Can you feel the love tonight?: Why a car is more than a piece of metal on four wheels


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“A way of transport that takes you from A to B”. I have heard a lot of people saying this about cars, including my dad. That is partly true, but I think there is way more to it. Jaguar co-founder, Sir William Lions, once said: “The car is the closest thing we will ever create to something that is alive.” Let me prove it to you by breaking the article down into three parts: voice, body and character.

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VOICE: I am 110% sure that you have listened to music at some point in life (if not, you need help). So you definitely have your favorite singer or band. Not just because of what is being played, but also the power of singer’s voice. And I am talking about music, not your Chris Wests or Kanye Browns, unless their favorite car noise is the one made by Toyota Prius. Everyone has their favorite that they love, and the one they don’t care about as it sounds like any other band. It’s the same with cars. Everyone loves a good noise of a car. Some might love their four-cylinder Fiesta engine noise, others – the bellow of a V8 Dodge Charger muscle car. Then there are those I understand the least – those who love Nissan Skyline engine noise. But that’s just my taste.

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BODY: girls go crazy over guys like Ryan Gosling, guys can’t get over how great Jennifer Lawrence looks like. And everyone has his or her favorite look of a car. Someone might love the perfect, human-like lines on a Lamborghini Miura. The opening scene in “The Italian Job” is to petrol heads what watching Gisele Bündchen on a catwalk is to the rest. It is so darn beautiful and sensual. A celebration of beauty.

Then there are others who like cars that have been designed with a ruler, like Lamborghini Countach. An angle has a beauty in an engineering sense. The whole car model culture (which, in my view, is pathetic. That shows you’ve made a car with such a bad design you actually need women to stand next to it and hoping it somehow is going to make it look better) started in the 1970s. The age of angles in the car industry. All those Lincolns, Italian wedge-shaped sportscars and boxy family cars. They all started in the 70s and progressed in the 80s. Then there are those who are un-traditional. Like me – I love the DeLorean DMC-12, but others just look at it and thing “ugh, ugly.”

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CHARACTER: there is always a car that has some sort of a character like a human being. You have your nerds, who are like Honda Jazz– they get a chemistry experiment perfectly right, but you will not jump up and down when it happens. You probably will be distracted by the guy next to you who in his hangover will make all things go horribly wrong – that’s a Russian car. You laugh about them and their faults amuse you.

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Then you have your temperamental lovers, which, stereotypically, are Italians and French. Same with cars: Italian and French cars have their culture of breakdowns and faults, but you don’t want to leave them. They kiss and woo you when they’re happy, but when they break down, they give you the biggest headache.

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Then there’s a car that always looks little and cute. Someone that always make you smile and waul out a little “awwww.” And every time you drive it, the car cheers you up and puts that endless smile on your face, which you cannot resist even in your dullest days. It’s a car that always smiles at you, always is happy. Like a little puppy labrador, that is waiting for you impatiently until you will take him out for a walk. That’s how a Mini is. Every time I see one and all the times I’ve been driven around in one I always cannot stop smiling. It is a happy machine. Probably that’s why the most careless, childish and most positive Englishman in the world was driving one.

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Then there is Aston Martin. Have you ever seen an Aston Martin with an aftermarket wing on the back? No. So it cannot be someone who wears gold chains, walking around, looking for attention, like a Bentley or a Ferrari. Also, it is elegant and smart. It always looks like it has to be parked near an opera. It whispers quietly, but when it speaks, you can’t forget its voice and you can hear it coming from miles away. It perfectly reflects James Bond. Thank God Ian Fleming swapped Bond’s car from Bentley to Aston Martin. It is just like him.

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Also, part of character is the bondage you get during some of your big events in life. Your first car, the fastest car you’ve driven, the car you drove to that successful interview. You will never forget those ones. See? A car is way more than a lump of metal with wheels that with some mechanics applied to it moves forwards. It is your friend, your pet, your favorite art, and your memory.

The Guy Near the Car

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I am rolling: why are so many people ignoring Volvo?


So after all this ridiculous heat wave we’ve been having here and a lot of adventures I’ve been having outside (unlike some of you who, judging by my stats, have been coming in here and checking out my blog almost daily. Thanks so much, guys).

And so…back to business.

 

“Jag rullar”: Why are so many people ignoring Volvo?

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For the past three weeks now I have been in business selling cars…..well…trying to, but it’s not as easy as it seems. I am working a partially voluntary job at a Volvo car dealership at home in Latvia. Before I joined the team I was well aware of the brand and what they stood for. I owe a big deal of respect to Volvo, because it has played a huge part in my life as a passionate car guy. It was the first car I could remember of being in, because my dad used to work for a Swedish company who had a fleet of Volvos. He had a 940 and a 240. Both were estates, cos they were in the league of their own when it came to taking stuff around. My dad told me he used to take HALF A TON worth bags of cement (I’m not kidding, he used to take lots of stuff around) and it would remain in one piece. I liked those cars. As you can see from the picture below with me next to my dad’s 240 (why it had Swedish plates, don’t ask. I don’t know):

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Then, in 2005 I think my dad bought his first Volvo in years – XC70 T5. That car means a lot to me because that was the first car I drove on public roads. And it has to date been the fastest car I’ve ever been driven around. 180 km/h. Still to this day I haven’t beaten it. But it’s sort of a good thing because that thing accelerated like a rocket. And it was the first time in my life I learned about traction control. My dad wanted to demonstrate. He drove on a snowy field one winter day, I was sitting next to him. He said “watch”, after which he floored it and yanked the wheel all the way to the left. But the car followed. It didn’t spin, eating its own exhausts; it followed where it was directed. But then he turned the traction control off (you have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the combination in which the switches have to be pressed to turn it COMPLETELY OFF) and all hell broke loose. The car span out every time the car started moving. I was fascinated by it.

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But I’ve noticed that I am one of a handful who gets excited about Volvos. So many guys who think they know their cars (ones I’ve talked about in one of my older blog posts) say the things EVERYBODY are saying – that they are boxy, noisy, don’t go anywhere, are driven by old people, torque steer…blah blah blah. People, where have you been all these years?! That could have been the case with Volvos in the past (those facts they are mentioning are of the Volvo 850. It did torque steer but…they seem to forget that they won a couple of races in the British Touring Car Championship. Not bad for an “old man’s” car). I have to admit, I have missed out stuff on Volvos and paid too little attention to their lineup. Until now, that is.

First thing that I noticed straight away and was startled by was the unbelievably perfect build quality and the upmarket feel of it all. I am not saying they have not been this way in the past, but there was a bit of a decline during their Ford years when the floating console appeared. But I have to say (and this is not biased) they are better put together than many of the German offerings. Believe me.

I have to say I am a sucker for that TFT gauge display. Volvo have done a fantastic job on it. Unlike Cadillac, Jaguar or Mercedes, who have just shoved a large display behind the wheel, the Swedes have made it look delicate by making it look like analog gauges would belong there, with separate screen for every virtual gauge, all of them based around a huge tunneled gauge which is for the speedo/tachometer (change to whatever you like, up to you). There’s a reason for that. It is an option for about €400 here in Latvia. As standard you get a set of analog gauges, but do tick the box for the TFT display. They are worth the price.

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Then the whole interior feel and quality. It may not be up there with Audi, but I have to say they are very close with it. What I am definitely sure about is that the quality is by miles better than that in current BMW range. It just is. It may not be as minimalistic, but it sure has the quality feel to it. And can those car journalists shut up about the centre console having too many buttons cos that’s rubbish. Even though it might look like a phone from 1980s, the buttons are laid out very logically and they are easy to use. Those many buttons in the middle are a keypad like you find on a phone which you could use for (yup, you guessed it) the Bluetooth telephone. But what people fail to realize that the only two other options they are used for is for entering Navigation details (which is way easier with a keypad than with the iDrive in BMWs. I hate entering address with an iDrive. Think of texting. You never thought texting on old phones was complicated, didn’t you?) and for preset radio stations. That’s it. Don’t let the looks and car journalists fool you. Try it for yourself.

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Also, you can chose an option that could turn your car into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot for your usage (if you’re too stingy to share it). And Volvo is one of few car makers in the premium brand market who offer a Digital TV use on their cars. Until now this option has been available on S-Class Mercs, 7-series BMWs and A7 & A8 Audis. Yes, Volvo have chosen to pursue the luxury world. Good idea, as their projects for masses have been disastrous (the S40 and other NedCar Dutch built Volvos) and they have covered the basics of a luxury car for ages – comfort, safety and performance. The latter one did not occur up until the introduction of the T5 5-cylinder Turbo engine which gave Volvo some victories in motor races too.

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Speaking of comfort, I can put my hand on my heart and say that I haven’t yet found anything as comfortable as a Volvo. Every time I got to sit in one it was like laying down in a lounge sofa. I am not exaggerating, it really is like that. No other car has been close. Maybe Lexus, Jaguar and Land Rover have, but others have not. Audi? Nope. BMW? After 2 hours of driving I need a massage because my buttocks ache so badly. But not in a Volvo. Even looking at them makes you feel cosy. All that comfort is benefited by the sound of the stunning stereo system. Any range – from standard to the upgraded Harman/Kardon sound system – their sound quality is worth a million dollars…probably.

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If you still thinking “you’re nuts. It’s not a well built car.” Well let me show you a brilliant example. First, let’s look at a BMW X3 engine bay. This one is a 2 liter Turbo.

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This shows that BMW have become so arrogant they have stopped paying attention to quality. HOW CAN A £30 000 CAR HAVE WIRES TAPED  TOGETHER? And some of them are even uncovered to water, bud and dirt that comes beneath the engine. Looks like BMW have begun cost cutting. Even in the inside it feels very plastic-fantastic. But that does not bother me, cars have had plastic interiors, but this kind of rough work I’ve only seen in either French cars or in American cars. And that’s no coincidence because all BMW X-cars are built and most of designing is done in South Carolina, USA. But this, the X3, is not the only case of such “quality”. The brand new X4 has exactly the same wiring with exactly the same tape with exactly the same uncovered wires. So slow down when you go through puddles if you drive an X3, because you might create a short circuit.

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But in a Volvo (in this case, a D4 engine (even though a Diesel, the changes are dramatic. The quality is the same in a Diesel BMW as well), well, just look at it. It is so tidy and all those open wires are where they belong – in plastic boxes!

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And long gone are the days of boxy designed Volvos. They are truly amazing to look at and, some of them, a lot of fun to drive. The brand new Drive-E engines are particularly good. I drove the S60 D4 Drive-E with 181 BHP and 8-speed auto gearbox. I have to say I had a time of my life. It made me want an S60. It corners brilliantly, has lots of grip though it has FWD, there is NO torque steer (whereas an Audi A4, which is in the same class, tries to kill you with torque steer) and is very sharp on acceleration. The seating position is absolutely spot on (it suits you both when you’re cruising, when you want to rest your elbow on the door panel’s hand rest, and when you’re going fast) and all but XC70 and S80 have a sport-grip steering wheel as standard. The grips are so comfy and deep that the wheel wouldn’t slip even if you held hard on it while your hands are covered in butter.  It might not be as sharp to drive as a 3-series (it is as good and sharp as everyone says) as it has the inevitable FWD trait – understeer – and it has a number steering feel than the bimmer, but it is definitely the best FWD saloon there is. I WANT ONE. 😀

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But don’t think for a minute I am here to write an article because I work for them, oh no. For instance, though Volvos now do look great, the design has wiped away their long term top position in practicality league. The V60 boot, though it is convenient, it is quite small. From cars I’ve driven, Subaru Outback has a bigger boot than a V60. Same applies for V40. It is fun to drive as it is based on a Ford Focus platform, but the boot is tiny. And it is just too much cash for the product. People at the dealership have said that too.

And though S60 is a fantastic car to drive, that can’t be said about the XC70. First of all, that car has been quite old. It still has a lot of Ford in it. Then there’s the ride. It is very comfortable but because it is about 4 centimetres higher above the ground than the V70 on which it’s based, it does feel like a duck around the corners. It tilts to one side quite a lot, so it’s more of a cruiser, not a bruiser.

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And finally,  I have to be a bit of a perfectionist. Though almost all of the buttons feel very high class, there are a couple who don’t and those are reading lamp buttons above the driver. They feel like they belong in a Toyota, but not in a premium brand car.

But that’s it. I have started to love Volvo. It is a great car brand. It’s not like with SAAB, where I loved the illusion that the brand is the same as it was in 1980s (with airplanes and good quality). No. The older you grow the wiser you get. And that is why I have started appreciating the truly great things.

 

So don’t hesitate and have a look at modern Volvos. You will be surprised.