It's been said that Swedes don't like to bet unless they're sure they're going to win.So when Volvo advertised an accidental loss of life insurance policy for all '96 models, you can bet the Scandinavian auto maker had some data to back up the offer.
While Volvos might not be the latest thing in the area of swoopy
styling, they're built by folks who have been perennial pioneers in automotive
safety. But there's more to Volvos than safety. To the people who know them, Volvo
also deliver exceptional comfort, quality, durability and value. So here is the
rear-drive 960 series, built on the same platform as the now-defunct 760 series.
Introduced as '95 models, they were significantly re-engineered; a makeover that included
a new body and suspension. For '96, the big news - and the only major change - is the
addition of side airbags for the front seats. Known as the Side-Impact Protection System
(SIPS), this award-winning safety innovation was first introduced on 850 Turbo models and
is now standard on every Volvo sold in this country. Although the 960 has a large number
of attractive luxury class competitors - the Saab 9000, Audi A6, and Mercedes E Class to
name just a few - the 960 stands almost alone in this price category. So this is one of
the reasons for its strong sales.
To find out more, we took a 960 on a test drive.
|The 960 retains its sober Scandinavian heritage and still looks
a bit boxy despite the more aerodynamic contours sculpted into the new sheet metal. It's a
very traditional design that's driven by passenger considerations like plentiful
Added were new front bumpers and bonnet as well as flush headlights and integrated fog lights.
Daytime running lights are standard equipment, as are front and rear fog lights along with a parcel of amenities including a washer/wiper for the headlamps, heated electric mirrors and a power glass sunroof with a sunshade and tilt/slide feature.
A remote entry system with alarm is standard and a 2-step power door lock system that opens the driver's door first, followed by the other doors, the tailgate and the fuel filler door.
The 960 is powered by a 2.9-litre dual overhead camshaft 24-valve inline
6-cylinder engine mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission, the only power
Last year, the engine was tweaked to produce more of its power lower in the rpm range, to
improve acceleration and passing performance.
The Inside Story
Inside, its tastefully familiar - and nicely finished - exterior, the 960 shelters an interior that's as warm, gracious and comfortable as an upscale Scandinavian home. It's truly easy to enter this luxury cabin, where you'd find a squarish dashboard inlaid with rich walnut panels, a thoughtful control layout and good visibility all round.
The nicely-contoured seats - always a strong point with Volvos - have tailored leather surfaces, and the steering wheel is also leather-wrapped. Other standard comfort/convenience features include automatic climate control, power everything, a premium AM/FM/CD/ cassette sound system, power front seats with 8-way adjustability and a memory feature, cruise control and - yes! - cup holders.
Safety features? Of course.
Although this is a thoroughly equipped vehicle in it's basic form, our test vehicle had everything you can add to a 960. We particularly appreciated the Cold Weather Package, which includes heated front seats and an outside temperature gauge.
Ride & Drive
We found our 960 to be a refined, well-mannered car with a strong body structure. (Even though it's a rear-drive layout, it was a real confidence-builder, dry roads or wet, city or motorway - an impression that was enhanced by the standard limited slip rear differential.) Its antilock brakes worked well, the power-rack and pinion steering system is precise - with good road feel - and the new rear suspension adds an element of handling precision that verges on sporty.
A favourite was the three driving modes programmed into the automatic transmission controls, selectable via a console-mounted switch. The Winter mode locks out first and second gear, to minimize wheel spin on slick stuff. Economy dictates earlier up shifts, to keep engine rpm down for better fuel economy. And the Sport mode holds up shift points longer, keeping the engine at higher rpm for better acceleration.
Ride quality is just this side of sumptuous, with the confidence-inspiring feel of European suspension tuning. Like other European manufacturers, Volvo builds to wide-open German autobahn standards, which places the highest possible premium on responsive handling and superior braking.
The 960 has both. Although we tend to think of Volvos in terms of their outstanding crashworthiness, they're also thoroughly competent in terms of these active safety features as well. The 960 may not have the inherent athleticism of, say, a BMW 5-Series, but there's agility to go with its comfortable ride nonetheless.
We were also impressed with how quietly the 960 goes about its business. The aerodynamic improvements entailed in the '95 redesign have quelled wind noise, and the smooth inline 6-cylinder engine is a model of civilized deportment. Its power isn't the kind that will pin you against the seatbacks, but there's enough to feel confident in all passing situations and it's utterly devoid of vibration.
The 960 is an elegantly furnished car that will wrap you in an advanced security blanket and take you for a thoroughly pleasant ride, regardless of how many miles that ride may be.
Volvo have long-set standards for their maximization of interior room - with the rear seats folded flat, the 960 can swallow almost as much cargo as some minivans - and their all-around comfort.
With an enviable record for quality, durability and safety, a Volvo is always an excellent investment.
And from the safety point of view, it's so good that the Swedes are doing something extraordinary. They're betting on it.
Please send your comments or any humorous remarks to Volvo.firstname.lastname@example.org
6 cyl DOHC
|Top speed||123 mph|
|Performance||0-60mph in 9.5 sec|
|For all Volvo cars specifications and data from:
www.ukcar.com click here.