WOMEN ON WHEELS
By Laurie Bogart Morrow
If you haven’t read my car reviews yet, this is my standard introduction, so you know who I am. If you have read my car reviews before, you can either read this Introduction again and get to know me all over again, or just scroll down to the car heading, below.
I’m a mom, a grandmom, and I got that way because I was a wife in the first instance and by the time I got round to being a grandmother, I was someone else’s wife. In short, I’m like a lot of women—married with children, divorced with children, and now remarried with my children’s children gathered ‘round. And, despite the ever-present chaos of having a large, loving, loud family, I like it that way. Being a “hands on” grandparent is, at least for me, a blessing. Like our own children, we don’t have them all that long…you blink, and suddenly they’re all grown up.
I’m telling you this because I think this is the best qualification I have to review cars. A car should fit an individual’s lifestyle, so when you read my take on cars, understand it’s through the eyes of a 56-year-old woman who feels younger most of the time and gave her size 8 dresses away to the Salvation Army years ago because there was no sense in keeping something I’d never be able to wear again, ever. The fact that I have been an automotive journalist for twenty years and a longtime member of the New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA); have traveled the globe testing new cars, some still in development; and, in my capacity as one of the precious few women outdoor journalists in the country, have driven some ungodly roads into the back of beyond is a secondary consideration.
I believe a car should be judged by more than its wheel base, horsepower, torque, transaxle type and suspension. That’s a guy-thing. Headroom, leg room, hip room and shoulder room—especially hip room—yes, that’s something we gals need to know about--and more. So I’ve devised this simple 20-Question checklist—tough questions that each of the cars I review will have to go through. Let’s see how they past muster.
First out of the gate was the Ford Taurus, the the Toyota Venza and now...
The 2010 VOLVO CROSS-COUNTRY AWD WAGON
What’s it called? It’s the Volvo XC70 AWD 3.2 , a.k.a. the Volvo Cross-Country Wagon (also available with a six-cylinder engine, the XC70 AWD T6, for about $5G more)
· What is it? It is, to me, at least, the ultimate station wagon. If you can swing the price and the maintenance, this is destined to be the car of your life. What’s more, this car is the safest car on the road—Volvo practically invented driver safety and are second to none, in my book. Heck, f I go into all the safety measures Volvo has included in this car, you’ll need a second cup of coffee, so instead, click onto this link and see for yourself: http://www.volvocars.com/us/models/xc70/which/Pages/default.aspx
· How many grownups can comfortably fit inside? You can shove your whole family, including dogs, into this chariot.
· Is it kid-friendly? Ohhhhh, yeah. For young children there’s the option of integrated child safety seats and other child-specific stuff; for big kids—your teenagers, and big kids like your husband (and admit it, maybe even you)—there is a huge selection of optional lifestyle sports equipment, such as bicycle carriers, ski and snowboard holders, and windsurfing, sailboard, canoe and kayak holders and cradles. There are even load carriers and roof box carriers to contain your peripheral outdoor gear and luggage.
· Is it dog-friendly? Many of the Volvo people behind the development of this car are, to my certain knowledge, owned by dogs—and it shows, in the interior design of the car, especially the rear storage area, which takes a dog gate and/or dog crates beautifully—plenty of headroom here.
· Can you fit in a week’s worth of groceries in the trunk? Fold down the second seat, leave a note for the milkman, pack food and clothing for a month, and drive to Alaska. The Volvo Cross-Country is meant to fit your lifestyle in ways like that.
· What if my husband gets overzealous at Home Depot? Take away his credit card. He can fit most of whatever you need at Home Depot, including lumber and pipes, into this baby or strapped to the roof.
· What if I get carried away at WalMart? Then your husband had better take away your credit card. Remember that futon in aisle 22 that you had your eye on…?
· Will this car embarrass you if you have to go some place fancy? People will swarm around your Volvo like a moth to a light, wherever you go. This classy car is in a class by itself.
· Is it going to drain my wallet when I fill it with gas? You’re going to get around 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, which frankly, is pretty okay, considering. Thing is, by the time you add some of the can’t-live-without options on the 3.2 engine model, you’ll surely crest $40G and the V8 starts at almost $43,000. But this car is a tank. With regular maintenance (and provided you don’t drive it into a river and tear out the undercarriage against boulder, like one guy I know of did), then this car won’t last you years—it will last you decades and beyond.
· Are the dashboard controls easy to figure out or do I run the risk of driving off the road while trying to figure them out? I’m very sensitive about dashboards, as you may have read in my review of the Toyota Venza. But I can read the dashboard panel and instruments on the Volvo XC like an encyclopedia. The Swedish translation of a comprehensive, easy-to-reach, thoroughly understandable dashboard should be a universal language.
· How great is the radio? Close your eyes (providing the car is in park) and you’ll think you’ve got orchestra seats at Lincoln Center. Or maybe Radio City Music Hall, if you’re not into classic. Or in the old days, Filmore East, God rest its soul, if you’re old enough to remember that concert hall of rock.
· Is it outfitted like a mobile TV room or home office? Yes, yes, yes…Volvo has all those audio and navigation system options available. But here’s the thing: these bells and whistles don’t overpower the reality that you’re in one of the smoothest-driving, quietest, most solid cars ever manufactured, so enjoy the road trip for all it’s worth. Your kids can watch Star Wars when you get home. Let them see the world through tinted-glass windows.
· How does it drive? I mean, does this car have an attitude? To reiterate, it doesn’t get much better than this. Solid, road-hugging, turns so smoothly your body doesn’t lunge left or right, stops on a dime without you hitting the windshield. That says it all.
· And one of the most important questions: what about the coffee cup holders? Actually, this is a sort of funny thing. For some reason, Volvo historically has fallen short on coffee cup holder design. But I think they finally got it right with this car.
· When I look at the speed gauge, am I driving slower or faster than I thought? You do have to be careful. This car is so quiet and so powerful and has such smooth pick-up that you may be amazed when you see those tell-tale flashing lights behind you, and the heart-wrenching reality that you’ll have to pull over to the side and take out your license and registration, m’am.
· If I get caught driving in nasty weather, will I need a Martini to restore my nerves once I finally get home? No, never. If you decide you want a Martini, it’s because you want to have a Martini—not because you need one. Go onto Volvo’s comprehensive website at http://www.volvocars.com/us/models/xc70/Pages/default.aspx because you need to get first-hand from the Volvo folks just what they’ve done to make that Martini something you desire, not require, after driving through snowstorms, mudslides, and deluges of rain.
· Does it come in a color that I love? Volvo has always presented a very appealing, tasteful selection of car colors, which isn’t necessarily the case with some of the other car manufacturers.
· Can I easily see what’s coming from behind when I look over my right shoulder or will I be in for a surprise? No blind spots in rear view mirrors or when you look over your shoulder. If you get a surprise, it’s not the fault of the car’s rearview visibility.
· On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the car of my dreams, how does this rate? Flat-out 10. This may it for you and your family—and if, in a quarter-century or so, you drive it into the ground, invariably you’ll be trading it in (and still get value) for a new model.