
“I don’t care very much for Craig, do you?”
I turned the navigation system off. We were approaching the final leg of the journey on the twists and turns of Highway 101.
Thick woods closed in on either side of the road and all signs of civilization fell away. There would be no more exits until the Highway merged with the coastline just minutes from Lincoln City.
It was time to see what this Volvo could do.
“Get my albums!” I yelled.
‘Break on Through’ by The Doors pumped out of the speakers in harmony with the whistle of the turbocharger. A Vista Cruiser surely would have broken on through a guardrail under the same stresses.
The XC70 handled the twists properly with plenty of fun churning from the engine, but the higher center of gravity and notable degree of body roll compromised the elegant highway ride when pushed aggressively through the turns.
She just wasn’t a sports car after all. As soon as we dropped back down to reasonable speeds the premium feel resumed.
Abruptly the trees parted from the highway. The smell of salt water wafted in through the sunroof.
We were in Lincoln City; the promised land of beachfront rentals, deck lounging, kite flying, saltwater taffy and cruises down 101 from shop to shop in a luxurious car no one suspected was a on loan from a press fleet, save perhaps for the New Jersey plates.
We dubbed our XC70 ‘The Situation’ and spent the entire vacation feeling as such.
-Interior style, comfort, and space (72 cubic feet)
-Very capable turbocharged V6 option
-Legendary Volvo safety features
-Sexy exterior style
-Pricey compared to much of its direct competition
-Turbocharged V6 option is thirsty (17city/22hwy mpg)
-Not very sporty in the turns
Properly outfitted, the XC70 is a solid to impressive buy for the target demographic willing to pay a little extra for its selling points.