Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Chris Chase
The Volvo Ocean Race, according to Volvo, is the “definitive professionally-crewed, round-the-world sailing race for monohull boats.” Eight 11-member crews piled onto their boats and set off on an eight month, 50,000-km journey that takes the sailors across four oceans, through “sweltering doldrums, freezing waters filled with icebergs and gales that blow unabated for weeks,” and into ports on five continents. The race ends June 17th. Volvo calls it a physical feat that rivals scaling Mount Everest. You might call it a funny thing to name a car after, but hey – it’s Volvo’s race, so they can do what they want. (Don’t like it? Get your own pan-oceanic sailboat race.)
To commemorate the 2005-2006 edition of the race, Volvo has added 200 Ocean Race editions of its SUV models, the XC70 and XC90, to its 2006 model lineup. Thankfully I encountered no doldrums, icebergs or crazy winds in the area during my week on the bridge of the XC70 Ocean Race Edition, but there was more than enough boring Ottawa rush-hour traffic, plenty of high-speed cruising on Ontario’s Highway 401 and numerous inattentive drivers in every situation: the perfect conditions for testing the XC70’s ability to coddle its occupants in all situations.
And coddle it does. The front seats are some of the nicest this bum has ever met. Seriously, never mind the La-Z-Boy – I’ll take one of these chairs for my den. The only downside is less lateral support than the sport seats offered in the BMW 3-series, for example. A three-and-a-half hour jaunt from Ottawa to Whitby failed to reveal any serious flaws with the car’s ergonomics; not even a rear-seat passenger on that trip could find fault with her place, commenting several times during the trip on how comfortable she was.
There’s plenty of leg- and headroom back there, too. Space up front is excellent all around as well; the sunroof included in the Ocean Race package (it’s an option on the base XC70) doesn’t cut into headroom at all, according to Volvo’s measurements. Without getting into exact numbers, there’s plenty of room for big hats and hairdos front and rear.
The XC70’s suspension helps in the comfort department, too. There’s no float in the ride, nor is it too cushy, but sharp bumps reveal the downside of the slick-looking 17-inch wheels that are part of the Ocean Race package, which tend to transmit some impact harshness into the cabin.
Maybe $10,000 sounds like a steep premium for a special edition package that doesn’t augment a car’s performance, but it never hurts when it makes it look better. One thing I’ve never loved about the XC70 is its wannabe off-roader styling; I’ve always thought the flat black bumpers and the jacked-up ride height take away from the boxy, hunkered-down stance of the V70 the XC70 is based on.
Just as it is with home renovations, though, it’s amazing what the right shade of paint and some new art will do. The Ocean Blue paint and 17-inch wheels that are both exclusive to the Ocean Race XC70 are stunning, and the silver roof rails and door mouldings are sharp too. These exterior cues – which are all that distinguish the Ocean Race from other XC70s, if you don’t count the coaster-sized badges on the front doors – make the Ocean Race look like it’s worth every penny of its $57,495 MSRP – exactly $10,000 more than the base XC70’s starting price. Inside, the Ocean Race edition gets exterior-colour matched trim on the dash, blue stitching in the leather-trimmed seats and special doorsill plates. Oh, and don’t forget the Ocean Race floor mats and key ring.
Click image to enlarge
The other great thing about the car the Ocean Race package builds on is the 2.5-litre, turbocharged five-cylinder engine that powers it (and a number of other Volvo models). Its 208 horsepower doesn’t sound like enough to move the XC70’s 1,634 kilogram curb weight with any authority, but the 236 lb.-ft. of torque – which peaks at 1,500 rpm and stays up there until 4,500 rpm – helps make up for it. Still, the XC70 isn’t fast, but it’s responsive after you get past the minor turbo lag, and the power delivery is very smooth, as is the five-speed automatic transmission with Volvo’s Geartronic manual-shift feature. Slide the shifter over into the manual gate and the driver gets complete control over the gearbox’s workings, even letting the engine run slightly into redline under full throttle. Shifts in Geartronic mode don’t happen as smoothly as they do in full automatic mode, though.
The XC70’s dashboard – angled toward the driver – presents intuitive climate controls, and generally simple radio controls. BMW – with their decidedly un-user friendly dashboard control interfaces – could take a hint. But the XC70’s headlights fall short – literally. It’s very easy to over drive the low beams, and the high beams simply don’t go high enough.
Get the feeling I liked this car? Apparently, I’m not alone. At least, not according to the note I found tucked under the windshield wiper after a quick stop at the grocery store one evening, signed admiringly by “the Saffron (coloured) C70” parked beside the XC70. At first, I thought I should leave a note of my own, airing the painful truth that this sweet Swedish wagon-cum-SUV wasn’t mine.
Nah. Giving this car back was going to be difficult enough without admitting I was nothing but a Volvo poseur.
No car can turn you into a world-class sailor, but the XC70’s got more than what it takes to get you through the daily driving doldrums.
Crash test results
Related stories on Autos
Manufacturer’s web site