Sunday, October 7, 2012

Finally.... A Proper Swedish Sports Sedan

Swedish meatballs, Swedish massages, and the Swedish swim team… that’s all I liked from Sweden…. Until I drove Volvo’s newest competitor to BMW’s 335i and Audi’s S4.

A couple of weeks ago I went to eCarOne to pick up a BMW M3 but it had sold earlier that day, so I ended up with a 2012 Volvo S60 T6, optioned with the R-Design package.  As you would imagine, I was rather disappointed.  However, believe it or not, my disappointment vanished shortly after I got behind the wheel of this beautifully designed sports sedan.

Volvo has long been known for making safe, dependable cars that you can drive for 200,000 miles and then give to your teenager as a first car.  While Volvo has a small niche market in the US, it’s worldwide market share is rather large… much larger than its Swedish counterpart Saab.  Why then is Volvo not as highly regarded in the US as BMW, Mercedes, and Audi?  The answer is simple….  Not enough gusto!

With fuel prices in Europe and Asia being relatively higher than the US, fuel economy is much more important and performance tends to take a back seat to practicality, compactness, and fuel efficiency.  Ultra high performance is reserved for the ultra rich… Go to Europe and try to find an E550 Mercedes or a 550i BMW... they almost don’t exist!  Instead, you’ll see E200 and 520i sedans everywhere.  This is where Volvo has always thrived Europe; by making no nonsense cars that deliver excellent quality and excellent value and for the same reason Volvo has not done so well among American consumers because those who want quality and value in the US, usually turn to Japanese cars and those that want a European sedan will turn to the usual three or perhaps take a look at VW if the budget is a concern.

In the past few years, it appears that Volvo has been trying to break into the performance sports sedan & coupe market in the US but in my opinion has not been very successful.  I don’t know if you remember a move called Crazy People about a group in a mental hospital who was asked to put together advertising slogans for car commercials.  The one that comes to mind is “Volvo; they’re boxy but good.”  This is what Volvo has always been but no longer.

With the introduction of the C70 coupe, the S40, S60, and S80 sedans Volvo really showed the world that it can make very sporty cars that not only perform well but also deliver excellent value and safety.  The car I had from eCarOne, the S60 T6 goes even further and delivers all the above plus true sports sedan feel and performance.

Prior to getting in the car, I gave it a good walk around and I really liked the styling.  It’s sleek, sporty, and very well proportioned.  I loved the red exterior with the dark wheels and the dual exhaust with the darker rear valance show that this car means business.  And this car is certainly not a poser… it’s powered by a turbocharged high revving power plant that delivered a very respectable 325 HP and the same amount of torque at a fairly low rpm… this translates to excellent acceleration and wonderful drivability.  Once I got in the car, I was pleasantly surprised by the fit and finish of all the controls, the seats, the steering wheel and the electronics. 

One of my biggest pet peeves is seats that are not supportive; especially in a sports car that’s supposed to be…. Well, sporty!  This Volvo’s seats were fantastic; to the point where I didn’t notice the seats at all… and that’s a good thing.  My other pet peeve is skinny steering wheels that make you feel like you’re driving a 1982 Fiat.  This car has a proper steering wheel and for that I was happy.  As for other controls, I had no complaints; although I was not particularly impressed by any one feature… I was overall happy with everything.

I’ve talked a lot about the car’s history, looks, features but none about the driving experience.  In a nutshell, this car is a very well balanced sports sedan that I would have no problem placing in the same class as an Audi A4/S4 or a BMW 3-series.  It’s very quick, sharp, stable, and most of all fun to drive.  And here’s the added bonus… it’s all wheel drive so you can drive it hard in all weather conditions and it doesn’t lose a step… look out Audi!

As for things that I didn’t care for, well I sort of alluded to it before: the car is very nice and does everything well but it’s missing a little bit of luxury and a little bit of style inside the cabin.  I love the exterior, but the cabin could use maybe some chrome accents, some rich dark wood or better yet carbon fiber, maybe an Alcatera headliner and perhaps some contrasting stitching.  I’m sure if Volvo keeps pursuing this market segment, these things will evolve with time but for now it’s a great sports sedan and a fantastic value.  This 2012 had only 2,300 miles and is listed with eCarOne at $39,000.  That is a bargain for what you get.

Thanks for reading and happy driving.

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