"One request. Don't take any pictures of this one."
That was a strange request to come along with a perfectly fine test car. It would have been understandable if there was a dent or body damage.
But this test car - a 2009 Volvo XC70 - did come with some excess signage in the form of a nautical motif. It was festooned with a decal package promoting the 2008-2009 Volvo Ocean Race.
This Volvo wagon obviously had been a courtesy car during the Boston stopover last spring in nine-month, 42,500-mile Volvo ocean race. And, as NBC sports reporter Bob Neumeier used to say in his Boston radio days on WEEI: "What's wrong with thhhat?"
Nothing is what.
The Volvo brand is pretty familiar to Boston sports fans with the company's name prominently displayed on a sign over the Green Monster seats (left field wall) at Fenway Park.
Meanwhile, for decades the Volvo wagon has been a symbol of safety, adding a bit of Swedish-built prestige for upscale families.
After the station wagon genre fell into disfavor with the advent of minivans and SUVs, Volvo kept a wagon presence in the market. These days, the wagon mostly remains a foreign flavor. You can find one at your local Audi, BMW, Saab, and Subaru dealer.
Volvo's strong points these days are safety and styling, along with the new turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line 6-cylinder engine. Subaru leads in the price battle. Audi and BMW are the more fun to drive, and Saab's Combi wagons retain their niche in the Saab-philes' hearts.
Twenty years ago, I remember cautiously approaching then Globe auto writer -- and resident office curmudgeon -- John White to ask him what he thought of the Taurus wagon. "Much better than the sedan,'' was his instant reply. "They came up with a great rear suspension design, plus a wagon always is more useful than a sedan no matter what the buying public says.''
His response reinforced my long-time tendency to favor wagons over sedans.
The XC70 is a great all-purpose vehicle for a family of four. There's decent legroom in the rear seat, and all kinds of cargo room (33.3 cubic feet) in the rear along with Volvo's built-in tie-down system with aluminum rails on the cargo floor with movable fastening points along with additional fixed side-rail anchors.
Our version was the more expensive ($39,500) T6 version with the turbocharged engine. The premium ($2,995) and combined climate/technology ($3,170) packages pushed the final sticker to $46,985. That seemed steep to this penny-pincher, but the XC70 passed my bottom-line test: I was sad to see it go.
Besides the price, the other negative was fuel economy. You'd expect the XC70 to do better than an SUV, especially with a six-speed automatic transmission, but it's rated at 15 city and 22 highway. We averaged 22.3 in optimum (mostly highway, light traffic) conditions. We'll blame some of that on the all-wheel drive system and the XC70's 4,215-pound curb weight.
Because it rained every day during our June test, the rain sensor wipers were welcome. So were the "bending'' headlights - a feature that can be turned off with a button on the instrument panel.
The XC70 was a new design for 2008. The major changes for 2009 include standard Bluetooth and the tested turbocharged six that produces 281 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. It's powerful enough that the visible dual exhaust outlets, specific to the T6 version, are warranted in addition to being a nice styling feature.
With AWD, 8.3-inch ground clearance, and the climate package (heated seats, high-pressure headlight cleaning, heated washer nozzles), it's a vehicle that will take an active family to ski country in style, safety and comfort.
Our test car didn't have one available option that many weekend-away families would like - the collision avoidance package (1,695) - with adaptive cruise control and a collision warning system with auto-braking. Also in that package are vehicle distance alert, driver alert (sleepy driver warning) and a lane-departure warning system.
Parents and grandparents might opt for the two-stage booster seats with adaptive seatbelts (available in place of heated rear seats with the Climate package). The height-adjustable booster cushions are mated with an extended inflatable side curtain for what is arguably the industry's best safety system for the most precious cargo - children.
About those pictures. Sorry, we could resist taking some. They seem to put a little wind in Volvo's sails.
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About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee