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Autovations: Volvo XC70

The third-generation wagon – suitable for urban and rural commutes – is more sculpted and has new design touches.

Volvo's wagons have always made all kinds of unambiguous statements. When its cross-country variation emerged in 1997, clad in flat-black rubber trim that suggested galoshes, we got the point – even though the "crossover" craze hadn't been spawned.

For 2008, Volvo presents the third-generation XC70. It's more than a V70 wagon, not quite an XC90 sport ute (OK, a moment of ambiguity). The truth is, this $35,000 wagon is as capable a vehicle as most drivers need. More sculpted than earlier versions, and with new design touches, it's four inches longer than the '07 (two inches in the wheelbase) and uses a little more steel.

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As big fans of Volvo's inline-5 cylinder engines (especially the 2- and 2.5-liter turbos), we were interested in XC70's use of a naturally aspirated, 3.2-liter inline-6. It makes 235 h.p. and gets out of its own way. We nursed out about 20 m.p.g. in mixed-use driving that included city commuting, not an ideal role. (This Ford-owned firm also has a bifuel XC60 in prototype, and displayed a flex-fuel plug-in hybrid concept this year.)

XC70's towing capacity: about 3,300 lbs. Built-in booster seats hoist kids up high but, of course, keeps them protected by side-curtain air bags. Hill-descent control, easily engaged, walks the car down at about 6 m.p.h. A foot of "fording depth" enables, well, creek crossings. Bolt on some skid plates and this wagon's ready for anything.