I’M THINKING of starting a new, very niche, car club. It’ll be called “Fans of the Fifth Cylinder”, or somesuch. Membership will be open to anyone whose car engine has between, but not including, four and six combustion chambers, or who looks suitably appreciative whenever five-pot motors are mentioned. Are you with me? Are you still awake?
Doubtless, many in my club will spend long hours stroking their beards while expounding the benefits of the straight-five. Overlapping power strokes, compact engine blocks, an enviable blend of performance and economy. Me? I’ll be in a corner of the clubroom, listening to old footage of Audi Quattros tearing up forest tracks in the 1980s. Listening, not watching. It’s the five-cylinder symphony I’m addicted to. Have been since boyhood.
So far this year, I have driven five cars with five-cylinder engines, and thoroughly enjoyed them all. The Audi TT RS thrummed and snarled its way into my affections, as did its RS3 cousin. The Ford Ranger pick-up, with its mighty 3.2-litre diesel, could uproot trees with the roar of its motor alone, probably, and even my ageing Land Rover Defender TD5 (which some people would have you believe I’m contractually obliged to mention in every review I write) makes a hairy-chested racket the latest four-cylinder Defenders can’t match.
Which brings us to the fifth “five” – the Volvo XC70 estate. In jacked-up, four-wheel drive form, this Swedish load lugger has the ground clearance and grip to transport a grandfather clock or a brace of Golden Retrievers where most other station wagons fear to tread and, thanks to the odd number of pistons under its bonnet, sounds like it means business. I’m smitten before I’ve even got as far as the door of the Scotsman garage. And I’m driving a Volvo.
Confusingly, the car Volvo sent us is badged “D4”, which indicates its place in the XC70 pecking order and not what’s beneath the bonnet. There is a D5 which uses the same 2.4-litre, five-cylinder diesel engine, but generates more power with it, 215bhp to the D4’s not-too-shabby 163bhp. The lesser engine still manages to propel the big car along at a fair old lick, and four-wheel-drive means all of the power goes to the road, even during a dreich November week in Scotland’s central belt.
The XC70 is now in its third generation and is looking good in its dotage. The raised ride height and protective cladding are more Timberland catalogue than Ted Baker 2012 collection, but it still cuts quite a dash without straying over the Chelsea Tractor line. Think of it as the acceptable face of 4x4 motoring. A stealth fighter for the school-run mum, if you like.
Inside, it’s all clean lines, light-coloured leathers and absolutely no frills. If Bang and Olufsen made cars, they’d make this. Everything feels built to last, and probably will. There’s space aplenty for five adults and, as you would expect from Volvo, room in the load bay to take home half of Ikea.
The XC70 sits 50mm further off the ground than a V70 estate, at 21cm, and, at times, you’re aware of the extra height. Sharp bends bring on a bit of roll, but the Volvo clings on gamely. Maybe I’m being a little unfair, as my other test car that week was the granite-sprung Lamborghini Aventador you’ll find on pages eight and nine of this section. The roof of the Lambo barely comes up to the top of the XC70’s beefy wheelarches, which is good for high-speed cornering, but I know which one I’d rather take to the McDonald’s drive-thru. No doubting the Volvo’s ride comfort, though – it’s top notch.
The diesel engine is a bit vocal at low speed and under acceleration, but in a good way that rewards driver involvement in a way few other diesels do. “Hark, pedestrian, Volvo coming through!” The test car came with a six-speed manual, which lets the driver wring every last drop of performance from the engine. I know that’s not very Volvo-like behaviour, but I can confidently say, without ever having driven the automatic version, that the manual version is better. Cheaper too, and more economical.
Volvo claims more than 50mpg on the combined cycle, but we suspect the Swedish engineers have been looking at the midnight sun a little too long. We couldn’t manage much more than 40 in daily driving. Not bad though, for something so big and sure-footed.
The XC70 D4 also comes in two-wheel-drive, two-litre diesel form, which saves a bit of fuel and generates a bit less carbon dioxide, but Scotsman Motors can’t bring itself to condone cars that look like 4x4s but aren’t, for fear of being made to look foolish on a snowy day.
Plus, the two-litre engine has a measly four cylinders. I’d be laughed out of my own club.
CAR Volvo XC70 D4 AWD SE Lux
CO2 EMISSIONS 51.4g/km
PERFORMANCE Max speed 127mph; 0-62mph 10.2sec
FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined) 144mpg