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


     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.

Luxurious leather abounds on the inside of the XC60, and the seats are exceptional.

   Volvo had previously introduced the new S90 sedan, which shares the XC90’s full-length platform, at a global media introduction in Spain, down the coast a ways in Malaga, which is closer to Gibralter, while Barcelona is around the coastal contours and northward, closer to Italy. The Miramar Hotel, located out by itself with a dazzling view out to the Mediterranean, was our home base this time.

   The XC90 has met with universal favor, and my evaluation was that it was the finest large SUV I had ever been in or driven. Period. The XC60 is smaller, about identical in size to the Audi Q5, the BMW X3 and the Mercedes GLC 300, to name three of the XC60’s most challenging luxury SUV competitors. Looking like an artfully reduced XC90, the leaner XC60 is eager to run with the same powertrain outlay.

   Volvo’s SPA is planted firmly on the shortened dimensions, so the XC60 exhibits the same firmness and ride stability. It is similarly built of much high-strength steel of maximum stiffness, and has, under the hood, the direct-injected 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that is either turbocharged to bring it up to speed, or pushed with both supercharging and turbocharging to put it over the top.

    A hybrid version will follow, with an improved LG electric propulsion system on the rear wheels for a unique all-wheel-drive plan.


Volvo’s uncompromising safety shell features unbendable Boron steel in the pillars.

Dean Shaw, vice president of corporate communication, sounded almost wistful when he described Volvo’s transformation since leaving Ford’s umbrella and being bought by the Zhejiang Geely holding company in China.  “We had nothing, 10 years ago,” Shaw said. “Platforms, powertrains…We had to develop everything ourselves. The XC90, the S90 and now the XC60 are all on our larger vehicle platform, and we are all-in on our 4-cylinder, including Drive-E and hybrids.

   “We had 18 percent growth in the U.S. in 2016, and we expect to double that in 2017,” Shaw added. “We are building our first U.S. factory, north of Charleston, S.C., aiming at 2018. Our new S60 sedan will be our first vehicle from that factory, which will build all our S60 and XC60 models.” 

    The XC60 we drove was the T6, which is supercharged and turbocharged  to deliver 316 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. That’s up from the T5 model’s 250/250, but lower than the combined gas-electric kick of 400 horsepower and 472 foot-pounds in the top hybrid model.

   Those engines can be chosen by the buyer and placed in three basic models, with the well-equipped “Momentum” starting at $42,495 including destination, and which will comprise 50 percent of customers, Volvo figures. The top “Inscription” model starts at $46,295 and has a vast array of equipment. The middle model is the sporty R-Design, which starts at $45,795 and adds the flair of all sorts of sporty features.

   Those prices are almost right on the nose with the comparable AWD Audi, BMW and Mercedes competitors, and while, without a doubt, the XC60 looks at least as good as those German stalwarts, it has standard equipment that, if available, would boost the price of those rivals up by several thousand.

   Those competitors all have exemplary driving manners, but the XC60 was also impressive on freeways, through city streets, or around and through any and all mountain roadways, where mature trees were stationed like sentries where a shoulder might logically have been.

   All XC60 models start with a standard equipment list that includes remote start, run-off-road mitigation and off-road protection, lane-keeping aid, oncoming lane mitigation, driver alert control, road-sign information, rear parking assist camera, collision avoidance and City Safety ability to dodge or brake when an object appears ahead, automatic braking after collision, low and high speed collision mitigation, roll stability control.

   Then there are packaged options that include panoramic moonroof, LED headlights and taillights, rain-sensing wipers with integrated washers, leather upholstery, 10-way power front seats, Volvo 9-inch touchscreen, 10-speaker audio with 10 speakers and 330 watts of power, and smart-phone connectivity from Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

Clean, no-gimmick dash and instruments made it easy to admire the Spanish countryside.

   All of this in a tightly designed midsize vehicle. “We knew exactly what we wanted for the car’s behavior,” said vehicle design manager Stepan Karlsson. “We call it ‘Inspired confidence,’ where we called the XC90 ‘relaxed confidence.’ Safety is so ingrained in everything we do, and in the XC60 we installed double-wishbone suspension in front, for better grip and much better response. It’s fun and safer when the car does what you intend it to do.

   “The rear suspension has antiroll bars and there is no compromise between ride and handling. You can get active dampers with the optional air suspension, but standard there is a transverse leaf spring made of composite running the full width. You can feel the harmony of movement in the coordination of the front and rear suspensions, and the speed-dependent electric steering tightens up as you go faster.”

   All of those details made my friend Billy and me absorb much of the sensory overload as we switched off driving and passengering. The power was abundant, and the suspension responded without any hint of losing stability no matter how quickly we might swerve with the very precise and responsive steering.

XC60 grille gets its own design, making it familiar and yet unique.

   Listening to Graeme McInally, from Volvo’s extensive safety laboratories in Gothenburg, Sweden, describe how computers combine lane mitigation, blind-spot detection and steering assist, it was easy to look ahead to Pilot Assist, which is a semi-autonomous driving assist on highways marked with lane and outer stripes, and can keep your Volvo in its lane with light to moderate pressure on the steering wheel up to 80 mph.

    “We are not striving for full autonomous driving,” McInally said. “We think the driver should always be responsible.”

   The compact size of the XC60 didn’t seem to be a problem. As a dedicated believer that you should buy a vehicle that is big enough for your family’s needs, but anything bigger than “big enough” is too big, the XC60 provides a well-designed possibility. I said that the XC90 was the finest SUV I had ever driven, but if you don’t need the third-row seats and have enough cargo room, the XC60 might be even better.

   “The XC90 has established high expectations,” said Volvo product technical spokesman Jim Nichols. Looking at the slightly convex grille, the stylish contours along the sides, and the tapered-in side windows, it seems clear that the XC60 has lived up to those expectations. 


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


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

Volvo S90 Becomes Instantly Elite Sedan

August 7, 2016 by · Comments Off on Volvo S90 Becomes Instantly Elite Sedan
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 
The unique front, with its "Thor's Hammer" light, adorns the 2017 Volvo S90.

The unique “Thor’s Hammer” light adorns the 2017 Volvo S90 in the Spanish countryside..

By John Gilbert

ESTEPONA, Spain — A year ago Volvo replaced its aging XC90 with an entirely new SUV that ran the table of SUV-of-the-year awards. Bolstered by proper financing from its Chinese owners, plus a new plant in China and a planned one in the U.S., the iconic little  Swedish company has grown far beyond its home in Gothenburg.

Only a few months after the consensus proclaimed the XC90 as perhaps the finest SUV ever built, we find ourselves searching for superlatives again, this time about where the all-new S90 plugs in among the hotly contested luxury sedan segment.

Competition includes such luminaries as BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class, Lexus GS or LS, Acura RLX, Infiniti Q70, Jaguar XF or XJ, and Porsche Panamera. After only brief driving stints in the new S90, there seems no question it can compete with all of those established stars in performance, features and spacious comfort, and the new Volvo is unexcelled when it comes to safety, of course, and maybe also to technology.

Despite the acclaim given the XC90, Volvo knows the auto media is filled with cynics, so nothing was left to chance when the time came to introduce its all-new S90 sedan. Volvo summoned selected auto journalists to Spain, and more precisely to the Spanish Riviera. My thought is the cynics must have stayed home, because everybody I talked to was as impressed as I was about the new car.

Volvo designers took the XC90 — their “Swedish Sanctuary” — and lowered it down to sedan size, keeping the new signature grille and nose, but wrapping the same superb platform in a stylish shape with pleasing contours. It looks absolutely nothing like any previous-generation Volvo sedan, but retains a familial appearance with the XC90, while further establishing the corporation’s new direction for style.

The S90 becomes Volvo's largest sedan, a sleek replacement for the S80.

The S90 becomes Volvo’s largest sedan, a sleek replacement for the S80.

Officially, the S90 replaces the outgoing S80 in Volvo’s lineup. A V90 station wagon accompanies the S90, with smooth lines on what is, surprisingly, 3 inches shorter than the sedan. Read more

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