Sunday, October 10, 2010

Naughty Volvo Indeed

The following is a guest review of the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD by my good friend and avid auto enthusiast, David Mullings. Look out for more guest reviews from him as well as others in the near future!

Naughty Volvo Indeed

I was fortunate enough to attend the recent Volvo test drive event in Miami with the writer of this blog and was asked to provide my own perspective. After driving the new S60 at least 6 times for the day, I know that Volvo has definitely changed my perception of the brand. As a past fan of British Touring Cr Championship I was familiar with the S40 that raced in the past (I even considered purchasing and modifying one).

Volvo's new S60 certainly will be considered when next I seek to purchase a car because the handling was solid, certainly better than the Audi A4 and BMW 328i provided for comparison, more powerful thanks to the turbo and fairly comfortable. The space behind the driver seat still leaves a lot to be desired when the driver is tall but that is common to all luxury cars at this level. I did however have a few issues with the S60 that will most likely not lead to a purchase:

1) Volvo did not have the Infiniti G37 or Lexus IS250/350 for comparison testing. I suspect that is because those two cars might shame the S60 in ways that Volvo did not want to happen

2) My 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GT with tiptronic tansmission and paddle-shifters handles even better than the S60 (my GT came stock with a front strut bar) and the transmission is far more responsive. The most annoying part of the S60's tiptronic mode was that it would automatically change gears even though I specifically put it in 2nd gear in an effort to stay in the sweet spot of the turbo to avoid lag as much as possible. My cheaper Mitsubishi doesn't do that.

3) As a past owner of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9, the turbo in the S60 had too much lag and thanks to the not-so-smart tiptronic, did not give me the control I was looking for when cornering and exiting. Yes, comparing a manual to an automatic is not that fair but then they should have offered the S60 in a manual version for people who really wanted to enjoy the turbo properly or do more about the lag.

In short, the S60 would fall higher on my list than an Audi A4 (not an S4 of course) and a BMW (not an M3 of course) but most likely lower than an IS250, a G37 and even my Mitsubishi Lancer GT. Volvo did not bring us to the test drive event to check out the nice leather interior, they wanted us to be naughty and spank that car.

It definitely proved to be quite naughty but probably not naughty enough for me. Would I recommend to the average person as a daily driver? Without a doubt. I personally am looking for tighter handling, less turbo lag and less intrusive Tiptronic system.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Ideal Sleeper

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon

I came across a story on Autoblog today announcing the confirmation and pricing of the new Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon: $62,990 plus destination. So I started thinking, why does a majority of the driving public hate wagons so much?

Wagons are cool, wagons (at least the ones nowadays) are stylish and when outfitted correctly, they are the ultimate sleepers. No I'm not talking about CUVs (crossover utility vehicles) like the Ford Edge or Nissan Murano. No fans, I'm talking about bonafide 5 door wagons like the Dodge Magnum R/T or Mazdaspeed3. When I was shopping for my current car, those last two were at the top of my list (nevermind the Magnum wasn't available with 3 pedals) because they while providing immense practicality with stylish looks, they packed huge performance (its hard to argue with the Magnum R/T's 340hp 5.7 HEMI V8 or the Mazdaspeed3's 263hp turbocharged 4 cylinder).

2013 Mazdaspeed 3

Most people at the time thought I was crazy. I remember telling one girl about my choices and the look she gave me said much about the way people feel towards wagons. It was a look of confusion, aghast and surprise all in one, complimented by a simply but very sarcastic "Why!?" My answer? "Why not?" I still get all the horsepower I'll need but with an added dose of space in the back for whatever i choose to carry along.

Wagons are cool. Automakers know this, but they're still somewhat skittish about sending them America's way because they know Americans won't buy them in the same large numbers as conventional sedans. Which is why I have to give props to Cadillac and Chrysler.

2005 Dodge Magnum R/T

Chrysler first introduced us to the 5 door Dodge Magnum in 2005 which they labeled a 'sports tourer' to avoid the negative stereotype attached to the word 'wagon'. Everyone knew what it was but because Chrysler did such a good job with the styling, making the Magnum low and wide, people initially bought them in droves. And looking at the stats, it's hard to argue: full sized, RWD platform, 340hp HEMI V8 and very cool styling made the Magnum at hit for Chrysler. Hedging themselves however, they decided to make a sedan variant for people who were still lukewarm to wagons, leading to the Dodge Charger. After 4 years on the market Chrysler decided to axe the Magnum due to poor sales relative to the Charger sedan. Needless to say, a small part of me died that day.

2011 Cadillac CTS Wagon

Cadillac has subsequently picked up where Chrysler left off and now offers a true 5 door version of their hot CTS sedan. Initially, the CTS Sport Wagon was pegged to be a Euro-only offering because, lets face it, as long as America and UK are on opposite sides of the Atlantic, so do their peoples' automotive preferences differ. Americans love sedans, Europeans love hatchbacks/wagons (called Touring editions there). Knowing full well though that the CTS Wagon would be a niche vehicle at best, shows that Cadillac was willing to gamble on finding enough takers for its slick looking wagon. During a recent manufacturer sponsored event, I drove a CTS Wagon and compared it with a BMW 535i Touring on hand. In the areas of looks and interior quality, the Cadillac edged out the BMW. However, the 535i still narrowly had the upper hand in driving dynamics over the CTS, this despite the Cadillac's relentless tuning of the CTS on the famed Nurburgring racetrack in Germany.

I should've seen this as a sign of things to come.

2013 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon Black Diamond Edition

After releasing both the CTS-V sedan and CTS-V coupe, Cadillac has lobbed another bomb into the performance segment with the CTS-V Sport Wagon. Look at the pictures. This is one slick looking wagon and not only is it a gorgeous piece to look at (as far as I'm concerned) it also has one hell of a monster lurking under the hood. A detuned version of the Chevy Corvette ZR1's 6.2 liter supercharged LSA V8 provides 556 ponies and 551lb-ft of torque. Only the performance minded can see the subtle differences between this and a regular CTS Sport Wagon and that's the appeal for me. The thought that I can give a Porsche 911 or Ford Mustang driver a serious scare while still having room to transport my [eventual] wife and [quite possible] 1.5 kids in luxury. That my friends, is what a sleeper is: an unassuming vehicle that doesn't hint at the high level of performance under its relatively stock skin.

So if the next time you hear me say I want a Cadillac CTS-V Wagon don't give me that crazy look.

Wagons are cool maaan.

Images courtesy of,, and

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A "Naughty" Volvo?....Really?

2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD

Quick, what's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Volvo? A box? A box that the box came in? Safety? Sweden? Another box?

How about naughty? No?

Well, that last term is what Volvo is using to describe the latest incarnation of the S60 sedan. Yes, they're actually describing it as "the naughty Volvo". I know, weird. But let's give Volvo the benefit of the doubt here. After all, this latest S60 isn't necessarily the first Volvo to place an emphasis on sportiness. The 'R' version of the last generation S60 was arguably the sportiest Volvo to come out of Sweden, boasting a 300hp turbocharged five cylinder plus aggressive suspension and styling tweaks. Having driven a 2006 model with a 6 speed manual transmission, I deemed this as truly a break in tradition from the normally safe and somewhat stodgy nature of a traditional Volvo car. However the Swedish automaker, in the hopes of attracting a younger audience, has reinvented its vehicles into stylish and attractive statements that, again, goes against what the regular person would normally think of a Volvo. Dare I say, Volvo may even alienate some of its loyalists with this new direction in styling.

So, let's see what makes this new S60 err..."naughty".

300hp; 325lb-ft

At a driving event held at the Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Miami, Volvo invited the public to compare its new sedan against its competition, namely a BMW 328i sedan and an Audi A4 2.0T. How Volvo sees these cars as competition, I cannot fathom why (I'd think the smaller S40 would be more of a match for these Germans) but remember that the larger S80 is more or less targeted at the midsize segment (5 Series, A6, E-Class) so the S60 is something of a misnomer. Here's a small breakdown of each sedan I would be driving:

2011 BMW 328i
Engine: 3.0 inline six cylinder(230hp; 200lb-ft of torque)
6 speed automatic with manual shifting, RWD
17" wheels and not fitted with the Sport package

2010 Audi A4 2.0T
Engine: 2.0 turbocharged inline four cylinder (211hp; 258lb-ft of torque)
8 speed automatic with manual shifting, FWD
17" wheels and not fitted with the Sport package

2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD
Engine: 3.0 turbocharged inline six cylinder (300hp; 325lb-ft of torque)
6 speed automatic with manual shifting, AWD
18" wheels fitted with Sport package

Immediately you can see things are stacked in the Volvo's favor. In any case, with the S60 being a somewhat larger car (riding on a version of the larger S80's platform) I imagine the smaller Germans would be better drivers when it came down to handling and at-the-limit driving. So, in wanting a baseline to gauge the S60's behavior, I drove the A4, then the 328i and the S60. Here's how things went.

Audi A4

This newer A4 is a much larger car than the previous model before it and it shows in the handling. Very stable and solid in the corners, however the steering is quite sloppy. It stifles any communication to the driver as to what the front wheels are doing and how close he is to the limits of adhesion. The 2.0 turbo is peaky with a lot of turbo lag and the transmission compounds this by refusing to hold a selected gear, upshifting at the wrong moment such as midway through a corner. I found myself having to consciously be mindful of what gear I'm in so I didn't find myself in too high a ratio. Lots of understeer but then that's to be expected in a FWD car. Brakes were marginal at best. Overall, the A4 is stable but the limits are low. If you're buying this car, get the Sport Package. As a matter of fact, splurge and get the S4 with the supercharged 3.0 V6. You'll thank me later.

BMW 328i

I had high hopes for the Bimmer going in to the first corner. RWD? 50/50 weight distribution? So what if it didn't have a Sport package? This is the Ultimate Driving Machine! Man oh man, how wrong I was. First corner? Understeer. Transmission is the same as the Audi, refusing to stay in a selected gear and upshifting itself at the wrong moment. The steering offered decent communication but I found myself flailing with the wheel around the corners. Isn't the BMW supposed to be fun? No, this was more WORK than fun. And where's the power? At least the Audi offered a lot of torque to surf on when it was in the right gear. The BMW on the other hand, with a paltry 200lb-ft, made you rev like mad to get any decent speed. The engine was a joy to listen to however: nothing sounds quite like an inline 6 revving its heart out. Braking was quite good, better than the Audi but surprisingly didn't hold a candle to the superior S60. Overall, the 328i is the model you buy for your wife or daughter. If you're really interested in sport, go for the 335i with its 300hp turbocharged inline six. Yeah, and tick the box that reads "Sport Package" while you're at it.

Volvo S60

Believe me, I'm just as surprised as you are. After wringing out the Germans, I found myself not wanting to believe the S60 could possibly be any better. Sure it has 300hp, but it's larger and heavier than the other two. Plus, it's a fricking VOLVO. I was about to have those words shoved right down my throat. Just before the floodgates were opened to drive the test vehicles, the driving staff on hand performed a 0-40-0 test between the test vehicles. First they'd accelerate to 40mph the brake hard to a stop. The car that did each of these things first would be the winner. No surprised the S60 out-accelerated the competition, but the fact that it also outbraked them (the BMW surprisingly) was nothing short of spectacular. So here I was behind the wheel of the Volvo.

The S60 was

Acceleration was breathtaking. At the limit cornering was admirable (thanks to AWD, more on this later) and braking was very impressive. The S60 suffered from the same transmission gremlin that refuses to hold the gear you want for cornering, but with 325lb-ft of torque to surf with 90% available from 2000rpm, the acceleration was still commendable. The 3.0 engine employs a twin-scroll turbocharger to decrease turbo lag, but that was still a problem. Steering was a bit sloppy but tidier and more communicative than the Audi, about on par with the BMW. Whereas the 328i makes you actually WORK to get the most out of it, the S60's limits are high but easy to approach. The computerized AWD system with limited slip differential allows torque to be split not only front-rear but side to side at the rear, virtually eliminating understeer and pushes the tail of the S60 around corners. In the really tight stuff, I could actually feel the system working to eliminate as much understeer as possible. You can steel feel the weight of the car being thrown around, but it was manageable and stable throughout the track run.

Color me impressed because that's exactly what I was. I found myself choosing the S60 over the Germans present because I actually had more fun driving the S60. But there's a rub here. As I stated earlier, these were base models of competing cars that Volvo chose for comparison with its S60. Had they been topline models; like the S4 or 335i, the results would be quite different. However, not to take anything away from Volvo, the S60 is indeed sportier than anything it has produced thus far (except for the last S60R, I'm quite adamant about that). Looking at Volvo's current lineup, the S60 does have the hardware and guts to back up Volvo's claim of being "A Naughty Volvo" if not "The Naughtiest Volvo".

Don't forget though that this is still a Volvo and safety is the primary drive for the Swedish automaker. In this area, the S60 doesn't disappoint and is equipped with what Volvo calls City Safety Technology. This active safety hardware uses an optical radar sensor in the front of the grill and measures the speed and distance of any objects in front of the car. These calculations are done 50 times per second and in the event of an imminent collision, the system will apply full braking. First introduced on the XC60 crossover, Volvo has augmented the system on the S60 sedan with a new technology called Pedestrian Detection. Using the same radar sensor in the grill, plus a camera module mounted at the base of the overhead rearview mirror, the system is able to "see" and "read" the outline and behavior of persons around the front of the S60. If the system detects an imminent collision with a pedestrian (hence the name) it alerts the driver with a warning tone and flashing red LEDs atop the dashboard. If the warnings go unheeded, the S60 will apply full brake power to bring itself to a complete stop short of the lucky pedestrian. As the name suggests, this works only at city speeds, between 2-18 mph. I tried this system and it works as advertised. The trick is to trust the vehicle completely (hard to do if you know you're about to hit something...or someone).

Driving Impressions

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jetta: Would I Buy One?

Jetta 2.5

The other day I was driving home from work, stopped at a traffic light with my music blasting (as per usual). I happened to notice a late model Volkswagen Jetta in the lane next time, cute girl behind the wheel (windows up). Light goes green and I drive off, but was caught off guard by the sound of her car as she revved the engine thinking it was an impromptu race. No, I wasn't caught of guard by the race itself (I was more than ready) but more so by the sound of her car itself.

"Is that a lawnmower or weed whacker under the hood?" I thought.

Current Jetta models are powered by a trio of engines, from a 2.0 TDI diesel inline 4, a 2.5 inline 5 gasoline and a 2.0T turbocharged inline 4. I would've thought that this girl had the TDI motor but the racket she was making caused me to slow down and let her pass so I could see the car's rear. Nope. 2.5 on the decklid.

Now 5 cylinder engines aren't known to be inherently smooth motors, neither are regular 4 cylinders (though Honda and Toyota would object to that) but the 5 cylinder in the Jetta is positively raucous, and not in a good way. When you buy a car, is the smoothness and sound of the engine a factor? Or are the car's visual aesthetics enough to seal the deal? I dunno about you, but if a car's engine sounds like it's wheezing though the hood, it's a deal breaker. Don't get me wrong, the Jetta itself is a great driving car, Germanic in its handling and stability (VW likes to brag about its cars being tuned for the German autobahn), but if you've got your eye on one, I'd suggest spending the extra cash for either the TDI or GLI model with the 2.0T.

Why? Here we go.

2.0 TDI diesel

With the TDI motor, yes it's a diesel and yes, most Americans associate the diesel engine with black smoke, big rig trucks and the clackety-clack of valves under the bonnet. But I assure you, modern day diesels in passenger cars are waaaaaay beyond what you think. Volkswagen has done its homework in making the diesel engine suitable for civilian use in everyday cars by cleaning up the emissions, quieting the motor, so much so that it's barely audible at idle. Another highlight of diesel engines is torque and the 2.0 TDI doesn't disappoint here. It may only have 140hp, but it's the 236lb-ft of torque on tap from idle that will really get your attention off line. The other plus? How about 40 mpg on the highway? Seriously, a nearly 600 mile range isn't out of the question with this motor.

Jetta 2.0T GLI

The 2.0T motor is essentially the same unit in the vaunted GTI. Producing 200hp and 207lb-ft of torque and assisted by suspension tweaks, the Jetta really comes alive in this guise. Having driven my brother's 2006 GTI I can safely say that it is a hoot to drive. The 2.5 motor? Honestly, you don't want it. If I had to drive around listening to this motor I'd either hang myself or do the next best thing and buy a Corolla. The Toyota may be a snooze to drive, but at least the engine is way more refined in its sounds.

So would I buy a Jetta? Sure I would.

TDI or GLI? Hard to choose. 2.5? Hell no!

Images courtesy of, and