More Car Research: The Volvo S60

Ok, I’m back on the cars kick. This time I’ll rant and rave about a Volvo S60 The Wife and I are both drooling over, so if you’re not interested in reading about that, just stop here.

This past weekend, The Wife and I made our way up to Tampa to meet up with a couple of old friends of mine, as well as to celebrate another friend’s recent accomplishment. (Yae! Go Junior’s-Dad!) While up there, we had a bit more free time than we had anticipated, so we took the chance to check out some cars. We’ve been on the hunt for a new car to replace our trusty old 1987 Chevy Cavalier, which as wonderful as it is (it’s almost ZERO maintenance and has one hell of an awesome engine), just doesn’t do for us like it once did. Seriously, it’s a marvelous car and were it not for the fact that I need something a bit bigger (and preferably safer, with better gas mileage), I would just as soon give that car a paint job, fix up the insides and — oh yeah, install an A/C system on that thing. (Don’t ask how I ride around in that thing when the temperature down in South Florida feels like 110. It’s not pretty, and involves having the windows down and going as fast as mechanically possible.) Still, we’ve gotten about as much use from that thing as anyone could possibly ask of that car.

Now, if you’re in Tampa and need to look at a lot of cars in a short amount of time, the best place to go on Dale Mabry, between the Stadium and Sligh Avenue. That entire stretch of road is replete will car dealerships, covering just about every car out there. (Except Jags and Aston Martins. You’ll have to go up Fletcher, just West of the on-ramp to I-275 for those. Fletcher, for those of you not in the know, is the road bordering the north-side of the USF campus.) Luckily, we were meeting someone in Westshore at 11am, then going out to Carrollwood at 3pm, so that stretch of road was right in our path.

We’ve been considering a number of cars for purchase: the Toyota Camry and Avalon, Honda Accord, Mazda6, Chevy Malibu, Pontiac Gran Prix, and a few others have been under lots of consideration. (We’re mainly looking for used cars, in the $12,000 range, though we’ll consider something higher, if the price is right.) Wanting to see if we could find a diamond in the rough, we decided to drop by the Lexus dealership. Who knows, maybe someone just dropped of an ’04 Camry in almost perfect condition, wanting to upgrade to a Lexus LS430 and we would be the lucky recipient of that day’s Miracle in Dale Mabry street.

Of course, because of the way I’m writing about this I’m sure you can guess that this isn’t exactly what happened.

After getting out of there, we decided to stop by the Volvo dealership next to the Lexus place. We couldn’t even find parking, so we just skipped it and stopped by the Courtesy Nissan/Hyundai (which is technically on Hillsborough Avenue, but whatever; it’s right there). While there, we started looking around and were somewhat quickly (but not annoyingly quickly) met by Don. (Yes, that’s his real name; there’s a reason I’m using it.) We talked for a little while, seeing as I’ve become pretty comfortable dealing with car salesmen in the past few months, and he started showing us some of what they had in stock. We told him “our price range” (I told him $18,000, knowing full well we’d have to move the price point down) and he started showing us a few cars: We saw a couple of Nissan Altimas and Maximas, the ’07 Hyundai Sonata (which has about as much room for the driver as my Honda Civic), and — to our surprise, a 2004 Volvo S60 2.5T.

Up to that point, nothing had really impressed us all that much. The prices were OK, the the options were there, and the cars looked (on the surface) pretty much OK. (It goes without saying that I wouldn’t buy a car unless it was first approved by my mechanic.) But when we saw that S60, we just melted. Seriously, where two people stood there were now two puddles, boiling in the searing 101-degree asphalt.

Volvo S60, Gray

This car was a thing of beauty: black on black, dark tinted windows, leather seats, power everything, wood finishing, BOSE sound system, and every safety feature imaginable (short of that cool backing-up camera you find in some of the Infinitys (Infinities?)). Don asked us if we wanted to drive it, and, of course, being the savvy consumer that I am, I just sorta nooded and forced out a flippant-sounding “Sure!”

As I test drove the car, I couldn’t help but notice that this was another world: the car seats molded to me; the wheels gripped the road beautifully (this car is definitely not for the lazy driver); the cabin was super silent. This thing was just fun to drive, even better than the Mazda6 I’d driven a few weeks back, and that car wasn’t bad, either. Better yet, I kept thinking about what I wouldn’t have to deal with when driving this car: no more rolling the windows down with carbon monoxide billowing out of every car around me directly into my lungs; no more being drenched in sweat while stuck in rush-hour traffic on I-595; no more hitting my knee on the steering wheel every time I get into that little car; and no more changing lanes without my knowledge every time a truck passed me by. It was awesome. Most importantly of all, the following thought kept running through my mind: “If I got hit by a Mac truck, right now, I would most likely live, and there’s a really good chance I’d walk away from this thing with nothing but a few minor bumps.” Needless to say, that’s not something I can say when driving around in my Cavalier, and with the Wife and I thinking about spawning a few half-breed clones, this thought was a particularly comforting one.

By the time we were done with that drive, I was sold: I wanted that car. There were a few flaws I was a bit leery about, such as the car’s rather large turning radius, and the fact that our backs were sweating when we got out of the car (we may have had the seat heaters on without our knowledge), but overall I was seriously impressed.

After the Volvo, we tested out a Nissan Altima. It wasn’t even a comparison. Driving that Altima was like using Windows 95 after trying out XP, or like being offered tilapia after feasting on a most-dilectable salmon fillet. The words “No Contest” have never better applied.

After looking at the Altima, Don then offered to show us yet another car, an Infinity G35. As we looked at it, we decided not to even try it out: with a light, metallic blue finish, leather seats and tinted windows, that fully loaded beauty wouldn’t have been left at the car lot. had we ridden it.

Not being one to make a hasty, emotional decision, I (painfully) left that car lot without my Volvo, wanting first to do some research on the car. I started by asking some of my family members: my brother and his friends are car fanatics, my father’s an amateur mechanic, and my brother-in-law is a Master Mechanic for Mercedes. Their opinions were, at best, mixed. While everyone agreed that Volvos were “good” cars, the fact that they were Ford-owned didn’t exactly impress anyone. (My family, for some strange reason, is pretty much a Chevrolet family. My brother-in-law, being a mechanic for Mercedes, pretty much just told me “Well, ours are the safest cars on the road.” Too bad he can’t get me as deep a discount as what I’m looking for.)

After getting some generally good input from them, I went online and started doing a bit of research. I started with Cars.com, then Edmunds.com, and finally Google, where I searched for “Volvo 2004 S60 Review”. This led me to a number of reviews which, I was surprised to find, were pretty mixed: some people loved the car, some hated it. That was best seen over at CarSurvey.org, where you can find user reviews from all over the world on just about any vehicle.

(Note: I also got interested in the 2002 model when I saw it offered for just under $14,000 at a Volvo/Nissan dealership in Weston.)

The problem with my particular models, insofar as the reviews were concerned, was that there were only two reviews from North American consumers. Still, here’s what gets me: both of the reviews from the US on this site cite my two current cars: the Chevy Cavalier and the Honda Civic:

From http://www.carsurvey.org/review_44377.html:

I did a lot of research on the Volvo product before I decided to purchase a used S60. The car I owned before this was a Chevrolet Cavalier. (It’s like going from a greasy truck stop hamburger to a filet mignon.)

From http://www.carsurvey.org/review_77581.html:

Previous car – Honda Civic

A sign from the car gods? Hmm…

At any rate, here’s a bit of what I gathered from reviews I found online regarding the S60:

From http://www.carsurvey.org/model_Volvo_S60.html:

This car has been fantastic so far. The light pressure turbo and five-speed auto make it extremely lively at any speed and the handling is superb. I’ve never felt anything, but confident attacking on- and off-ramps, or even snapping around corners.

Handles beautifully, great visibility at night. The driver’s side door controls are within easy reach (unlike the Toyota Camry, which I also considered buying) The legroom is very spacious and for someone who is short, the knees fit perfectly under the steering wheel. Also, if a woman is planning to have a baby, the Volvo is a great choice for comfort and safety during those last few months.

From http://www.carreview.com/cat/automobiles/midsize-compact/volvo/PRD_53406_1531crx.aspx:

Beautiful car. I am getting ready to end the lease. I don’t know what I need to do, buy a new one, buy this one, or get something different cause quite frankly for the money I am not that impressed. I haven’t had too many major problems. Replaced to headlights. Position light goes on and off even though I can’t find any lights out. Needed a computer download since you could step down on the accelerator and nothing would happen. Tires rub the wells and Volvo makes some type of plastic device you can buy ($80) to put inside the fender well so that the tire rubs on it instead of the well?????Been through 3 sets of tires and need the forth after 58,000. Also the repair department had to replace the strut gaskets (seems poorly designed). Horrible clanking and banging nose underneath. I thought this was suppose to be a reliable car.

Strengths:
Interior awsome better than Lexus. Style, looks like a Bentley should. Handling very good for the way I drive, I do not take it to the track, Just the interstate.

Weaknesses:
The car has a personality disorder with the turbo at los speeds its edgy, twitch, on acceleration, I actually like this bad attitude. AC makes a noise like a strangled chicken when cycling sometimes. Get front brakes pads that do not leave the black stuff on them after 50 miles. The back seat will not accommodate a tall adult in the back…

There are a lot more reviews out there, so if you’re interested, check them out for yourself. the ones I presented here were from user experiences, emphasizing themes I found to be common among a number of reviews, plus my own experience (safe, responsive, large turning radius, somewhat limited visibility). Overall I was impressed, and would consider the car, if for no other reason than the safety and the relatively good gas mileage for the power.

So, what do you think? Should I get an S60? Temptation tells me “YES!”, but logic tells me to wait until something better comes by. Still, I have the nagging feeling that I’ll end up with something like a Pontiac Grand Prix, which, save for the gas mileage, isn’t all that bad. (Of course, if the price of gas wasn’t a problem, I thing I’d go large on this one and get myself a Ford Crown Victoria. After all, there’s gotta be a reason why just about every taxi cab company and police department in the country uses this model extensively: the freak’n thing is bulletproof!)

By the way, here’s why I decided to use the car salesman’s real name: while hunting for cars, I’ve run in to a lot — and I mean A-FREAK’N-LOT — of car salesmen. Not many have been as good, informative, and upfront as this guy. Absolutely awesome. If you’re in the Tampa area, and are considering buying a car (especially Toyotas; he loves Toyotas), make sure to at least talk to this guy. His name is Don Rose (ask for him by name), and he works at Courtesy Used Cars, on the corner of Hillsborough and Dale Mabry, about a mile north of Raymond James Stadium. You can reach them at (813) 870-3333. (Remember to ask for Don. Tell them “That guy and his wife who really liked that black Volvo and the G35 and lives in Fort Lauderdale” sent you. Feel free to send him to this page.)

5 thoughts on “More Car Research: The Volvo S60

  1. Hmm.
    My instinct typically goes ‘volvo’=good car.

    Perhaps you can find someone you know who owns a volvo, any volvo to see what they think?

  2. Actually, I have. In fact, their opinion can be seen throughout this article. Basically it boils down to this: Generally good cars, but some little things go wrong. Overall, not bad. I can say pretty much the same thing about my Honda: it doesn’t break down often, but when it does it’s expensive. Still, wouldn’t trade it for the world. Would for a Lexus, but not for the world.

    Still after trying out a few more cars (and I’ll be writing about this as well), the Volvo comes out on top.

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