As automotive journalists we get many offers to take trips for truck launches, product previews, and other weird and wonderful reasons. As a rule, the inviters pay for the trip and we promise not to let that influence our editorial integrity, which of course it doesn't. In other words, we feel we can write bad things about the presented 4x4 or product even though the manufacturer dropped a ton of money to show us its stuff. As such, we also pick our trips accordingly, and only cover the things that you, our readers, may find interesting. So when we first were informed that Volvo wanted to take us to Alaska and Mexico, we wondered what in the world we could write about that would make sense in a hard-core 4x4 mag. It was not only the adventure aspect, but also we couldn't figure out why Volvo would want us to experience its new XC70 instead of the new V-8-powered XC90.
While neither offering has a low range, the XC70 is targeted at the actual end user who fits the outdoor lifestyle of getting out on backroads, and the upscale XC90 is aimed at the country club set. Even though the 90 is highly capable, you probably won't find those owners on a dirt road, although they will feel comfortable knowing that they could. So we set out on an expedition to see what these station-wagon-type cute-utes were all about. What we really wanted to scope out was the new Haldex AWD system, a transfer-case design that even Ford vehicles will be using soon, which transfers torque between the front and rear axles smoothly. OK, so the Volvo is a bit different than an F-150, but Ford owns them both. The Haldex difference is that it uses wet-plate clutches to transfer torque in as little as 11/47 of a revolution to hydraulically pump fluid to engage the clutches, stopping wheelspin between front and rear axles. Of course, it's also fitted to an onboard computer tied into the ABS and traction control system, and you'd never want to troubleshoot it in the middle of the Gobi desert. But for our adventure we would drive from Anchorage to almost the top of Alaska near Prudhoe Bay (which is very similar to the Gobi), a testament to the faith Volvo has in its vehicles.
Our first foray was in an '03 XC70 fitted with studded snow tires, which made sense since much of the 415-mile-long Dalton Highway is nothing but snow and ice, and the extra grip was a comforting factor. Snaking out of Fairbanks in the early morning, our group of journalists hit the snow-covered road, and even with the Volvo's advanced traction and stability systems in place, we still lost one overdriving journalist in a ditch. Not that we ever got stuck, but in one particular foray without our handlers around, we found that the traction control system limited wheelspin as promised, right when we needed as much spin as possible to negotiate a particularly deep section of virgin powder. That's right, the engine power was reduced and the brakes were selectively applied because that's what the computer said was needed, which nearly left us stranded in the snow. Thank goodness our friend momentum was still with us. But for the majority of users, this system performed as expected and safely delivered us to Deadhorse, where we enjoyed -51 F weather while in heated leather-seated comfort.
The next Volvo segment found nearly the same group of journalists in the depths of Baja, Mexico, with '04 XC70 rigs this time due to the fine Mexican government regulations. A lot of time had passed since the Alaska trip, but the same basic vehicles were pressed into service over segments of the Baja 1000 race course. While rockcrawling isn't much of a factor here, the silt beds, sandy beaches, and muddy marshes all took their toll on the XC70s. But even overzealous journalists, many of whom had never taken a car in the dirt, weren't able to stop, stick, or damage the Volvo press fleet as the cars were thrashed and abused. We were truly amazed at the durability of the cars, and after 500 miles of Baja beating, we feel one of these rigs could handle any standard two track that an adventuresome owner could throw at it.
Tech Specs'05 Volvo XC70Base Price: $34,810Engine: 2.5L, five-cylinder, turbo, 208 hp/236 lb-ftTransmission: Five-speed adaptive automatic, all-wheel driveWheelbase (in): 108.8Length (in): 186.3Width (in): 73.2Height (in): 61.5Weight (lbs): 3,699Fuel Economy (mpg): 19 city/24 hwyMajor Standard Features: SIPS and WHIPS safety system, dual airbags, 20/40/20 rear-seat split, rear-facing child seat mount, AWD system, Pirelli tiresNotable Options: Cargo protection net, Air Quality System (AQS), trip computer, leather/ versatility package savings
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