Great everyday rides

Great everyday rides – Volvo S60 and the Volkswagen Passat

William J. Holstein

Okay, back in the real world, we can’t spend all our time on the racetrack. We have to compromise. We have to drive vehicles that make sense. Pick up the laundry. Stick the clubs in the trunk.

I’ve recently spent a week in two cars that are counterintuitive–and therefore very interesting.

The first was a Volvo S60 T5, which goes for about $34,000. It drives like a BMW. If you think all Volvos are boring, the S60 T5–with 247 horses–will forever change the way you think about Volvos.

This particular Volvo has a turbo-charged 5-cylinder engine that boasts a surprisingly broad, flat torque curve. That means that you get a maximum sense of forward motion from 2,400 rpm to 5,200 rpm, with the red line at 6,500. It’s even peppier in the quasi-manual Geartronic mode, and it has a hair-trigger touch at almost any speed. The company says this car is competitive with BMW’s 325. I agree.

One thing the car snobs are saying about Volvos is that since Ford Motor took over the company, the interiors of Volvos feel plastic-y. It’s true there’s no wood in the S60 T5, but I’ve never understood the need for dead tree matter in a car. The dashboard is trim and compact. I particularly liked the placement of the emergency brake–high and in the middle, between the two front seats. It gave me a sense of control.

The second car is the Volkswagen Passat W8 sedan, which goes for about $38,000. What? A “people’s car” for nearly 40K? And what is Volkswagen thinking: It owns Audi, so won’t a souped-up, 270-horsepower Passat cannibilize sales of the A4?

Even as I pondered those weighty issues, I mightily enjoyed the driving performance of this eight-cylinder car equipped with all-wheel drive, which the company calls 4Motion. It offered Mercedes-like performance at high speeds–at 80 mph on a curve, the car held the road with complete authority and beckoned for more speed. The Passat W8 is also very well-appointed–the touches of wood and the tactile sensations represent the best of Teutonic taste.

For all your nonracetrack driving, there are some excellent offerings for under $40,000 coming from places you might not expect.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Chief Executive Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group