Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018

September 21, 2017 by · Comments Off on Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Thor’s Hammer light design, familiar grille denote new-breed Volvos.

By John Gilbert

DENVER, COLO.

   As members of the car-buying public, we’ve spent our lifetimes compromising when it comes to car-buying. We might want something sporty, great looking, and quick, but we also have families who require that our first choice becomes solid, roomy and safe. We’ve also watched as most companies tried to make their cars as attractive as possible, then added stuff on in hopes of making them safer.

   Because of all that, and what we’ve observed, and the small portions that we’ve learned, you’ve got to hand it to Volvo, which seems to have gotten to the sweet spot in the compromise by sticking to safety and letting stuff like luxury, attractiveness and performance come along at its own, leisurely pace. From my vantage point, it appears Volvo has found the hot button. My favorite, for now, is the new 2018 QX60, a compact, midsize SUV that does everything I could ever want in a vehicle.

   The 2018 array of models coming out with Volvo’s vehicles, with their slashed bar over the grille and “Thor’s Hammer” headlight design, come as close as it gets to being all things to all people. For a price, of course. Such quality and built-in safety and technology don’t come cheap. The S90 runs from $49,195 in base T5 Momentum form up to nearly $70,000 in loaded T8 all-wheel-drive top trim. The V90 ranges from $50,000 to $53,000 coming only with front-wheel drive. And the XC60 starts at $42,495 for the Momentum, $45,900 for the R-Design, and $46,300 for the Inscription, and all XC60s come with all-wheel drive.

 

Lighter and more agile than the larger XC90, Volvo’s new XC60 gets the same drivetrain.

  Once a Swedish company that made rock-solid safe cars, then a Ford affiliate that made safer cars for different reasons, and now a Swedish company owned by a Chinese conglomerate that is making cars that fulfill every angle of every car compromise, Volvo has kept its eye on its own, stubborn target. Under the financial umbrella of Geely, Volvo is still headquartered in Gothenberg, Sweden, but it now makes some vehicles in China — where it is sure to be a huge seller — and is also building a state-of-the-art factory in the U.S.

   Through it all, Volvo has remained steadfast in its demand that its cars will always have safesty as a priority, and will not compromise for any other attributes that might seem more financially viable. Of course, when beauty came along, and a formula for building high-tech engines followed, Volvo was smart enough to incorporate everything under those stunning new bodies.

   I had the chance to road-test the new XC90 luxury SUV at its introduction, and I tried to contain my superlatives by saying it was, simply, the finest large SUV I had ever driven, or ridden in. I had chance to visit Spain last year for the world introduction of the S90, Volvo’s midsize large and luxurious new sedan that seems to do everything any German luxury sedan could imagine, and maybe with more comfort.

    Volvo’s biggest news this year was announcing that all of the vehicles it will build by 2025 will be electrified. Some naive media types jumped to the conclusion that all would be electric, but Volvo always meant that would include all electrified cars, including hybrids and plug-in hybrids as well as pure-electric.The hybrids, by definition, are electrified without being all-electric.But the hybrid models have impressive efficiency already.

   Earlier this summer, I got the chance to be whisked to Barcelona for the world introduction of the new XC60 — Volvo’s midsize SUV that seems to do everything the XC90 does, only quicker and with more agility, and a tad better fuel economy.

  

After one year, the elongated version of S90 is the only one that will be sold in North America.

But Volvo decided on a more economical way to reorganize its outburst of introductions. It set up camp in The Halcyon Hotel in the Denver suburb of Cherry Creek, summoning selected auto writers from everywhere to come and evaluate the 2018 crop of Volvos in the Rocky Mountains. Fantastic.

   The array as it stands now includes the S90 and the QX90, which are both powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in T5 form, and both supercharged for low-end and turbocharged for high-end power for the optional upgrade and all-wheel-drive T6 models, then it adds a potent hybrid battery pack system on top of that for the ultimate T8 models.

    That’s significant because there were no XC90s or those familiar S90 sedans at our recent test time, because this was only for all-new new stuff. There were S90 sedans, but the 2018 S90 is an elongtated version of the S90 we experienced in Spain. The elongated version has 4.5 inches more rear legroom, and it fits the Asian trend to where important wealthier people like to ride in the rear seat, preferably chauffered, so stretching the rear passenger compartment is both logical and smart.

    My only criticism, I guess, is that since Volvo will continue to make both the normal size S90 and the elongated one, how come we only get the long version in North America, while the rest of the world can get the shorter, normal size? Both the S90 and XC90 have the same powertrain, and it’s true that the extra room in the rear is luxurious, but those of us who like a dose of agility in our driving might find the extra length slightly less maneuverable. We will not quarrel with the fact that it is quiet and smooth.

Slinky and stylish V90 Volvo wagon is like a more-streamlined sportier SUV.

    Meanwhile, there was more. Europeans have always liked their station wagons, even as the U.S. market turned to minivans and then large SUVs, midsize SUVs and compact SUVs. It seems that some European and Asian companies try to coax us into giving station wagons another try, but we’ve resisted. There is plenty to offer from such vehicles, however, because they are lower and sleeker and have just about as much room as their SUV brethren, and more flexible room than their sedan counterparts.

   So we got a chance to drive some Volvo V90 wagons, and there can be no argument that they handle well and make you forget you’re driving a wagon after a short time. The V90 offers fewer engine options, and I only drove the front-wheel-drive models, but I have to think AWD is coming soon.

    My priority to drive remained the XC60, because I like SUVs but I prefer compact ones, and the beauty of the XC60 is that its shorter, lighter and lacks the third row seat and room of the XC90, but it is more agile and feels quicker — and it still has the full complement of XC90 engines.

    The basic engines can be confusing, so we’ll try to limit them to overview. Remember, all are 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines, with direct injection feeding their dual overhead camshafts. The T5 gets turbocharging, boosting power up to 250 horsepower and 256 foot-pounds of torque; the T6 with both supercharging and turbocharging turns out 316 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque; and the T8, loaded with supercharger, turbocharger and the lithium-ion battery-powered hybrid boost system that has been increased from 9.2 to 10.4 killowatt-hours, delivers 400 horsepower and 472 foot-pounds of torque.

 

All the new Volvo models have been revised inside, too, with lots of leather, real wood and high-tech instruments.

  Without question, the XC60, V90 and S90 have distinctly different personalities, even though they all share the VXC90/S90 appearance, which is smoothly aerodynamic, quick-responsing to the steering touch, and potent to the touch of your toe. And the interiors all share family traits of beautifully selected and blended mostly wood and leather materials, straightforward and easily read and operated gauges and controls, large and larger navigation/communication screens, and those seats.

   Since the 1960s, I have claimed that Volvo’s seats are the best in the industry, from the standpoints of safety and firm support. They have evolved over the decades, and the newest seats have been significantly improved under the guidance of Volvo’s selected orthopedic folks. And we haven’t even gotten arouind to the safety structure, which fits inside a chassis/body capsule made of five or six grades of steel, with the highest Boron in the pillars, on down to the weakest steel in areas where Volvo wants the car to absorb energy by bending more easily.

    Milan Ekholm is in charge of the enormous safety center at the Gothenberg plant in Sweden, and she explained the crumple zone construction and the vast concept of safety that consumes everything Volvo does. “All our cars have radar and cameras front and rear, and both sides, to help alert drivers to potential dangers,” she said. “We have a support system that includes City Safety to help alert you to avoid vehicles, pedestrians, cyclist and large animals, and  BLIS (blind-spot alert), lane-departure warning and lane-departure assist, on-coming lane mitigation, and run-off-road mitigation, along with lane-keeping mitigation.

   “On-coming lane mitigation helps avoid oncoming vehicles and steer you back into your own lane if you’ve drifted over the line between 37-87 miles per hour, and collision=avoidance that works up to 37 mph. And our newest devices are post-impact and run-off-road mitigation, because we’ve found that serious spinal injuries are much worse in crashes that go off the road than other crash injuries.”

  

Rocky Mountain backdrop was perfect for putting crisp-handling Volvo S90, XC60 and V90 through solid, secure paces.

Ekholm said that she is also heavily involved in the autonomous-driving techniques at Volvo. With all manufacturers racing to create the most trustworthy self-driving vehicles, and we can assume Volvo is at the top of that game. “We have Pilot assist,” she said, “which hekps make the driver sure of who is in control. We don’t want the driver to be fooled by finding out the car is controlling things.

    “Where braking adds something, we want to help provide braking, and our system can sense an impending accident and prepare the brakes and the seat tensioners. We want to prepare our drivers to take evasive action with steering and braking. Our focus is first to try to keep cars on the road, and then try to address issues after that.”

    Now that Volvo’s arsenal of vehicles is full…Oh, wait, it’s not? No. Next coming will be the further-downsized XC40 and its related S40 compact sedan. Both are coming soon, and in case the 2.0 engines are too powerful, Volvo is preparing a 3-cylinder turbo engine that should set new standards for power, agility and fuel economy. I’ve seen photos of the new XC40, and already I cant wait to drive it.

Volvo’s new XC60 might prove less is more

July 10, 2017 by · Comments Off on Volvo’s new XC60 might prove less is more
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

The midsize Volvo XC60 expands on the successful features of the XC90.

By John Gilbert

BARCELONA, SPAIN

     Driving in Spain is a colorful adventure that I had experienced once before, so I felt somewhat familiar during the global auto media’s first opportunity to drive Volvo’s new XC60, the all-new midsize derivative of its superb XC90 SUV.

    Volvo stressed the quick and agile handling of the smaller and lighter vehicle with the same powertrain as the larger XC90, which collaborated with Spain’s freeway exits to  instantly become more concise than words could describe.

    On the North American side of the Atlantic, our freeway exits are usually pretty straightforward — you see the exit and veer onto it, heading for another freeway. In Spain, the freeway system was added to centuries-old cities and rural regions, so it’s a little trickier. Often, you head onto an exit and find it immediately splits right and left. I learned this on my first driving trip to Spain, for the splendid S90 Volvo sedan.

   On this trip, our total test drive route was programmed into the navigation setting of our T6 all-wheel drive XC60, so we were informed of upcoming moves by a “Nav Lady,” whom we shall refer to as a “Nav Seniorita” for the sake of geographic accuracy. I drove first, so my co-driver/passenger — a Californian who shall be called “Billy” — could check out the wonderful scenery along and just inland from the Mediterranean without worrying about directions.

Reduced length eliminates third-row seat, but the XC60 has adequate room inside.

   Our next exit was to the right and our Nav Seniorita said: “Prepare to keep right and take the next exit, then immediately keep left.” As I pulled into the right lane, she said, “Take the next exit.” Smoothly and at about 80 kilometers per hour I eased off onto the exit. Then with what seemed like urgency the Nav Seniorita said: “Now keep left!”

   You don’t want to miss an exit in the Land of Roundabouts, so I abruptly swerved back to the left of the exit barrier, and as the XC60 easily cleared the barrier, but Billy said, “No! Stay right!”

   I swerved very abruptly back to the right, still missing the barrier with ease and getting back onto the exit, as the XC60 held its attitude with more poise than its driver, who might have been reflecting the adrenaline rush rising to max. I spotted the split immediately ahead and stayed left, making it smoothly.

   I was impressed that I had reacted instantaneously twice, with two very abrupt left-right swerves at highway speed, and more impressed that the XC60 got it right-on, even while our Nav Seniorita was a bit premature with her counter-direction. The vehicle carried out my impulses without any squeals of complaint or any hint of body roll.

   Inadvertent or not, it’s always nice to get a real-world example of a vehicle’s features rather than just to accepting marketing claims. We believed them when they talked about the lighter and smaller XC60 having better agility than the XC90, because in totally revising the XC60, Volvo took the XC90’s SPA — Scalable Product Architecture — shortened it, and installed the same high-tech powertrains from the XC90 with all-new suspension stuff. Read more

Compact crossovers rule auto-show world

February 14, 2017 by · Comments Off on Compact crossovers rule auto-show world
Filed under: Features, Autos 

The EcoSport, smaller than the Escape, is Ford’s new compact SUV.

By John Gilbert

CHICAGO, ILL. — The available shelf-life of an auto show is brief, but for Midwesterners who can get to the fine city of Chicago before February 20, there is a chance to turn a short trip to enjoy countless fine restaurants, nightclubs and blues joints into the chance to see all the newest stuff available from the top automakers of the world.

This may not be the most scintillating season for new vehicles, because Los Angeles and Detroit have already run their car-show course before the annual Chicago Auto Show hits McCormick Place, and most new cars have been shown already. But the nation’s best exhibition hall has a lot of things consumers will find of great interest. Mainly, the current upsurge in interest in small crossover SUVs is evident everywhere.

Ford brings back the huge Expedition to capture large-SUV profit.

You can range from Ford — featuring the return of the gy-normous Expedition for large family and trailer hauling, but also tipping off its mini EcoSport, just a bit downsized from the populsr compact Escape. And the tiny but roomy C-Max which is nothing if not electrifying, remains.

The Mustang has been revised again, but its various recent styling twitches and tweaks have reached the point where a variety of them might prove impossible to discern from the others. No more V6, however, as Mustang goes from stalwart V8 to EcoBoost 4s.

Toyota’s diminutive C-HR could steal customers from the RAV4.

KIA is showing off the all-new Stinger luxury/sports sedan in all its South Korean sleek splendor, but it also has the intriguing new Niro Hybrid compact SUV.

Toyota displays TRD sporty versions of the Tundra and Tacoma pickups and Sequoia large SUV, but finds it difficult to hide the swoopy little C-HR that starts out south of the popular RAV4 in both size and price. Its upscale Lexus display features the LS large sedan, which has taken on a much sportier demeanor, and a couple of SUVs that also play to the small but high-performance concept.

When the 2017 Mazda CX-5 hits the streets it will have style upgrade and G-Vectoring.

The Mazda display is easy to overlook, because the stylish group of vehicles is familiar. But they deserve scrutiny. The large CX-9 has been out a while, and the Mazda6 and Mazda3 sedans look quite the same, too, as do the new small crossovers, the CX-3 and the CX-5. The CX-5 actually is all new, and if you look closely, the red one is a red that is exclusive only to the CX-5.  The true newness of all the Mazdas is something called G-Vectoring — an incredible new technological concept that gives all 2017 Mazdas the ability to tip off the driver to turn and swerve in a predictable manner that means the elimination of steering correction. The cars are beautiful, but beauty is “only” skin deep, so look closer!

Rogue Sport is a new and shorter version of the popular Nissan Rogue (left).

Nissan, on the other hand, is leading the way in using graphic design, such as solid paint schemes of white, grey, red or black, all with stark black trim, to promote a new Midnight fleet of virtually everything it makes, from the more powerful half-ton Titan XD pickup, on down to the Rogue and all the sedans, down to the Sentra. Yet the display might be stolen by the subtly downsize Rogue Sport, which is a foot shorter than the regular Rogue. The all-new Armada stands above the other Nissans in size and capability, and a new Pathfinder, which benefits from Nissan’s new engine upgrades.

General Motors is taking a similar route, coming out with a Red Line trim feature on a large group of its vehicles. It’s a familiar idea, to use paint schemes to disguise the fact that you’ve already shown most of your stable, but of course Chevrolet has the all-electric Bolt, which continues to wrack up assorted Car of the Year awards, even though it is not yet out on the streets, and may not be until mid-summer.

The Giulia is just arriving, and Alfa Romeo adds the Stelio as its partner.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have all sorts of new toys, featuring the Alfa Romeo Giulia — finally — and the Stelvio, which is a brother in arms with a crossover SUV so flashy that Alfa is pulling back its idea of a Giulia wagon. Also, yet another variation for the Challenger, which just introduced the AWD Challenger GT and now is hitting us with the Mopar Challenger with a giant 6.4-liter Hemi, and a Durango SRT hot rod SUV. Meanwhile, its Jeep arm displays its array and gives proper reason for why the compact Compass still exists by showing off the to-be-introduced new model with refined restyling that stays just north of the Renegade.

The Germans are not to be outdone, of course, with Volkswagen’s new Atlas large SUV as well as the Golf Alltrack and the elongated Tiguan — which will join and then probably replace the blunt but roomy-enough Tiguan, an under-appreciated vehicle that might have been well-sized for this current compact crossover trend.

BMW has its latest SUVs and also the new 5-Series, while Mercedes now has so many SUVs, crossovers and sports cars — many of them with added AMG potency — that it’s hard to find room to walk among them and identify the alphabetized nameplates that only a marketing whiz can remember.

Audi has a fine spread of Q-ship SUVs of all sizes, and sedans and coupes to seduce anyone with a tidy checkbook.

The F-Pace proves Jaguar can make SUVs as well as classic cars.

Jaguar also has a dazzling display, with its slinky coupes and new high-tech sedans, as well as the F-Pace, a hot-looking vehicle that indicates the folks at Coventry catch on when it comes to building a promising SUV. Adjoining the Jaguars is the off-road cousin Land Rover display, with new and fancy top-end SUVs and also the newly redesigned Discovery, which now has its name spelled out on the upper lip leading edge of its hood, where it used to say Land Rover.”

Subaru has a new Legacy, and it advances the company farther along the lines of being less quirky and more mainstream. Which is a good thing for Subaru, as it continues to make durable and strong flat-opposed engines that I wish would get better fuel economy.

Mitsubishi is another Japanese company that always seems to be seeking an upturn, and it now is being propped up by Nissan.Its new Outlander SUV is the only new thing, offsetting the elimination of the Lancer and its much-loved Evolution.

Hyundai GT has a new look with a big upgrade in high-strength steel and a 1.6 turbo..

Hyundai is about to introduce its new Ioniq, which may indeed be iconic — or iconiq — with a choice of all-electric, hybrid or plug-in hybrid. Meanwhile, Hyundai added to its complement with the new GT version of the popular Elantra, its Civic-Corolla-Mazda3 sized compact, now with about double the high-grade steel, to 53 percent. It has a fresh new style with a hatchback-wagon theme that Hyundai designers have turned into a true sporty vehicle. So sporty, in fact, that I asked Hyundai folks why, since they offer the same 1.6-turbo 4 as the Tucson crossover, they don’t add the AWD platform under the Hyundai GT. All I got were blank stares.

But arming compacts with the very feature that is allowing compact crossovers to crowd small sedans to a lesser corner in the marketplace might be the one distinct way to fight back and change the all-out crossover SUV trend to trend of compact sedans that do the work of crossovers.

Auto Show season 2017 stirs up new Buzz

January 14, 2017 by · Comments Off on Auto Show season 2017 stirs up new Buzz
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Nobody says it’s a new Microbus, but VW’s concept I.D. Buzz has the shape, with electric power and autonomous drive.

By John Gilbert

DETROIT, MI. — Self-driving vehicles, continued electrification of our global driving future, and an endless stream of sport-utility vehicles of all shapes and sizes are the indelible story of the 2017 North American International Auto Show, which consumed early January, 2017.

High-performcance and luxury vehicles were present also, of course, but nearly all manufacturers were either proclaiming or hinting about electric or autonomous (self-driving) cars.

Those of us who love to drive, to push a car to its limits with skill and dexterity — both yours and your car’s — may recoil at the thought of computer gremlins taking over the operation of our future cars, but that’s where we’re headed and everybody wants to be leading the pack.

For that reason, a highlight of the Detroit show for me was the showing of the I.D. Buzz. Strange name indeed, but it’s just the nickname of a Volkswagen concept vehicle that could well be the long-awaited emergence of the modernized Microbus, that hippie-happy minivan of the 1960s.

The Buzz is an eye-catcher, to be sure, and it’s obviously a concept vehicle because it’s hard to imagine it coming to life in production. But it ties together all of the ingredients for success on the auto show circuit of 2017 — an inventive and retro-flair people-hauler with an interior that could pass as a high-tech den, plus all-electric power with a range of 270 miles on a charge, and autonomous operation.

Microbus-like silhouette drew constant attention to VW concept at Detroit.

I.D.Buzz dashboard misses something…a steering wheel!

Bench seat and stylish wood floor makes the Buzz interior pleasant.

Read more

Take a roundabout visit to Spain

September 1, 2016 by · Comments Off on Take a roundabout visit to Spain
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 
The Volvo S90 was as impressive when driven through the Spanish countryside as on city streets.

The Volvo S90 commanded the Spanish countryside as easily as city streets.

By John Gilbert

ESTEPONA, Spain

Volvo took a roundabout route to developing its impressive new S90 sedan — first building the XC90 SUV, then making the S90 virtually a sedan-size derivative — and the introduction test drive of the carliterally took us on a roundabout route.

The area we visited, along the Spanish Riviera between Malaga and the resort city of Estepona, would seem to indicate that Spain might lead the world in “roundabouts,” those intersection replacements that turn important roadway interchanges into forced-slowdown circles with various inlets and outlets. In congestion, of course, entering a rotary can be dicey and exiting can be more like an escape.

In southern Spain, it seemed as though nearly every exit from a freeway sent you into a roundabout, which in turn distributed traffic in any and all directions. We weren’t aware of all that when we first arrived in Malaga, then rode a coach bus to our luxurious Kempinski Hotel Bahia in Estepona.

High-tech nav system and connectivity found a worthy challenge in Spain's roundabouts.

High-tech nav system and connectivity found a worthy challenge in Spain’s roundabouts.

Our wave of auto journalists gathered to leave our for dinner at El Pescadoran, where we learned another Spanish tradition. You sit family style, and waiters bring out large platters or bowls of delectable food. Unwilling to leave any, we ate virtually every morsel, then the waiters took the platters away and replaced them with more platters of different delectable items.

The lengthy menu we had seen, briefly, was impressive, but the reason nobody asked us for our selections was they intended to bring us ALL of the selections. Next morning, we had some discussions, and then we were off on Leg 1 of our 4-Leg test drive. Three of the legs would be in S90 sedans, and the fourth in the V90, a slick and sleek station wagon that seems much longer than the sedan, but actually is 3 inches shorter.

Luxurious Kempinski Hotel Bahia in Estepona, Spain, cried out for a longer vacation.

Luxurious Kempinski Hotel Bahia in Estepona, Spain, cried out for a longer vacation.

My driving partner was Parks McCant, a tall fellow I’d met at the Malaga, Spain, airport, as we joined forces hoping to form a posse that might locate a person wielding a Volvo sign to direct us to a bus that might convey us to our hotel. We struck a quick and easy relationship, and, because he’s 6-foot-6, I knew he would provide real-world evidence of adequate head and legroom in our test cars.

I got behind the wheel first, and after agreeing on the luxurious comfort enveloping us, and the impressive ergonomics of the controls and other features, we were off.

Our start was so intriguing we decided to repeat it three or four times — involuntarily, of course. Instead of the usual direction book, Volvo installed all the turns for the route into the navigation system, which is a great idea. A pleasant, soothing female voice suggested when to get into the right lane, prepare to turn, and then turn.

Stunning beauty of the Mediterranean met the Kempinski grounds.

Stunning beauty of the Mediterranean met the Kempinski grounds.

We only went a mile or so and were instructed to exit. At the top of the exit ramp we found our first roundabout. The Nav Lady told us to take the third exit from the roundabout, which we did. We should have taken the second, but we didn’t know that, so we trusted the instructions.

The highly efficient Nav Lady, with proper Scandinavian courtesy, didn’t tell us we had fouled up, but merely directed us back on course. So we thought we were merrily on our way, following a sequence of directions to cross a bridge to another roundabout, followed by directions to another roundabout, then a third roundabout. That got us back near our starting position, and because it was all pretty unfamiliar, we sailed off again. We followed the same instructions the second time, and it wasn’t until partway through the third lap around the same sequence of roundabouts that we realized we were repeating our mistake.

Somehow, the wrong instruction trapped in a sequel-with-roundabouts of the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day,” where the star is destined to repeat everything, day after day, trapped in some cosmic vortex. Read more

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