Battle Wagon

Tow Test: Volvo V70 Cross Country

It's hard to believe, but not everyone wants a sports utility vehicle. Although some people may need an SUV to tow their water toys, for example, they want something else. They want...a car. Or more specifically, they want something that handles like a car, hauls like a station wagon, yet pulls like an SUV. Do they have a prayer? In fact, they do. Their salvation is the new-for-2001 V70, an automobile designed mobile designed by Volvo three years ago, which has been taken to a higher plane.

Underneath all that matte black cladding and broad-shouldered bodywork is Volvo's largest and most sophisticated running gear, which, a couple years ago, carried its flagship S80 four-door sedan. Key ingredients: a transversely mounted 2.4-liter five-cylinder engine rated at 197 hp, a five-speed transmission with automatic and manual shifting modes, and a simple four-wheel-drive system that kicks in rear wheels whenever the front wheels slip.

Notable improvements include an added inch of ground clearance, longer wheelbase, wider track, more cargo room, a bit more power and torque - and a lower price. An extra 200 pounds neither helps acceleration nor fuel efficiency, but the added weight comes in handy when you tow the V70's full-rated 3300 pounds.

To test the V70, I hitched it to a 18 1/2 '-foot Javelin bass boat riding on a single-axle EZLoader trailer and set out for the wilds of southeastern Michigan. Even with the 2,760-pound payload, the V70 had plenty of power and easily kept pace with traffic. This nearly two-ton tow machine held its ground against side winds and a boat and trailer that tugged it every which way but loose. The V70's cockpit is a comfortable entertaining place to enjoy even a long trip.

On the launch ramp, a heavy foot on the throttle caused the front tires to scratch and claw before the rear rubber bit, yanking the Javelin out of the lake. But with a moderate throttle, the V70 stepped out smartly and without hesitation. On the center console you'll notice a W (winter) button. When activated, it shifts the transmission into second gear. The engine groans more, but the wheels are less likely to spin on slippery surfaces.

When you push the throttle, the V70's 2.4-liter engine acts much bigger thanks to a turbocharger and intercooler. The beauty of this arrangement is excellent fuel efficiency-13.5 mpg-while cruising. That's a good 30 percent better than your average SUV with a V-8.

MODEL Volvo V70 Cross Country
Engine turbocharged, intercooled 2.4-liter in-line-5
Net hp/rpm 197/6000
Net torque (ft-lb/rpm) 210/1800
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Front suspension strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension independent multilink, coil springs
Wheelbase (in.) 108.8
Length (in.) 186.3
Width (in.) 73.2
Height (in.) 61.5
Brakes (front/rear) disc/disc; standard 4-wheel ABS
Tires Pirelli Scorpion S/T, 215/65HR-16, all terrain
Curb weight (lbs.) 3,940
Towing capacity (lbs.) 3,300
Cargo capacity (max. cu. ft.) 71.5
Fuel capacity (gal.) 18.5
Estimated city/highway towing fuel economy (avg. mpg) 13.5
Price (as tested) $43,480

The downside? During a long, full-throttle pull, the five-cylinder engine doesn't seem happy at its work. You can feel the engine vibrate against your backside while you're driving. However, under normal driving conditions, you can accelerate to cruising speed quickly to skip this rough patch.

LAST WORD. It's a station wagon that thinks it's an SUV.