Volvo AWD XC70
8:00 PM | June 1 2017

20 years of all-wheel drive

Its two decades since the V70 XC began a new era of all-wheel-drive wagons and SUVs that could take owners where no Volvo had previously taken them before.

In 1997, a new type of Volvo allowed its owner to go wherever they wanted, regardless of conditions, thanks to its raised ride height, extra body protection, and all-wheel drive.

And the famous lineage of that V70 XC model continues 20 years later, with our renowned XC SUVs and Cross Country vehicles capable of seeking new adventures away from the bitumen.

Here, I Roll charts the evolution of all-wheel-drive Volvos.


1996 850 AWD

Volvo AWD 850 R

The Volvo 850 was groundbreaking in many ways – and not only was it the brand’s first front-wheel-drive model, but in 1996 it became the first to power all four wheels. The 850 AWD permanent all-wheel-drive system was automatic – no buttons to push, no levers to pull – as it reacted mechanically to any wheel slippage by distributing power between the front and rear axles as required to provide enhanced traction. It was beneficial in scenarios such as towing off-road, wet-weather cornering, or getting underway on a hill. For better fuel efficiency, the 850 AWD was predominantly (95%) front-drive in freeway driving.

1997 V70 XC

Volvo AWD V70 XC

In 1997, the 850 wagon-based V70 carried the system across for its R AWD model, and the same year saw the introduction of an even more notable variant: the Cross Country, which would become better known from its badge as the V70 XC. A more adventurous design promised just that – with additional lower-body protection and increased ground clearance to give its owners the capability to traverse trickier trails away from the bitumen. The model – which became the XC70 in 2003 – was a more aerodynamic, more efficient alternative to SUVs.

2002 S60 AWD / XC90

Volvo AWD XC90 2006

In 2002, the S60 mid-sized sedan became the first Volvo to use a faster-acting, electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system – co-developed with Swedish specialist Haldex. It also slotted under Volvo’s first ever SUV, the XC90, later the same year – as an option on the 2.5-litre turbo petrol and standard on the six-cylinder T6. The S60 AWD and XC90 powered the front wheels in normal driving, though the electronic AWD system constantly monitored wheel slippage – negating it on looser surfaces instantaneously by sending drive to the rear axle.


Volvo AWD XC90 T8 Hybrid

As the original XC90 was a landmark vehicle in the SUV segment, it was only fitting that its successor would make its own mark. That included new hybrid drivetrain technology for the flagship T8 Twin Engine, debuting a different style of all-wheel drive whereby the front wheels are powered by a supercharged/turbocharged petrol engine while the rear wheels are propelled by an electric motor.


Volvo AWD V90 Cross Country

This year saw the release of the spiritual successor to the original V70 XC. The V90 Cross Country brings familiar off-road capability, yet this sophisticated wagon blends it with unprecedented levels of comfort, luxury and technology for those seeking a more experience-based lifestyle. You could say it’s a 20-year measure of how Volvo Cars has evolved to become one of the world’s fastest-growing luxury car brands.

View the rest of our June I Roll Stories.

I Roll

Volvo is Latin for 'I roll' and was originally trademarked in 1915 with ball bearing production in mind. But 18 million cars later, Volvo has come to mean much more. 

Volvo started making cars in 1927 because we believed nobody else was making them strong enough or safe enough for Swedish roads. Along the way we’ve come up with dozens of innovations, some of which have changed the world. And it’s this proud history that continues our drive forward to the next great Volvo Cars idea.