Ah, the test drive event, a way for auto manufacturers to offer a safe place for the consumer to drive their product as if they were a drunk toddler in a demolition derby. The only other closest joy to this driving experience would be to hop behind the wheel of a rented Kia Rondo and have at it. No other place can you see a man in his 50’s powerslide into a group of cones, take out a obstacle deer, and then fully lock the brakes to avoid the slower Audi S4 in front piloted by a woman who seems to be adjusting the heated seats. These are the small things in life I enjoy…but onto the car.
There were three stages to this particular event in Santa Anita, CA. The first was a competitive comparison in which you could choose to destroy an Audi S4 with the 2.0t engine, a BMW 328xi, or the all new Volvo S60 through an obstacle course set out by cones. We chose to drive the other cars first as the line was not queued outside the tent. The Audi was the base model, and it showed as the S4 gently made its way through the slalom, sharp 90 degree turn, and darted past the fake deer. The BMW was much of the same story, being the heaviest AWD model with the base engine. The fully loaded Volvo S60 was powerful off the line and very point-and-shoot through the slalom and the other sharp corners. Though upon initial entry of the car I had a sudden urge to find the Swede who designed the button layout and box his head in.
Second section of the event was the demonstration of the new crash avoidance and pedestrian safety technology. After seeing the infamous videos of Volvo’s braking system failing on several occasions (see below), I politely hopped in the back seat to watch. The representative explained that the system worked at speeds below 15mph and could not stop all accidents, but could help save many people a small fender bender in freeway traffic, or a skateboarder’s limbs. We drove forward at the “safe test speed” of 9mph and the car stopped as described right in front of the obstacle. Impressive, but continual improvements are important, Volvo is again helping their reputation of the safest car manufacturer.
The final part of the event was the one we had all been waiting for; the autocross time challenge. An autocross course was set up and each driver would have their short lap timed to compete for the fastest of the day who would in turn receive an Ipad for their efforts. Filled with confidence I would have an Ipad waiting for me at the end I set off to beat the 50 second standing record for the day, looking to avoid orange cones which were +2 seconds upon each collision. I set off and in the first hairpin turn, gave too much with the go-pedal to get the S60 to break loose and slide sideways a breath away from a group of cones. I corrected, finished the rest of the course smooth as silk, and set through the checkered flags with a gentleman’s time of 53.5 seconds. I am a man of no excuses so I will leave out the fact that I had bald tires, non-existent break pads, and a car with a temp closer to the large “H” than the “C”. The overall feel of the S60 was great in terms of speed and handling but it did have it’s flaws, maybe it was the abuse of the day, but the car seemed cheaper in quality and in road feel than the likes of a Mercedes or BMW. It has a very similar feel to a Audi A4 from the B6 generation (2000-05). Great car, just misses the mark in several areas. The car looks fantastic on the outside and the inside is mostly fantastic if you avoid eye contact with the button layout on the center console. Overall I was impressed with the improvements and hope to see more cars like this coming from our friends in Sweden.
Photos courtesy of my terrible HTC Droid Eris