If you need a car with plenty of space for people and cargo, and good traction for all-weather ability or towing, the obvious choice is a full-size, four-wheel drive SUV. But if the truck-like style – and driving manners, sometimes – of an SUV isn't to your taste, an all-road estate like Volvo's XC70 might have the answer.
Big estates have long been a Volvo forté, of course, and buyers of conventional estate cars are still served by the Volvo V70. The XC70 is essentially the same car, but with a specification optimised for life in country lanes, byways and the occasional slippery track.
The attractive and well-built cabin, with its comfortable driving position and massive flat-floored boot, are inherited from the V70. To that the XC70 adds four-wheel drive for added traction, longer-travel suspension to deal with bumpy roads, a hill descent control so it can automatically creep at walking pace down a steep and slippery incline, and plastic wheel arch extensions to try and keep the mud off the paintwork.
The XC70 doesn't have the ground clearance of an SUV, so it will never offer the same level of off-road ability. But it does offer sure-footed traction on muddy roads and unsurfaced tracks, and that's a boon for country dwellers, horse riders, watersports enthusiasts and anyone else who has to carry lots of kit in less-than-perfect driving conditions. The long-travel suspension makes light of any road imperfections, and the XC70 is much more car-like to drive on the road than any SUV.
It's crammed with equipment, too, though only some of the items on the spec sheet are genuinely useful. The built-in dog guard, which folds down from the headlining to separate the cabin from the boot, is a clever idea. But the blind spot warning system only seemed to spot vehicles which were already clearly visible in the mirror, and the automatic headlamp dipping was slow to recognise oncoming vehicles.
Three engines are available, a pair of 20-valve five-cylinder diesels with 163ps (D4) or 215ps (D5) and a 305ps six-cylinder petrol engine (T6). Most buyers will opt for one of diesel engines, and my D5 test car was a good all-rounder with masses of mid-range torque. It would make a great towcar – or just a comfortable, capacious estate car that will take anything in its stride.