Volvo’s international model line expands
While you were sleeping — or perhaps actively ignoring the terrible late-August news cycle — you may not have noticed a very epic moment in U.S. auto history. The Chinese have finally arrived, though probably not in a form you would have anticipated.
Volvo, the iconic and much beloved Swedish carmaker, did not slip away into the night like its counterparts Saab — rather, it got bought by Chinese carmaker Geeley in 2010. This fall sees the first physical results of that union — and the first fully Chinese-manufactured automobiles in America, as the new Inscription variation of the S60 sedan arrives at dealerships.
During a drive event this week in San Francisco, all indications were that this is an international project that really worked, producing a car that is as prestigious, well-detailed and expertly assembled as any of Volvo’s other cars, made in Sweden or Belgium as they have been until now.
And like that fancy iPhone in your pocket, this is one ‘Made in China’ product that totally erases any preconceptions about quality or craftsmanship.
The odd, but very Chinese part of the new Inscription is that it is indeed just the already pleasant S60, stretched to add three inches of rear legroom. That’s a move that creates a premium vehicle in China big enough for chauffeur duty — as is often the preferable case in their explosive traffic culture — but may also suit American families who find the regular S60 just a little too small for their needs.
Foot space in the Inscription is indeed large enough to store a 30-pack of beer cans, to give you a gauche unit of measurement. And the rest of the finishings are indeed upscale, including 18-inch wheels, walnut wood inlays, extra soundproofing and full rear and side window shades, for a little dose of VIP treatment, even if just for a trip to Costco.
Power is supplied by either a four-cylinder 2.0-liter or the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, the latter standard with the all-wheel-drive variant. We got to cruise in a FWD model with the smaller engine, the whole package priced at $38,700 MSRP – $45,925 with the Platinum package (Harmon Kardon sound, xenon headlamps) and an optional automatic park assist program — and found that the car can indeed be speedy, roomy and still generate close to 37 highway mpg.
Any obvious signs of its new place of origin? None, and Volvo officials admit they will probably not be playing up the Chinese angle as the Inscription is marketed to the American public. Instead, you’ll hear more about a new plant opening in South Carolina, all part of an $11.5 billion overall investment the company’s owners have put into Volvo’s global operations.
The new Sino-stretched S60 is just part of Volvo’s ambitious plans to have 14 new models by 2018; in the meantime, this week’s trip was also a chance to see a few different variations of the expanding 60 model range.
Most appropriate to the High Country is the new S60 Cross Country, a self-described weekend warrior machine that takes the standard wheelbase S60 and elevates it 2.5 extra inches, giving it a quasi-crossover feel but retaining all of its sporty sedan handling qualities. Cross Country adds electronic AWD, serious sport seats and even integrated child seats in the rear, plus unique black grille and windowframe elements. Only 500 of them will be available — Volvo remains a pretty low-volume manufacturer, despite the new Chinese deal. Likewise, the V60 wagon can also be ordered up in the lifted Cross Country guise.
Other platform variations include the sportier R-Design editions and, for serious enthusiasts, the speciality Polestar editions — turning the S60 sedan or V60 wagon into genuinely terrifying racing machines.
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