Sunday, April 29, 2012


First it was the oil crisis in the 1970s.
Then it was minivans followed closely by SUVs.
More recently it was the crossovers that look like SUVs but drive more like a car and don’t like it when the wheels aren’t on solid pavement.
We are talking here, of course, about what killed the station wagon -- almost.

Before there were such things as minivans for soccer moms to drive, there were station wagons, big, lumbering vehicles that New York Times writer Joe Lorio once described as “wallowing land arks.” Think of the “Wagon Queen Family Truckster” that Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) took the family to Wally World in in National Lampoon’s Vacation.
But it wasn’t just their looks and awkward handling that was behind the station wagon’s demise in the
No, it’s what the station wagon represented, which was the arrival at an age and stage in life many of us really weren’t in a hurry to get to. Basically, adulthood and the end of the freedom of youth.
For guys who grew up idolizing Muscle Cars, getting behind the wheel of a station wagon was a form of vehicular castration. Might as well eat quiche for dinner.

And so the traditional U.S. manufacturer -- GM, Ford, Chrysler -- did what one does with a lame horse. They put the station wagon out of its misery. With the exception of Dodge, which gave the Magnum a four-year trial that ended in 2008, and Cadillac, which introduced the CTS Wagon a couple of years ago, the domestic manufacturers dropped out of the Wagon segment.
So much did U.S. automakers want to avoid the stigma that came with the image of that station wagon that even when they launched one, they refused to call it that.
I’m thinking here of the Ford Flex. Ford bills it a crossover, but slap a couple of pieces of wood on its sides and the Flex would be hard to tell apart from one of the woodies from the 1940s and ’50s.
So if you have shopped for a traditional station wagon in the last couple of decades, you pretty much have been limited to visiting showrooms of European carmakers. (Even Toyota refused to call its attractive Venza model for what it basically is -- a Camry station wagon.)
Like Volvo, for instance.

There is no mistaking the Swedish automaker’s XC70 for anything but a station wagon in the truest traditional sense, no disguising its boxy profile for anything but a true wagon.
Now in its third generation, the company says the 2012 XC70 is “more refined than ever,” and I would be inclined to agree. The interior matches the quality of Volvo’s upgraded S60, which I will get into a little later.
The feel of the steering wheel, with its soft yet firm leather, and the soft leather seats provide for one of the most comfortable riving experiences you can have.
There is plenty of technology available, including the company’s  Pedestrian Detection system that gives the driver a warning to alert the driver to the presence of pedestrians in front of the car and can even stop the car if the driver fails to take action.
I first saw this demonstrated at an introduction of the S60 a couple of years ago and it does work, at least at slower speeds.
Being a Volvo, it has plenty of other safety features. After all, safety is one of the first, if not the first, things that comes to mind when you think of Volvo.
What you might not associate the Swedes’ product is its performance. Under the hood of the XC70 you will find either a 3.2-liter normally aspirated in-line six-cylinder engine or a slightly smaller inline six that is turbocharged.
 I can’t speak to the difference in performance because I didn’t drive the 3.2 version, but I was impressed with the throttle response I got when I pushed the T6. It made me forget I was driving a wagon.
But the difference becomes obvious when you look at the numbers. The T6 puts out 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Numbers for the 3.2 are 240 and 236, respectively. a significant difference when you’re lugging around more than two tons of vehicle.

Not surprisingly, that extra power does come at a cost in fuel mileage. The T6, which has standard all-wheel drive, is rated at 17 miles per gallon city, 23 highway. The 3.2 got ratings of 19/18 city and 25/24 highway depending on whether it was a front-wheel or all-wheel drive model.
Oh, yeah. Both engines drink regular gasoline and are mated with a six-speed automatic Geartronic transmission that allows for manual selection of gears.
Pricing for the 3.2 version of the XC70 starts at under $33,000. For the T6, the price tag starts at under $40,000.
One other thing. In case you were wondering, the XC in XC70 stands for “Cross Country,” and, though it is not designed for heavy off-road maneuvers, the XC does have a ground clearance of 8.3 inches and can handle rougher terrain a better than any of the crossovers on the market.
Which brings us to the S60.

You probably have seen the commercials for the latest generation of Volvo’s most popular sedan. It is a quite a looker.

Volvo calls the S60 “the sportiest Volvo ever,” which a little over a decade ago wouldn’t have being saying a helluva lot. Through the 1990s Volvo cars represented safety, durability, safety, value, safety, and practicality.
Oh. Did I mention safety?
Looks? Not so much. The sedans used to be as boxy as the wagons.
Well, beginning with the introduction of the C70 in the late 1990s, Volvo began to step it up in the design department. As well as durability and safety, the company began putting out cars even teenagers wouldn’t be ashamed to be caught behind the wheel of.
The 2012 S60 continues that trend.
It looks great, both inside and out. The exterior profile is couple-like with its sleekness. The use of high-quality materials throughout the interior makes for a classy, comfortable  ambiance for both driver and passenger. Ward’s AutoWorld rated the interior as one of the 10 Best available today.

As with the XC70, the S60 has a lot of technology options, but their operation doesn’t require the skills of a computer tech or savvy 12-year-old. Simply push clearly marked buttons for such functions as audio, navigation, or climate, and the proper image appears on the screen. Then turn the appropriate knob to get the desired result.
I’m big on simplicity.
The S60 comes in three versions for 2012, all with turbocharged power and all mated with a six-speed automatic transmission. All also used regular octane fuel.
The T5 comes with a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder rated at 250 hp and 266 lb.-ft. of torque and moves you from zero-to-60 mph in 6.8 seconds, according to company timers. It is front-wheel drive, and fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg city, 
Both the other two models are AWD.

The T6 has a 3.0-liter inline six with hp and torque figures at 300 and 325, respectively. Zero-to-60 time is 5.8 seconds.
The T6 R-design is the bad boy of the group. It’s 3.0-linter six-cylinder engine has been tuned to 325 hp and 354 lb.-ft. of torque, but, frankly, I’m not sure the gain in zero-to-60 time (5.5 seconds) is worth the extra cost
The T6 R-design starts at just over $43.000 including destination and delivery, the T6 at under $36,500. The T5, the baby of the group, starts at under $31,500.
With the S60, Volvo has put out a legitimate competitor in the entry-level luxury field both in looks and performances as well as price.
With the XC70, the company has much less competition.

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