Designing utilitarian vehicles used to be simple: Take a family sedan, extend the roof to the rear bumper, replace the rear coil-spring suspension with heavy-duty leaf springs and--bam!--a station wagon that cost $500 more than its sedan counterpart. Later, automakers applied a similar formula to pickup trucks, extending the roof over the tailgate and--bam again!--a sport/utility vehicle that cost $5000 (or even $10,000) more than its pickup progenitor.
Today's consumers are more sophisticated. They want all the best attributes of a sport/utility (ruggedness, cargo capacity, off-roadability, good visibility) combined with the best attributes of a sedan (smooth ride, precise handling, performance, comfort). What they want are "crossover" vehicles--station wagons for the 21st century.
To station-wagon aficionados, all-wheel-drive crossovers like the three '04 models gathered here--the Volvo V70 Cross Country (XC70), the Chrysler Pacifica, and the Volkswagen Touareg--are nothing like real station wagons. Well, that's what we heard anyway after driving our trio from Detroit to the annual gathering of the American Station Wagon Owners Association, held this year in Princeton, New Jersey (see sidebar in the October 2003 isse of Motor Trend magazine).
Against the field of ASWOA station wagons arrayed in the parking lot of the Princeton Radisson Hotel, Volvo's XC70--with its carlike size and stance and traditional wagon-style cargo area--is closest to the wagon "norm." It carries Volvo's Haldex all-wheel-drive system, which detects wheel slippage and automatically sends torque to the wheel with the most grip. Last year, Volvo upped the horsepower on its twin-cam 2.5-liter turbo five in time for it to appear in the XC90--and the XC70 benefited as well. Horsepower is up 11, to 208, and torque has improved by 26 lb-ft, to 236. The engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with manumatic control. Our test car also carried the $2045 Touring and Versatility package, which includes integrated booster seats in the second row; a two-passenger, third-row seat; a Homelink automatic garage-door package; an auto-dimming mirror; tinted and laminated side windows; and a cargo-area 12-volt outlet. Our Volvo was the only vehicle in this group not equipped with a navigation system (it's an $1895 option). As-tested price: $40,535.