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RUMBLE SEAT

Dressed to excess

Volvo XC70 makes a classic backcountry mistake: It overloads its pack.

December 19, 2007|DAN NEIL

A couple of weeks ago, when the temperatures dipped into the 40s -- or as we call it here in Southern California, the extremes of human endurance -- I went shopping in West L.A. It was like base camp at Annapurna. High-heeled hotties had turned in their sex spurs for pairs of Merrell hiking boots. Guys were walking around in zero-degree quilted Marmot jackets. I'm sorry -- I just don't think crampons and bottled oxygen are necessary to make the traverse to the valet stand.

God knows, high-end technical gear is fun. Suunto watches, Adidas glacier glasses. I love it when people use Black Diamond trekking poles and Platypus hydration packs to assault the untamed reaches of Griffith Park. You sure don't want Jon Krakauer writing a book about you.

Technical gear -- clothing and accessories that are engineered for specific and demanding performance -- makes the translation to streetwear because it constitutes garments of proclamation. They are vigorous assertions of personal branding: I'm outdoorsy, I'm discerning, I'm technical. Sure, a sweat shirt would keep me warm, but my Arc'teryx Alpha Comp Hoody attests to the fact that, when I'm not shopping at the Beverly Center with my mom, I'm a death-cheating master of the plunging piste.

Naturally, I'm guilty. I used to wear a rather large and obvious diving watch. Oh, do you scuba dive? Why, yes, I do, and thank you for asking. . . . One fun fact about this watch is that it was guaranteed watertight to 300 meters, or 984 feet, which means that at that depth my lifeless corpse would know exactly what time it was.

So now we come 'round the mountain to the Volvo XC70, the Scandinavian company's redesigned-for-2008 all-roading wagon. Essentially a V70 wagon wrapped in a Vibram boot sole, the XC70 is distinguished from its wagon kin by the hip-high composite cladding encompassing the vehicle, a couple-inch higher ride height and all-wheel drive as standard equipment. Think what happens when a Polaris ATV has carnal knowledge of a V70 wagon. The most distinctive design feature is the carabiner-shaped brightwork around the fog lights and rear side marker lights. The new grill, also surrounded by hazy alloy trim, sits in the center of a newly aggressive front clip that is cinched together visually as if by a backpack's compression straps.

Volvo design is on a serious hot streak these days. Note how the rear lift gate is a scaled version of the C30's handsome hatch (a shape that comes to us from the ancient days of the P1800). Note also how the tumblehome of the cabin -- that is, the inward tilt of the side glass as it rises to meet the roof -- is at exactly the same angle as other Volvo products, marrying with the distinctive shoulder bevel. No other company, outside of perhaps BMW, has so artfully ginned a single design vocabulary into a whole portfolio.

It looks the part

So it looks cool, OK? And yet the XC70 is such a lifestyle accessory, such a proclamation, it verges on automotive typecasting. If you like bashing up to Big Bear for some snowboarding, you're going to like this car. If you have a cabin around Tahoe, you're going to love it. If you attended the University of Oregon, donated to the World Wildlife Fund, explored your roommate's sexuality, got a member's refund from REI or blew out a rotator cuff while kayaking the Snake River, forget it: You'll be utterly smitten. Your knickers are going to wind up on the rear-view mirror.

The 2008 XC70 and V70 are both based on a new, larger platform, with an additional 2 inches in wheelbase (110 inches) under a body several inches longer overall. The XC70 is 2.1 inches taller than the V70, owing to its longer legs, but otherwise the vehicles are almost identical. Both are powered by the company's 3.2-liter inline six (235 hp at 6,200 rpm and 236 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm) bolted to a six-speed Aisin-Warner automatic transmission with manual-shift programming. The XC70's all-wheel-drive system is cribbed from its corporate cousin, the Land Rover LR2. Both use a Haldex clutch-pack to route torque to the rear wheels when the front wheels slip. Also, the Volvo and the Land Rover appear to have the same supplier for their hill descent control. Cool.

I found the XC70's AWD system of particular note in the annals of metallurgy. It appears to be made of lead, or depleted uranium, or magically corralled bits of super-dense star matter, because the XC70 weighs a stunning 565 pounds more than the front-wheel-drive V70. Are there drunken Norsemen hidden under the cargo load floor? Are the tires filled with gravlax? Are there 80,000 CDs of ABBA music stored in the in-dash player? What the heck weighs so much?

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