Posts Tagged ‘Volvo’


The Volvo C-30 Sport Machine

June 12, 2012


By Roger Witherspoon

It was a raining on a Friday evening – a really bad time to be on the Taconic Parkway.

The scenic highway starts about 20 miles north ofNew York Cityand winds its way to theMassachusettsborder. But about 40 miles north of the City limits it narrows from three lanes each way to two and the wide shoulders are abruptly replaced by imposing, encroaching concrete walls.  The transformation from a scenic, six-lane, rustic highway to a narrow fast-moving blind alley is akin to forcing a wide, placid river through a steep canyon, transforming it in the process into unruly rapids. In this case, rapids with wheels and bumpers.

Traffic was comprised of an unholy mixture of tired motorists hurrying to get home after a week’s work, including some who were afraid of water and didn’t drive faster than a brisk walk; and a dangerous few had already started their weekend partying and shouldn’t have been allowed behind the wheel.

The Dodge Charger getting ever larger in my rear view mirror was easy to spot. The driver was evidently one of the early party crowd, whose car moved faster than the other vehicles on the Taconic and he could not manage to color within the white dotted lines. His weaving was forcing one car after another to squeeze either dangerously close to the concrete wall or the puny center divider while the Charger weaved obliviously past.

It did not take long to realize the fast moving drunk driver in the sports car was likely to hit me unless I found a way to make room. Unfortunately, that meant accelerating from about 50 miles an hour to about 80 and weaving past two cars in the left and right lanes while on a wet S-curve on an unlit, rain-soaked highway. That was not a normally sane option, but the idiot driver with the fine muscle car didn’t leave much choice – he intended to barrel through whether I got out of his way or not.

So I downshifted the six-speed Volvo C-30 from 5th to 4th gear and hit the accelerator. The turbocharged, sport hatchback jumped forward in the right lane as if kicked and the speedometer spun past 80 as I zipped around the first car and then moved left into the fast lane in the middle of a sharp rightward curve. I noted gratefully that the Volvo’s 18-inch wheels were hugging the road as tightly as a newly minted NBA player hugs his signing bonus, and there was daylight between me and madman in the Charger. So I slid the transmission into 5th gear, accelerated to 85, zipped past the second car while on the leftward curve and then passed the second car and moved into the slow lane.  I had slowed back to 60 before the Charger caught up, straddling the middle line and rolled by, picking up both speed and attracting the attention of a State Trooper.

With or without drunks or rain on the road, the Volvo C-30 combines the safety characteristics long associated with this brand, with the performance characteristics associated with Detroit muscle cars and refined imported sports sedans from the likes of Mercedes or BMW. If you are single and like a performance car in the $35,000 range, then that’s the good news. On the other hand, the C-30 is not a family car. It’s small, can feel cramped, has little in the way of storage space and, at that price, can face stiff competition from a variety of its bigger, badder competitors.

Volvo has long been associated with safe, reliable vehicles. But in recent years the company has sought to add pizzazz to the brand by offering more appealing designs. The C-30 is, essentially, a sleek, fast-moving cross between a sport hatchback and a small station wagon that seeks to act like a roadster.  Outside, there is none of the safe boxy look long associated with Volvos. Instead, there is a long, aggressive snout with a low black grill just six inches off the pavement and running lights low and outside resembling the eyes of a pouncing cat. The roofline tapers to a sawed-off glass rear that’s too short and sporty to be a hatchback and too big for a standard rear view mirror. Thematically, the C-30 is its own niche.

Under that hood is a five-cylinder, turbocharged engine cranking out 227 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque – which is a lot for a small, lightweight car. The C-30 jumps from 0 – 60 miles per hour in 6.2 seconds, and can cost you your license at 149 miles per hour.

Inside, the C-30 offers a variety of amenities, but can appear Spartan and cramped. The dash is functional and the center console has Volvo’s trademark design of a flat panel with a storage space behind it. That’s an acquired taste, like Ikea furniture, because the space is small and awkward to get to, and if you push an item out the other side you will either have to forget about it or pull off the roadway and stop to retrieve it. That can be more than a little annoying at night or on long trips.

            The car has a pop-up navigation system which is not intuitive and is designed for those who grew up playing computer games.  It has a hand held joy stick to control the navigation functions, or a duplicate joystick built into the steering wheel column. Once you’ve climbed the learning curve, however, it is not difficult to operate and the joystick can be operated by a passenger, while the driver concentrates on the road.  The navigation system is tied to the Sirius satellite system, with useful traffic and weather detour updates.

There is a central storage bin that is deep enough for 10 CDs and has the USB and MP3 connections, as well as a 15-volt power outlet. But it is situated too far back and too small to serve as a useful arm rest. The deep, bucket leather seats are a bit narrow for spreading old guys, but they are thickly padded, power adjusted, and can be heated.

The trunk area is about large enough for an overnight bag. The rear seats, which have enough leg room for a pair of average sized adults, can fold flat if needed and provide room for a reasonable luggage for two.

In the end, the C-30 is a sporty innovation from a company primarily known for well-made family cars. How it will fare in the rough and tumble competition for upwardly mobile young professionals remains to be seen.

2012 Volvo C30 T5


MSRP;                                                                        $35,720

EPA Mileage:                        21 MPG City                          29 MPG Highway


Performance / Safety:

                                    Top Speed:                             149 MPH

                                    0 – 60 MPH                            6.2 Seconds


2.5-Liter, 5-cylinder, turbocharged, DOHC alloy engine producing 227 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque; front wheel drive; 6-speed manual transmission; stability and traction control; Independent front suspension; multi-link rear suspension with coil springs; 4-wheel power disc brakes; anti-lock braking system; power assisted rack & pinion steering; 18-inch alloy wheels; front and rear fog lights; dual Xenon, bending headlights; curtain side impact head protection.

Interior / Comfort:


AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio; MP3 and USB ports; CD player; Bluetooth phone and audio; tilt and telescope, leather steering wheel with fingertip navigation, audio and cruise controls; remote controlled, Sirius satellite  navigation system with 6-inch color, pop-up screen; fold flat rear seats with 60/40 split; powered sunroof; powered, heated front seats; 10-speaker, 650-watt Dolby  Pro Logic II Sound system.


The Volvo Everything Machine

October 7, 2009


10 Volvo XC-60 - front



By Roger Witherspoon

It looks like a station wagon, but it’s bigger than most of the cars in that category. Its rear is rounded; reminiscent of the original, popular Ford Taurus wagon of the early 1990s, but its aggressive grill is decidedly not part of a retro look. It has a skid pad and is nine inches off of the ground, as if it could be taken off-road and run through a trout stream, though it certainly is not a Jeep and won’t be found in the deep woods.

It looks something like an SUV, but it is smaller than most of the cars in that category.

It is about the size of a compact Honda CRV, and its windows are shaped about the same way. It rides higher off the road than most cars, but it is certainly closer to the ground than a Ford Escape or a Nissan Murano, though its windows and styling resemble a smaller version of that Japanese crossover.

In Volvo’s view, the new XC-60 is neither SUV nor station wagon. They call it a different kind of crossover, providing a little bit more than a standard station wagon – a breed which has lost popularity in the era of large and small SUVs – and a little bit less than the bulky SUVs which have lately come to dominate the American roadway. And as with many man-made hybrids, the XC-60 has some of the strengths and weaknesses of each of those predecessor vehicles.

The XC-60 certainly handles like a car and pickup is like a sporty sedan. There is no swayback like you would find in a typical, rear-heavy station wagon. If you close your eyes, the ride could be that of a typical family sedan. The turbocharged V-6 engine provides a lot of pickup for this mixed breed car. If you hit the accelerator the XC-60 actually jumps forward, though its 0-60 speed is just a respectable 7 seconds. And its top speed is 130 – the same category as the Lincoln MKZ – both of which cost $42,000. Inside this Volvo there is less room than one would find in the small SUVs, but it feels wider, higher, and more comfortable than the standard car or station wagon. And, with all wheel drive, traction and stability controls, it certainly handles better.

10 Volvo XC-60 - side

Inside this everything car the design is eclectic Scandinavian, with two thirds of the front dash slanted towards the driver, rather than creating two, nearly equal, cabin-like spaces for the driver and front passenger. This is intended to make it easier for the driver to focus on the car’s instruments and controls and, for the most part, it works. In terms of interior space, there is enough leg and head room in the XC-60 for a quartet of 6-footers, which is not necessarily the case with the average wagon, though the arm rest is not intended for actual use.

There is Volvo’s trademark storage bin behind the center console and under the dash, which is perfect for purses though awkward for items you may want to actually use wile driving, like electronic toll passes. And there is also a light in the base of the cup holders, so the driver does not have to fumble around in the dark if sipping tea while driving late at night.

This crossover has the appropriate amenities you might expect in a $42,000 car – AM/FM/ Sirius satellite radio and an easy to use Bluetooth with a built-in numerical pad so you don’t have to use the cell phone itself to dial numbers which are not already stored in the system. If the radio isn’t enough, it also has connections for a USB port, iPod and MP3 player.

On the negative side, however, Volvo apparently has a lot of young designers who feel texting while driving is a valid pursuit and reading anything else is a waste of time. Hence it has the least helpful, most infuriating navigation system on the road. If you want to know how to get someplace, the lady in the computer will tell you. But if you want to know where you are, forget it. There are no details on the navigation map since the designers believe that people do not need such a clutter of information.

So if you are driving through a strange town you will see the bright blue triangle representing your car moving majestically through a grid of streets with no names. It might as well be the deep blue sea. There is also nothing intuitive about its operation, which is cumbersome.

In addition, the navigation system is primarily intended to be controlled by a hand held remote, which completes the texting while driving design. There are also partial controls on the steering wheel, but these are harder to use and limited in utility – driving you back too the remote. That is a strange twist for a car company with a well deserved reputation for a culture of safety and stability.

This is the same car which has introduced Volvo’s new “City Safety” system, which is intended to eliminate or reduce the impact of minor crashes at speeds under 20 miles per hour, the area where most fender-benders occur. A radar system built behind the rear view mirror actually triggers the brakes if you are closing on the car in front of you or closing on a parked car. If the closing speed is 9 miles per hour or less, the car will actually stop. If the closing speed is 10 – 18 miles per hour, the brakes will cut that speed in half, thus minimizing the impact and maximizing the effectiveness of the bumper to reduce damages.

That is a thoughtful touch and another milestone en route to the day when cars are driven primarily by an always alert aggregate of computer networks controlled by artificial intelligence. Today, however, these are intelligent aids – like smart navigation systems which provide options to route the driver around traffic jams or bad weather.

All things considered, this whatchamacallit of a car is an innovative addition in a crowded field of look alikes on wheels.

10 Volvo XC-60 - rear profile

2010 Volvo XC-60

MSRP: $42,250

EPA Mileage: 16 MPG City 22 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage: 15.6 MPG Mixed

Performance / Safety:

Top Speed: 130 MPH

0 – 60 MPH 7.1 Seconds

Towing Capacity: 3,300 Pounds

3.0-Liter turbocharged DOHC V-6 engine producing 281 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission; all wheel drive; independent front and rear suspension; 4-wheel, power assisted disc brakes; anti-lock braking; 18-inch alloy wheels; rack & pinion steering; stability and traction control; City Safety system; trailer stability assist; dual chamber side impact airbags; front and rear fog lamps; headlight washers; backup camera.

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/ Sirius satellite HD radio; Bluetooth cell phone communication; Dynaudio Sound system with Dolby Surround Sound, 650-watt amplifier and 12 speakers; iPod, MP3 and USB-ports; tilt & telescope leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip cruise, audio and Bluetooth controls; navigation system with real-time traffic updates; powered leather seats; panoramic sunroof; folding rear seats.

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