Most countries the size of Sweden have no local auto industry at all, let alone two distinctive brands marketed world-wide. Of course, it can be argued that with Volvo owned by Ford and Saab being a part of General Motors' global empire Sweden's carmakers are no longer "local." The two continue to make vehicles with a particular Scandinavian accent.
Volvo and Saab have long emphasized safety, being among the first to employ seat belts and steel roll cage construction. They were early proponents of turbocharging as a way of achieving both performance and fuel economy. Both have featured distinctive, some would say "quirky," styling.
In fact, until recently, to use the words Volvo and styling in the same sentence was to invite laughter. Volvo was the very definition of "boxy" in cars - square and dull. No more. Charged by Ford with increasing sales volume in order to survive, Volvo has developed a sleek, modern exterior that has won prizes and much praise, and yet retains some of the earlier styling cues that identified the brand.
Volvo continues to emphasize safety in its vehicles, but the latest version of their mid-size sedan, the S-60, also offers striking performance of the kind dear to the hearts of auto enthusiasts. In the S-60 R, R as in "racy", company engineers tucked a 300-horsepower turbocharged five-cylinder engine under the hood, coupled with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission.
Critics of turbocharged engines usually point to what is called "turbo lag" - the momentary pause between pushing down the accelerator and the response of the engine to the driver's need for speed. With the S-60 R, Volvo has found a way to bring on the turbocharger so that, even at low engine speeds of around 2,000 revolutions per minute when you punch the gas pedal, you get a satisfying surge of power, a "right-now" response.
The car's handling is agile and the ride comfortable. Using a dashboard control, the driver can set the suspension for "comfort" or firmer, more sporty intentions. Speaking of comfort, another characteristic of Swedish cars is their seats. Both Volvo and Saab produce some of the best car seats in the world. Anyone who has taken long trips in such cars appreciates the attention of design and construction. There's nothing like ten or twelve hours on the road to separate the seats that look good from those that leave you with lower back and leg pains.
Volvo's "R" package includes all-wheel drive, big powerful Brembo anti-lock brakes, dynamic stability control to help keep the driver out of trouble, and a variety of air bags and anti-whiplash protection in the front seats in case trouble does occur.
Add to this the usual array of comfort and convenience items found in this class of car these days and you have a most desirable Volvo. With such options as heated front seats, rain sensing windshield wipers, a high-end sound system and special alloy wheels, and the S-60 R tops out at just over $40,000. Given the competitors in this market segment BMW, Audi, Lexus, Infiniti and Acura,Volvo fits right in with the new S-60 R.