The Truth About Cars » volvo xc60 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 11:00:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » volvo xc60 Capsule Review: 2013 Volvo XC70 T6 Polestar – Brown Wagon Edition Wed, 02 Oct 2013 13:00:39 +0000 photo (3)

If you had to pick a Q-Car, the vehicle you see above would be nobody’s first choice. Something like a Camry V6, a Pentastar Avenger, or perhaps even a Verano Turbo with a Trifecta tune would be a more suitably anonymous roller skate with enough power to pummel most “civilian” cars on the street. Or perhaps a Regal GS. In grey or some other nodescript color. I am thinking about this as I wander aimlessly within my lane on Lakeshore Boulevard, the Polestar-tuned I6 humming along at a sedate 1800 rpm in 6th gear. CBC Radio is broadcasting yet another nebulous documentary extolling Canada’s secular state religion of diversity, as my Costco grocery list scrolls through my head. How banal and bourgeois.

And then I hear the staccato vocalization of a small block Chevy V8 breathing through a set of big pipes. A glance in the mirror reveals a 4th generation Camaro convertible coming up fast behind me in my mirrors. In a flash, he’s past me by a few car lengths, and I can just make out the “SS” badge on the decklid. If I were in another T6-powered Volvo, say, my parents XC60 T6, I’d step on the gas, wait a brief second for the turbo to spool up, and hope that I’d be in the powerband long enough to catch him. With a standard T6, peak power (295 hp) comes in at 5600 rpm while peak torque (325 lb-ft) arrives at 2100-4200 rpm In this car though; 354 lb-ft comes in from 3000-3600 rpm, while all 325 horsepower are available from 5400 all the way to redline. From a roll, this car is a monster.

It doesn’t take long after nailing the throttle for the gap to close between us, and while the Camaro is droning out its V8 song, there’s just a muted hum from the Volvo’s blocky hood, while barely audible diverter valve noises can be heard through the open windows. A red light conspires to bring us next to one another, and I can see him regarding me with the faux-menacing glare typical to most underemployed 20-somethings brimming with insecurities. He’s much more handsome than I am, and his girlfriend is in the passenger seat.  I smile and give him the thumbs up.

“You think you can beat me?” No change in demeanor from him.

“Actually, I do.” I respond.

There’s no revving, no theatrics, no Fast and Furious Limp Bizkit sound track despite the corny but spontaneous exchange. But when the light goes green, he disappears behind me. And I didn’t even get a good look at his girlfriend.

This is really a silly car. The XC70 sells in inconsequential numbers, even for a Volvo. Last year,  the smaller XC60 outsold the XC70 by a ratio of 4:1, as Volvo customers, my parents included, opted for the higher driving position, easier ingress/egress and crossover-look of the XC60. Wagon fans insist that if only Volvo would bring back a real wagon, then all would be well, the brand would have its mojo back, and American consumers would finally learn that their enlightened European brothers had it right along.

photo (4), whether we’re discussing social safety nets, rail transportation networks or diesel engines. But there is good news. The XC70 and the XC60 are basically the same car. I know this because I had the chance to test them back to back. It’s true that the XC60 has a bit more ground clearance and a higher ride height, and the XC70 is perhaps a bit higher than a regular V70, but to tar either them with the “crossover” brush, is incorrect. These are as much crossovers as the last generation Outback was, and the extra cladding and slightly taller springs are red herrings. Of course, driving a wagon signifies that one has sophisticated, Continental tastes, which is more important to many than how these vehicles actually perform on the road.

What’s most interesting is the changes in spec between the XC70 and the XC60 owned by my folks. Their XC60 has three adjustable steering programs as well as the Volvo 4C system, which employs active shock absorbers made by both Ohlins and Monroe. Three modes are available, labeled Comfort, Sport and Advanced. Comfort is fairly soft, with Sport cranking it up by just a bit. Advanced, however, is truly stiff, sacrificing ride quality for flatter cornering. The XC70, by contrast, has one steering setting (equivalent to the heaviest setting on the XC60) and no 4C system. My own handling loop was illustrative of the differences: the XC70 felt as if it possessed more bodyroll, whereas the XC60  felt a bit more surefooted with the 4C shocks set to “Advanced”. But Advanced mode also makes the shocks rather unpleasant in everyday driving, and when set to “Sport” or “Comfort”, it’s a wash between the two cars.

All this talk of performance for a station wagon may seem out of place, but when the car’s main marketing proposition is the Polestar engine tuning, it’s hard to ignore it. The XC70 is also a very practical vehicle. Despite my bearishness on wagons as a commercial proposition in the marketplace, I quite like them. I tried in vain to convince my parents to buy the XC70, hoping that the giant stuffed German Sheppard in the back of the showroom demo model would sway them (it looked identical to an old stuffed dog from my childhood). Instead they hemmed and hawed and made vague remarks about the “height” of the XC60′s cargo area (for the one time of the year when they’d bring home tall garden plants) and the extra length (8 inches longer, which does count when parking in urban areas) as reasons to get the XC60. This time, I was determined to induct them in the “cult of the wagon”.

Tossing the keys to my parents for a “blind taste test”, they were more impressed with the revised interior than the driving dynamics or the lower seating position (which they also enjoyed, in a reversal of their previous stance on the car). While my folks car invokes the usual “Swedish furniture” cliche, with black baseball stitched leather and aluminum trim (no surprise if you know them: they wear more black than an amateur theatre troupe and my mother obsesses over modern furniture like we do over rear-drive BOF Fords), the XC70 is much more organic, with generous helpings of wood and natural tone leather. Volvo’s IP and telematics interface remains unchaged, and is thankfully devoid of touch screens or haptic controls.

It takes a few minutes to learn the ins and outs of the buttons-and-knobs, but once you do, it becomes second nature, and one can navigate their iPod music selections without taking their eyes off the road. The navigation system was far less cooperative – while the controls were easy enough, it failed to recognize even well known streets, forcing me to use my iPhone as a navigation aid. The XC70 also came with Volvo’s “Premium Sound System”, something my father chose to forgo when he declined the navigation system in the XC60. It’s worth the money, something he readily acknowledged after one playthrough of Gil-Scott Heron’s Bridges. Cargo proved to be one area where the extra length didn’t lend the XC70 too much of an advantage. The XC60 has 67.4 cubic feet of space, with 30.8 cubic feet with the seats up, while the XC70 has 72.1 in total, with 33.3 if the rear seats remain intact. In practical terms, it’s possible to easily fit a full-size mens bicycle with the seats down in the XC70, while the XC60 takes a bit of finagling. For most every day items, it was inconsequential, with grocery bags and suitcases fitting fine in both cars. The XC60′s reduced length does make it easier to park, something I can appreciate given that my parents live in an area with abundant street parking that seems to be sized for C-segment cars at best.

In that light, it’s understandable why they chose the XC60, but after driving the wagon, I am not ready to take their side. Nonwithstanding my mocking of the commercial viability of the station wagon, I like this one a lot. It’s difficult to find a car that does it all so well. Where else can you find something that can turn on a dime from being an invisible luxury commuter appliance, to a bike hauler to a stoplight dragster that can be used in every weather condition, 365 days of the year? It just makes so much sense. Which is its biggest problem. We as humans rarely want what makes sense for us, whether it’s choosing an incompatible lover, a consumer item we can’t really afford or voting for a politician that sways us with charming rhetoric rather than policy that may be beneficial to our station in life.

photo (1)

At $50,310, it’s not exactly within the reach of the common American family either. This car, even without the Polestar, is an incredibly niche proposition. But that’s a big part of its charm. It will never be loved like the Brick Volvos of yore, nor the upcoming V60 (which will be lauded as a return to form for Volvo), but it has earned its place, along with the Subaru Legacy 2.5GT and Audi S4, in the lore of “great wagons we got in America that nobody appreciated”.

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Review: 2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport (Video) Tue, 07 May 2013 20:09:15 +0000

I remember when the RX rolled onto the scene in 1998. It was truly the first successful crossover as we would know it today. While everyone else was trying to produce a truck-based luxury SUV, Lexus took the Camry/ES platform, put a jelly-bean inspired box on top and jacked the ride height up to 7.7 inches. The result was instant sales success. As we all know however, success has a price. The marshmallow-soft FWD RX lacked road feel, steering feel and sex appeal. Although it’s a bit late in the game, Lexus has decided to fix that last problem with the introduction of the 2013 RX F-Sport.

Click here to view the embedded video.

F-Sport is to Lexus what M-Sport is to BMW. (No, not M, M-Sport.) That means the RX gets a new grille, flashier wheels, some suspension upgrades, a new transmission and interior tweaks. You’ll notice I didn’t say “more power.” That’s because this is “F-Sport,” not F.

We should talk competitions first so we can discuss the F-Sport in the proper light. First up, the MDX. We need to cross that one off the list. Why? Primarily because it has seven seats, but also because the all-new MDX is being shown off in the next month or so. (Check back for an RX vs MDX overview at that time.) That leave us with the Lincoln MKX, Cadillac SRX, Volvo XC60 and the Audi Q5. Yes, in some ways the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLK compete, but their RWD drivetrains put them in a different league. Not to mention Mercedes and BMW owners don’t seem to see the RX as competition.

2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The nuts and bolts of the RX date back to 2009 when the platform received its third redesign, while the bumpers received a nip/tuck for the 2012 model year. The 2013 F-Sport builds on that refresh, retaining the new spindle grille but swapping horizontal slats for the signature F-Sport “squiggle” grille. Since our readers have complained we don’t offer enough subjective styling criticism, here we go. I’m feeling the love for Lexus’ F-Sport nose, especially on the RX. The new IS F-Sport takes the F-Sport squiggle theme to the extreme with lines going from the hood to the air dam, but the RX breaks things up with a body-colored bumper section in the middle. Overall I find the look elegant with just a hint of aggressiveness. My only issue is: every RX should look like this.

I’m not sure what Lincoln’s engineers were smoking when they styled the MKX’s nose, but it must have been some strong stuff. As much as folks think I dislike GM products, I find the SRX to be aggressive, bold, and stylish, all in good ways. The Q5 makes me yawn. Volvo’s styling has always struck a chord with me, but the Swedes aren’t known for bold and daring. The MDX? I can’t get past the beak. My personal style ranking would be: SRX, RX F-Sport, XC60, Q5 and then the MKX. Sorry Lincoln.


The 2012 refresh didn’t bring sweeping changes to the interior. In truth, aside from an infotainment software update and a new steering wheel, the only changes were to the color palette. That means we still get the slightly rubbery (but still soft) injection molded instrument panel dominated by an infotainment screen. The shifter still pops horizontally out of the dash, and we still have 2009-era plastics. Keeping the competition in mind, the MKX has an interior style I appreciate more, and has more soft-touch plastics. However, Lincoln’s interior quality is more of a mixed bag than the Lexus. The Audi Q5 strikes me as a little cheap on the inside, sorry Audi fans. The Volvo scores points in my book for diverging from the typical CUV interior style and ties with the SRX in terms of style, fit and finish and interior feel. The Lexus slots in second, followed by the MKX while the Q5 brings up the rear.

Back in the RX, the front seats are comfortable and supportive, just as you expect from Lexus, but the passenger seat doesn’t have the same range of electric adjustibility as the driver’s seat. In tune with the RX’s mission as an upscale crossover, (marketed towards buyers older than the RAV4 rabble) the rear seats are higher off the ground and more suitable for adult transportation. Thanks to the FWD based drivetrain, the RX has no differentiable “hump” in the rear making sitting three-across far less painful than RWD based crossovers. Cargo hauling is the RX’s strong suit with the largest hold of the bunch.


You won’t find many examples on dealer lots, but base RX models get a standard 7-inch “multi-information” screen in the dashboard. Available as a separate $860 option, standard on F-Sport and included on most option packages is the “display audio” system. Display audio bumps you up to an 8-inch LCD with a backup cam, HD Radio, rotary controller in the center console and the 12-speaker Lexus branded audio system. This middle system is my personal preference because it is the only way to get the 8-inch screen without Lexus’ joystick controller device.

Lexus calls the controller “remote touch,” I call it the most aggravating input method so far. Remember Volvo’s pop-up nav with the controller on the back of the steering wheel? This is worse. Don’t get me wrong, the system is easy to use; it works like a computer mouse: just point and click. My problem is two fold. First, you have to spend more time staring at the screen to operate the system than you did with the old Lexus touchscreen interface. Second, the location of the controller makes it difficult for your front passenger to use the system. If you want to know more, check out the video at the top of this page.

2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport, Interior, Center Console, Picture Console of Alex L. Dykes

If SMS text-to-speech and smartphone app integration are must haves, be prepared to shell out $2,775 for that navigation system ($1,916 over the display audio system). Nearly three grand is a steep premium, even in this segment. On the flip side you do get full voice commands for your USB/iDevice, XM radio with XM data services, and Lexus tosses in the 12-speaker sound system.

I appreciate my tunes, do I’d also need to splurge on the $995 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. With 330-watts and a subwoofer, the system is a noticeable step up from the base or 12-speaker systems, but is not as impressive as the 650-watt system in the XC60, or the Meridian systems in the Range Rover Evoque. With the blind spot monitoring system ($650), the nav, up-level sound and parking sensors, our RX 350 F-Sport rang in just under $53,000 without destination.


Since F-Sport isn’t about power, you’ll find an identical 270 horsepower 3.5L V6 engine under the hood of the RX 350 and the RX 350 F-Sport. This is the same smooth “2GR-FE” engine used in everything from the Toyota RAV4 to the Lexus ES 350. That also means this mill doesn’t benefit from Lexus’ direct-injection sauce used to increase power and torque in the IS and GS. With only 248 lb-ft of twist on tap at a lofty 4,700 RPM, the only competitor with less is the Volvo XC60 3.2. But we must compare apples-to-apples and that’s a problem here because Volvo also offers the most powerful engine in this segment at 325 HP and a whopping 354 lb-ft of twist from the 3.0L twin-scroll turbo in the XC60 R-Design.

To compensate for the power deficit, Lexus connected the V6 to the world’s first 8-speed automatic transaxle. The new U880F transaxle features a much lower effective first gear ratio at 17.31:1 vs 14.48 for the non-F-Sport model (gear x final drive) and a taller final gear at 2.28:1 vs 2.66:1. The new ratios make the F-Sport quicker off the line, quicker to 60 by 4/10ths and improves fuel economy by 2MPG on the highway. The 18/26 MPG (city/highway) score ties with the 8-speed Q5 3.0T for the best fuel economy, 2-3MPGs better than the Americans or the Swede.


The RX has never been known as a corner carver, something that is expected of a sports package. So Lexus stiffened the dampers, fiddled with the springs, made the optional low-profile rubber standard and dropped in a version of the cross damping system found in the CT hybrid hatchback. The system uses two braces with integrated gas-shocks, connecting the left and right side of the chassis (front and rear). The braces aren’t there to increase rigidity, but rather to absorb and compensate for body vibrations. I wouldn’t say the system makes a night and day difference, but driving the F-Sport back-to-back with a “regular” RX on broken pavement, there was a difference. Depending on what you expect from your RX, that difference may excite or disappoint. If you want a marshmallow soft ride with more shove, get the RX 450h. If you’re just interested in a polished ride, get the regular RX 350 since the F-Sport tuning seems almost at odds with the RX’s mission.

You notice I didn’t say: wider tired. Most companies include wider and grippier rubber in their sports packages, but that could have led to more road noise, lower fuel economy and a crashier ride. Those don’t sound very “Lexus” to me, and apparently the engineers thought the same. Pity. While this is an omission you can fix aftermarket, the narrow 235-width tires and hefty 4,510lb curb weight mean the RX lands at the bottom of the pack when it comes to grip. That means even the porky 4,430lb MKX manages to hustle through the twisties with more poise than the RX. If grip is what you seek, look no further than the XC60 T6 AWD R-Design thanks to the lowest curb weight and some seriously wide 255/45R20 rubber. You know, for this segment.

2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport, Gauges, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The case for the F-Sport starts to fall apartwhen you look at that $53,000 price tag and consider our RX lacked a few options like the heads-up display and radar cruise control. That’s a $7,000 premium over the faster Volvo XC60 T6, and a $3,000 premium over Volvo’s performance trimmed XC60 R-Design. Feature for feature, the F-Sport commands a higher price than the Lincoln, Cadillac or Audi as well, not to mention those Germans we didn’t talk about. Lexus counters with a reliability and dealer reputation that is second to none. But, you can have plenty of off-warranty repairs done to your Euro crossover for the difference. Still, the RX leases well thanks to a high residual value and I suspect that has something to do with its continued dominance when it comes to sales.

Lexus has, without a doubt, created the perfect RX. It looks better than the regular RX, goes faster, is more economical, and handles slightly better as well. If you’re reading this because you want the RX, then go ahead and buy one. If however you want the best handling and performing small luxury crossover, stop by the Volvo dealer. Want sexy? Check out the 2014 Evoque with the new 9-speed.

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • I have to admit, the F-Sport nose job works for me
  • Lexus reliability reputation

Quit it

  • Down on power compared to everyone else.
  • Lexus Remote Touch. Enough said.

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.35 Seconds

0-60: 6.55 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15 Seconds @ 92 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 19.2 MPG over 679 miles


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Ten Best and Worst Automotive Gadgets Wed, 17 Apr 2013 18:44:47 +0000

As the line between automotive electronics and consumer electronics grows ever closer, the list of new-car options has grown at an incredible pace. As a person who’s constantly in a new vehicle and has an insatiable love for gadgetry, click through the jump for my top 10 must-haves and the 10 options you should avoid at all costs. Picking the right options can help your car’s resale value and choosing the wrong ones can lower it or even limit the market for your ride.

1. iPod/USB integration with voice commands

We all love tunes and you know that we all secretly love to tell our car what to do. It’s a match made in heaven.

2. Adaptive cruise control

I’m not convinced self-driving cars are going to pass legislative and legal hurdles, not to mention the inevitable flood of lawsuits, but one key technology the systems depend on is available on a wide variety of cars: adaptive cruise control. Using a radar system mounted on the front of the car, the car’s computer works the stop and go pedals for you to keep you under your pre-set speed and a safe distance from the car you’re following. The steering and panic stopping are up to you of course, but if you’re in moderate to mild freeway traffic I find it makes me a better driver by dealing with the slow down, speed up, slow down nature of traffic that drives me crazy. The fact that most systems will alert you if you’re not paying attention and are about to rear end the school bus is just icing on the cake.

3. Keyless entry/go

Keys are so last century.

4. Collision mitigation systems

A car that’s out to save my bacon (and my insurance premiums) ranks high on my list. I dislike systems that intervene too early, but the systems by Lexus and Volvo wait until the 11th hour (or the 11th nanosecond) to do something about your rear-ender-in-progress. I was a skeptic at first, a Volvo XC60 stopped itself automatically when I was momentarily distracted and that made me a believer.

5. Bluetooth integration

One of the greatest changes sweeping the industry over the last 5 years is the near universal availability of Bluetooth. While many new cars come with the technology standard, it is still on option some so do your homework. Don’t order a car without it. Aside from speaker phone capability, Bluetooth allows you to stream audio from your music device to the car and is one of the few technologies likely to survive for your car’s lifetime.

6. Dynamic beam headlamps

You know, the ones illegal in the USA? Yea. Them. In a nutshell the car scans the road ahead with a camera and using a sophisticated projection headlamp array it “blocks out” the light that would shine onto a car ahead of you (your direction or the opposite side of the road) so that your high beams can light up the rest of the road without blinding anyone. I’ve had the opportunity to drive several prototype vehicles and the system has to be the best thing since French car sales stopped in the USA. Sadly the Feds won’t let us have snazzy headlamps.

7. Heated steering wheel

Much like anal sex, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

8. Automatic climate control

Many years ago I decided that any new car I own must have certain features. Power seats, a telescopic steering wheel, heated seats and lastly automatic climate control. Over the years I have added plenty of must-haves to my list, but none top the automatic climate control. Why? Because I am that buy that’s too lazy to adjust knobs and buttons on my own.

9. Active suspension systems

I’ve owned three vehicles with active suspension systems and driven at least 40 to date. The systems on offer vary from simple load-leveling systems like the one in my GMC Envoy that drastically improve vehicle behavior when towing (and make it easy to deal with heavier-than-normal tongue weights) to fully-dynamic systems that alter the ride height and damping firmness. While the early systems on the Volvo S60R/V70R  had some software bugs, every modern system I have tested has done exactly what it says on the tin.

10. Heads-up displays

As the name implies, the goal is to give you information while keeping your eyes on the road. While I wouldn’t pay extra for the GM or Toyota systems, BMW’s full-color system is gorgeous and is the first system to display enough information to be worth ordering. In addition to the usual suspects of speed, tachometer, and gear information it will also show you your cruise control info, the speed limit on your current road and you can browse your media device. Last time I was in a dealer I broke my “never interfere” rule and told a customer “no, seriously the sales dude is right, the heads up thing rocks, get it.” If you own a 2013 BMW 3-Series and don’t have it, you should be forced to drive a Chevy Spark.

1. Lane watching cameras

The idea sounds good, it’s kind of like blind spot monitoring with a camera. At the press of a button, or when you use your turn signal, the system shows the video feed on your infotainment screen. My problem is: the same information can be gleaned by turning your head and looking over your shoulder and/or in the mirror which is on the side of the car anyway. If you must have a blind spot nanny, get one that beeps if someone’s in your blind spot, that’s more helpful.

2. Electric parking brakes

Sweet Jesus, save me. I love gadgets as much as the next person. I love power seats, power mirrors and power windows, but why on earth would I want an electric parking brake? Sure, they automagically set themselves when you turn the car off, but releasing them is an exercise in frustration. By all indications they are less reliable than the traditional mechanisms and should you ever need to use it as an “emergency brake,” they are a royal pain. Pray to whatever deity you believe in that the creator of this lever of horrors is struck by lightning.

3. Capacitive touch buttons

I love an easy-to-clean surface as much as the next guy, but I’m bright enough to know that if you are trying to pay as much attention as possible to the road, buttons that you can stab without looking down are the way to go. Instead, the automotive trend has been moving towards “touch” buttons. The button-free buttons don’t move when you press them and are impossible to find by feel. Sure, some companies but little bumps on them so you think you can hunt by feel. When you attempt that process you just hit all the wrong buttons sending your infotainment system into a crash-inducing tailspin. Of course, Cadillac’s CUE system doesn’t need any help to go haywire and crash.

4. Night vision

Night vision is a great technology if you’re hunting the enemy in Desert Storm part 2. In suburbia it’s just a $2,500 option that won’t get you laid. Trust me, I’ve tried. The systems allow you to “see” further than your headlights in the dark, but don’t try driving by looking at the screen you’ll get yourself into a world of hurt. The field of vision is too narrow, the response time is too slow and it’s in the wrong position anyway. I have a better idea: if you can’t see at night, don’t drive. Problem solved.

5. Launch control

Launch control sounds like a great idea and I couldn’t wait to get in a car with a modern launch control system. Sadly, like most things you eagerly anticipate, LC isn’t all its cracked up to be. Most systems are overly complicated with too many steps to follow before you’re ready to race. By the time you follow the procedure, the modded pickup you were trying to race has forgotten all about you. Adding insult to injury I have yet to test a system that made a difference in our 0-60 tests. The M6, M5, Challenger SRT8, Grand Cherokee SRT8 and others all posted better numbers when I used my 1990s launch control system: a properly calibrated right foot. Trust your instincts.

6. Satellite mapping

Don’t confuse this with navigation. I love me some navigation. I’m talking about Google satellite imagery overlayed on the car’s nav map. Until I get the flying car that was promised on the Jetsons, I don’t see why I need a mile-high view of the mall. Maybe if it was displaying big brother’s “creepy-live” data so I could see what parking spots are free, but until then just say no to yet *another* cellular data subscription.

7. Integrated booster seats

They sound like a great idea. You’re either planning on having kids or you have kids. The trouble is, if you’re planning on having kids, plenty can happen between the vehicle purchase and the time your progeny are age/weight appropriate. If you have kids already, it won’t be long before they are too old or too heavy to be in the booster seat. This just means you’ve paid for a very expensive set of booster seats that you’re stuck with until you ditch the car. Oh, and the seats are less comfortable for everyone, the kids in the seat and any adult unfortunate enough to have to sit in it.

8. Fog lights

In N. America we’re talking about front fog lights, not the rear fog lights required in some countries. Although, I really should talk about both. Front fog lights stopped being about fog and started being about fashion soon after they started. I live in a foggy area and I have yet to drive a vehicle whose fog-lights helped visibility. At best they light up the area immediately in-front of your bumper, but nine times out of ten they throw light everywhere making visibility worse. Rear fog lights are great, except nobody in America knows how to use them, especially Audi drivers who think its cool to leave them on 24×7.

9. Sports appearance packages

Just say no. Sports appearance packages do nothing to make your ride go faster, they usually just make it depreciate faster. Ouch. Sports handling packages can help the car’s dynamics with stiffer springs but your money is usually better spent on better tires.

10. Rear seat entertainment systems

Yep, RSE systems are totally cool but they are also one of the worst things you can spend your money on. Aside from the fact that most RSE systems have small displays, clunky software, crappy integration and are expensive, they are often integrated into strangely shaped front seat headrests that destroy the aesthetics of your car. Save yourself some cash and get an iPad or two. Not only are they better at entertainment duties while in motion, the digital babysitter is portable and will go with your kid on the plane.

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Volvo V40 Cross Country; We May Actually Get This Thu, 20 Sep 2012 14:40:57 +0000

Apparently, the Volvo V40 isn’t being imported to North America; but nobody said the Cross Country wasn’t coming here, did they?

The iconic V70 ended up being usurped by the XC60. The V50 wagon was effectively replaced by the XC60. And with Audi, BMW and Mercedes offering entry-level compact luxury cars (the A3, X1 and the upcoming A/B-Class), Volvo has an opening for their own entry. The V40 Cross Country is a bit more crossover-esque than the standard V40, but the upshot is available all-wheel drive.

Powertrains include three diesels (not going to happen, sorry) and two gasoline engines; a 1.6L 4-cylinder, which is unlikely to come here, and Volvo’s venerable 2.5L 5-cylinder turbocharged engine. If the V40 drives anything like the XC60, then the 2.5L with AWD would be a very compelling package. Fingers crossed.

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Review: 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar Take Two Fri, 13 Jul 2012 14:51:46 +0000

Volvo has long been the “safe choice” in more ways than one. The brand’s reputation is steeped in safety, but for the past 30 years “luxury with a hint of performance” has been a secondary focus. Even still, arriving at the country club in a Volvo won’t bring out the green-eyed-monster. Your fellow socialites will just think you were being safe and practical. Volvo may be the Birkenstock of the automotive world, but that doesn’t prevent them from creating the occasional irrational vehicle. While Volvo isn’t ready commit to build the insane 508HP S60R, they will sell you the most powerful small crossover in America: the 2012 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD R-Design with Polestar. (If you don’t count the bat-s**t-crazy (in a good way) Nissan Juke R. Michael Karesh was able to wrangle an XC60 R-Design out of a local dealer for a quick take in December, but what’s the Polestar tweaked XC like to live with for a week? Click through the jump to find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Founded in 1996, Polestar is rapidly becoming Volvo’s “pet” tuning company. While they have been “on the scene” for a while in Europe, the fact that Volvo North American is willing to cover Polestar upgrades under the factory warranty shows how serious the marriage is. Because Polestar is primarily a tuning company, there is little to distinguish the more powerful XC60 from its lesser brethren on the outside. The same modern lines blend with the traditional Volvo “hips” to form one of the more attractive crossovers on our shores. While the look is instantly recognizable as a Volvo, it is also thoroughly modern. If you doubt me, just park an XC60 next to an XC90 and compare. For R-Design duty, Volvo tweaked the bumper covers, added some chrome bling and swapped out the stock 235-width tires for the biggest rubber Volvo has ever used: 255/45R20s. Sadly the ever-safe Swedes shod the R-Design with all-season tires, fortunately that is easy to fix.


Volvo has long had a tradition of extended model lifetimes sprinkled with mid-cycle refreshes and yearly tweaks. To that end, the majority of the interior looks the same as the XC60 we had in December 2010 but Volvo has made some improvements to keep the XC fresh. Starting in 2011, all XC60 models get a 7-inch infotainment display in the dash. (Previously base models had an awkward cubby if you didn’t get the lackluster navigation system.) Also new for 2011 is a redesigned leather steering wheel with a thick rim and new infotainment controls. While there are still a few “Volvoisims” to be found (like the storage area behind the center stack and the off-beat two-tone upholstery color palate), the XC60 is mainstream luxury crossover all the way. Fit and finish in our tester was excellent and the soft-touch materials and leather easily tie with the BMW X3 for the best in this class. After a week with the XC60, my only complaint about the interior is the location of the infotainment/navigation screen. Volvo ditched their trademark “pop-up” LCD that was positioned high on the dash for a more conventionally located display. The new location means taking your eyes further away from the road to look at the map. With 30.8 cu.ft. t of space behind the rear seats, 67.4 cu.ft. with the rear seats folded and a standard folding front passenger seat, the XC60 will swallow more cargo than any of the Euro competition including those bulky IKEA furniture packs.


Volvo’s new “Sensus” system is a welcome (and long overdue) improvement. It combines a high-resolution, standard aspect ratio LCD in the center of the dash. While I remain disappointed that Volvo missed the opportunity to use a larger screen, the size is competitive with Mercedes’ COMAND system, the Q5′s MMI and the base screen in the X3. (BMW’s optional 8.8-inch iDrive screen is much more attractive however.) Volvo’s new interface is easy to use, well laid out and controllable via the steering wheel or the buttons and knob on the center console. Voice commands work as well as any of the competition but Apple iDevice integration continues to be a weak point. Navigating your iDevice is fairly easy but not as responsive as many systems and there are no vehicle specific apps with the Volvo system like BMW offers. The new system will certainly make XC60 owners happy, but they may get a twinge of techo-jeallousy when they step into their buddy’s Bimmer.

Well tuned audio systems have long been a Volvo hallmark. The XC60′s base 160-watt, 8-speaker system comes with standard HD Radio, Bluetooth phone integration, USB/iPod/Aux connectors and XM Satellite Radio. An optional 650-watt, 12-speaker premium sound system is available and adds Dolby ProLogic II decoding to the mix. Despite having a lower speaker count than BMW’s sound systems, I found the balance and tone of both system to be more pleasing than the German wares.


When Volvo first launched “R-Design,” it was simply an appearance package, thankfully that’s changed. Instead of designing a unique engine for the R-Design vehicles as they did with the former S60R and V70R, they turned to Polestar to boost the power from the existing turbo engine. The result is a 3.0L inline 6-cylinder engine with a single twin-scroll turbo that cranks out 325HP and a stump-pulling 354 lb-ft of twist. Power is routed to all four wheels via a standard Aisin 6-speed automatic and Haldex AWD system. Polestar was also allowed to stiffen the springs by 10%, fiddle with the steering ratio and reprogram the transmission for sportier shifting. Perhaps in deference to the rural Swedes that live with miles of unpaved dirt roads, Volvo left the Jeep-like 9.1 inches of ground clearance intact.


You’d think a curb weight 4,264lbs and over 9-inches of ground clearance the XC60 would handle like a pig, but the only swine metaphor that’s applicable is: this thing takes off like a stuck pig. We clocked a solid 5.6 seconds to 60, just 1/10th behind the 2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i but more importantly a whopping 1.5 seconds faster than the first XC60 T6 we tested in 2010. The observant in the crowd will note this is 1/2 a second faster than the Q5 3.2 and nearly a full second faster than the GLK350. Suspicious? Indeed, but a trip to a local dealer with our testing equipment revealed identical times with the two R-Designs on the lot. When the going gets twisty the tall XC60 handles impressively despite the ride height and the all-season tires. The BMW is still the handling king of the luxury CUV class, but as unlikely as this sounds, the Volvo is a close second. The downside to this unexpected handling prowess is a harsh ride from the stiffer springs and low-profile tires.

No Volvo would be complete without a bevy of electronic safety systems to save your bacon. Unlike Infiniti however, Volvo takes a different approach to electronic nannies. Infiniti’s systems act obtrusively, intervening well before the point of no return while Volvo’s systems only act after the vehicle decides it is too late for you to do anything. For 2012 Volvo has updated their City Safety system to recognize pedestrians as well as vehicles in your way. As long as you are driving under 19MPH the system will intervene and stop you completely if it thinks an accident is unavoidable. Thankfully Volvo realized that 19MPH is a bit slow for American traffic and has announced that starting with the 2013 model year the system will act at speeds up to 31MPH. (No word if existing Volvos can be upgraded.) On the luxury feature front, the optional radar cruise control has been tweaked to handle stop-and-go traffic taking you to a complete stop and accelerating again when the traffic moves. The system behaves smoothly and ties with the latest Mercedes system for the best dynamic cruise control system available.

I think the XC60 R-Design might just be the best kept secret in the luxury market. While the X3 xDrive35i is the obvious sporty choice to quench your sporty CUV thirst, the XC60 R-Design delivers 99% of the performance and 95% of the technology for around $3,000 less. The XC60 R-Design proves that Volvo can make a dirt road-capable CUV with styling flair, BMW competitive performance, and enough electronic nannies to satisfy the risk-adverse in the crowd (not to mention your insurance broker). The real question is if buyers will actually cross-shop the Volvo with its German competition.

Volvo has long had a reputation for building cars that are safe and durable, but less than sexy. With a reputation like that, and a distinct lack of advertising to the contrary, the XC60 R-Design is likely to remain a niche product. Seriously, when was the last time you even saw a Volvo commercial on TV? Me either. Pity because the XC60 R-Design’s performance to cost ratio make it quite simply the best all-around luxury crossover.


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Volvo provided the vehicle, one tank of gas, and insurance for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.21 Seconds

0-60: 5.6 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.3 Seconds @ 99.5 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 20.1  MPG over 825 miles


2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Interior, gauges, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Interior, gauges, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Interior, radar cruise control display, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, wheels, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, front, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, front, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Exterior, rear, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, engine, 3.0L twin-scroll turbo T6, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, engine, 3.0L twin-scroll turbo T6, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, engine, 3.0L twin-scroll turbo T6, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, engine, 3.0L twin-scroll turbo T6, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, dashboard, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, dashboard, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, steering wheel, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, infotainment and HVAC controls, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, Sensus infotainment system, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, dashboard, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, dashboard, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, front seats, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, rear seats, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, rear seats, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, rear seats, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, rear seats folded, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, cargo area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, cargo area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, cargo area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar, cargo area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 31
Volvo CEO: “Our Cars Are Too Complicated” Mon, 25 Jun 2012 13:00:21 +0000

Here’s a breath of fresh air; Volvo CEO Stefan Jacoby declared that his cars, laden with safety systems and other gadgets, are too complex for most of Volvo’s customers.

Jacoby cited a study, which claimed that 75 percent of Volvo customers didn’t know the full potential of their cars. Citing Apple as an example, Jacoby said

“Our cars are too complicated for the consumer. Our intention is to have an intuitive car that lets the driver actually feel like he’s in command,”

My parents have an XC60, and while they’re pretty tech savvy, they still have trouble deciphering the various three-letter safety systems in their car, and I don’t think they’ve ever gone deep into the muti-layered menus since taking delivery of the car. Taking a pro-simplicity position is something that most of us can identify with.Volvo will have a unique challenge on its hands, since so much of its identity is wrapped up in being on the leading edge of safety and design. Making their cars easier to use while progressing technologically is a task that many have failed at – witness the lack of a legitimate iPod competitor if you need further proof.

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Future Volvos Powered By Turbocharged Modular 4-Cylinders Fri, 06 Jan 2012 21:44:51 +0000

Amid Volvo’s announcement of a plug-in hybrid for markets besides diesel-loving Europe came another tidbit about the lone Swedish brand’s future direction. Rather than 5, 6 or 8 cylinder engines like years past, Volvo will be downsizing, much like BMW – and using modular engines to boot, much like their Bavarian rivals.

While Volvo’s plans weren’t articulated as well as BMW’s modular engines, the 4-cylinder will not only form the core of Volvo’s lineup, but a 3-cylinder version is possible. Each cylinder will be 500 cc’s by itself, and use a variety of turbochargers to attain various power levels. Volvo is also claiming that fuel economy will be 30 percent better than their current engines without any sacrifice in performance.  Good news, considering that the XC60, which offers a punchy T6 engine that can move the XC60 and S60 sedan down the road pretty well (as much as 325 horsepower and 350 lb-ft depending on trim level), but also offers V8 fuel consumption, returning an EPA rated 19/25mpg.

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Volvo XC60 Plug-In Hybrid: Because Wagons Don’t Play In Peoria Wed, 04 Jan 2012 17:51:48 +0000

There was ample hand-wringing when Volvo announced the death of their iconic station wagon in North America. While enthusiasts mourned the death of a cult classic, Volvo also announced a plug-in hybrid version of their V60 wagon, powered by a diesel engine and a hybrid drivetrain. Naturally, this vehicle was not destined for sale in North America.

The non-available V60 plug-in constituted the ultimate slap in the face for the Volvo faithful. Here was the newest generation of Volvo wagon (as opposed to the warmed over XC70 offered recently) with an environmental bent and the Euro-cachet of a diesel engine – but where was it? As Jamie Kitman of Automobile magazine rightfully pointed out, their core buyer is “green” but refusing to import such a vehicle may not be “lunacy”, because the Swedes have something more suited for American tastes – the same hybrid goodness, packaged as a gasoline-powered crossover.

Rather than the V60 diesel-hybrid, North Americans are being treated to a plug-in hybrid based on the XC60. Set to be unveiled at the North American International Auto Show next week, the XC60 plug-in will use a 280 horsepower 4-cylinder gasoline engine and a 70 horsepower electric motor for a total output of 350 horsepower. The gasoline engine will drive the front wheels, while the electric motor will power the rear wheels. Volvo claims that the vehicle can be driven in electric mode for up to 35 miles and return up to 50 mpg. Stefan Jacoby, Volvo’s CEO, noted that the gasoline powered version will be an important car for China and Russia as well as the United States, as this likely has as much to do with the crossover body style as it does the gasoline engine.

On a personal note, my folks bought an XC60 T6 this summer, and I have spent ample time in it. While perpetually ignored in the marketplace, the XC60 is a car I’m fond of, with a powerful engine, a well-appointed cabin and good driving dynamics. At the time of purchase, I urged my parents to look at the XC70 T6, but it cost a few thousand dollars more and offered little appreciable difference to them. If a couple of upper-middle class car enthusiasts saw little value in opting for a wagon over a crossover, then what chance would a station wagon have with more conventional buyers, who are likely to be even more image-conscious and resistant to the idea of a wagon? On the other hand, my parents have a 5.4 mile commute through a downtown core to their office, and something like this would be right up their alley. Hopefully pricing won’t be so exorbitant that it cancels out any economic benefit for buying the XC60 plug-in.

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