Review: 2012 Volvo XC70 T6 AWD – Polestar Performance

Back in 2008, I was able to review Volvo’s then-new XC70 T6 AWD. I found its 281 HP to provide plenty of power, while the crossover wagon cosseted occupants with plenty of comfort, space, and luxury features. In the time since that review, revisions to the powerplant’s tuning have bumped power of the standard T6 AWD to 300 HP. For 2012, Volvo has partnered with tuner Polestar Performance to offer ECU upgrades for some models. In the case of the XC70, the sportier ECU bumps power output to 325 HP.

The XC70 I tested was finished in a rich shade of brown called Twilight bronze Metallic, with an even richer Espresso Brown leather upholstery that is a welcome change from the common grays and tans usually offered. The supple brown upholstery and door upholstery was offset with light tan carpets, door trims, lower dash, steering wheel, and headliner. As always, Volvo’s seats are very comfortable, though the thrones in the XC70 have relatively little bolstering, so they aren’t designed to hold the occupant in place during aggressive cornering. Ahead of the driver is a functional instrument cluster with analog speedo and tachometer, each housing a circular information display which is used for time, fuel readout, and other informational messages. Unchanged since the XC70 I tested in 2009, those info displays feature low-resolution, pixelated monochromatic technology that looks dated even compared against a Ford Focus.

The center stack has been updated since the 2009 model, with a color screen at the top of the stack used for the infotainment display; this is the same system used in Volvo’s other 60, 70, and 80 series vehicles. The screen is not a touch-sensitive one, meaning that all input must be done using the menu buttons on the center stack. Control of the system is logical enough, though entering names can be tedious as the rotational control knob on the dash must be turned to select from the entire alphabet one letter at a time. Unfortunately, the XC70 I tested was not equipped with voice control for phone dialing, and browsing the phone book on the info screen is disabled whenever the car is in motion, making it impossible to use the system to search through contacts on the paired phone while underway.  This is a ridiculous lack of functionality. Fortunately, there is a 10-digit keypad on the dash which can be used to dial phone numbers directly, and that does work while in motion.

The rear seat has just enough legroom for me to “sit behind myself” with the front seat adjusted for a 6’4” driver, though toe room back there was a bit tight. The XC70 I tested was not equipped with Volvo’s available integrated booster seats, but the 40/20/40 split folding seat did accommodate two Graco TurboBooster booster seats with properly supported buckles so my kids could buckle themselves in to the car. The car I tested was equipped with heated rear seats as a part of the $1000 Climate Package.

The cargo area is generously sized, with the aforementioned folding seatbacks creating a flat load floor. A retractable cargo cover is standard, and the passenger seatback folds forward to accommodating loading very long items. The vehicle I tested was had a power-operated tailgate and a grocery bag holder integrated into the cargo floor, both of which were included in the $1850 Premier Plus package. Below the cargo floor, a shallow-but-useful cargo tray completely surrounds the spare tire. Aluminum rails are installed in the floor on each side of the cargo area, with adjustable tie-down straps set into them.

On the road, the increased output from the Polestar tune was somewhat non-linear, with the peak power available only after the turbocharger spools up. I did appreciate the power bump to 325 HP from the Polestar-tuned inline six, though to harness that power you had to push the accelerator past a point of resistance near the bottom of its travel. At that point power is plentiful, though the XC70 would benefit from revisions to the transmission programming too. Whereas Volvo’s S60 T6 AWD sedan has a Sport mode which modifies shift points and keeps the powerful inline six in its power band, the XC70 doesn’t have a Sport mode for its transmission. The standard transmission programming implements upshifts too quickly, likely to benefit fuel economy. While this is fine around town, it kills the joy that you’d otherwise be able to experience from the 325 HP mill once traffic has been left behind. Note that the XC70 does have a gate in the transmission selector for up- and down-shifting manually; using that doesn’t produce particularly quick shifts, and certainly doesn’t provide much visceral joy.

Volvo’s marketing of the XC70 tends to emphasize the tall wagon’s off-road capabilities, with photos of the vehicle fording streams, descending slippery slopes with standard descent control, and driving over terrain which requires the XC’s elevated ride height. To facilitate those terrains and provide a comfortable ride, the suspension in the XC70 is softly sprung with plenty of suspension travel. Stomping on the throttle from rest causes the XC70’s rear to squat down, and braking does cause more dive at the front than I like. Much like the transmission, the suspension could benefit from having Polestar’s engineers upgrade its performance to keep up with the engine’s improvements. On the road, the XC70 was far less buttoned-down than the Audi Q5 I had driven the previous week, despite the latter being a true crossover.

Despite my complaints about the transmission and suspension not being at the same dynamic level as the engine, by no means did I dislike the XC70 T6 Polestar. The XC70 remains a comfortable vehicle, a large European wagon in a disappearing market segment. Seats are comfortable front and rear; indeed I did a 3 hour segment uninterrupted in the car from Seattle to Portland and didn’t suffer from numb legs or a numb bottom.

The Polestar tune does not change the EPA fuel economy ratings of the XC70 T6; it remains rated 17/23/20 MPG city/highway/combined. My first 220 miles were spent driving from Seattle to Portland on Interstate 5 with the cruise control set between 65 and 78 MPH. During that part of my trip, I had average consumption of 24.9 MPG according to the Volvo’s trip computer. After 376.9 miles, I filled the tank with 17.221 gallons of premium unleaded, for a calculated average of 21.8 MPG. At the end of my week with the XC70, I had covered just over 600 miles, with a reported average 22.9 MPG; note that about 450 of those were on the freeway using cruise control.

The 2012 Volvo XC70 T6 AWD Polestar I drove has a list price of $39,100. To that was added $1850 for the Premier Plus package (power operated tailgate, keyless drive, front and rear park assist, HomeLink, grocery bag holder, 12 V cargo area outlet, cargo cover, compass, electric folding rear headrests); $1000 for the Climate package (heated front and rear seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, headlight washers, rain sensor, Interior Air Quality Sensor (IAQS)); $700 for Blind Spot Information System (BLIS); $550 for metallic paint; $1495 for the Polestar Performance ECU upgrade; $95 for Navigation Prep; and $875 Destination charge, for a total MSRP of $45,665.

As Volvo has made the decision to discontinue selling wagons in the US, the XC70 “crossover” is the only version of a proper wagon available in a Volvo showroom. While the Polestar Performance power upgrade helps bring the XC70 T6 closer to being a sport wagon in the vein of the company’s famed V70R, the non-sport-tuned transmission and off-road-ready suspension prevent it from carrying on the R’s sporting tradition. That said, if you are looking for a comfortable and large wagon with plenty of speed, the XC70 might be just the car you’re looking for.

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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