UK CAR Reviews: Volvo 960 CD Estate 1996

 

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 maVolvo 960 CD Estate.ker had some data to back up the offer.
For example, Volvo will tell you that no driver deaths occurred in single-vehicle crashes or rollovers of the Volvo 240 during 1990-94. Not one. The insurance policy, by the way, pays 250,000 to the estate of any occupant of any '96 Volvo who loses his or her life in an accident, up to a total of 1 million. It remains in effect for 48 months. 
It's a unique and phenomenal offer in a climate where safety features receive high marks with car buyers. And it's clearly geared to drive home Volvo's tradition of building cars designed to maximize your chances of walking away from an accident.

 

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.

Walk around

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 headroom. 
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 train offered. Last year, the engine was tweaked to produce more of its power lower in the rpm range, to improve acceleration and passing performance.
The 960 has an estimated fuel economy of 17 mpg city/25 mpg motorway. That's not bad, but we also found that our test car was able to improve a bit on both numbers.

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 volvo 960 interiorthoughtful 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. 
This is a Volvo. In addition to the front and side airbags, the 960's seatbelts feature adjustable upper anchors with lockable inertia reels, an integrated child safety seat - standard on the wagon, and child safety rear door locks.

volvo 960 boot

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. volvo 960 rear

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.

Final Word

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.960cd@ukcar.com

 

Specifications
Price 26,825
 
Engine 2922 cc
6 cyl DOHC
Top speed 123 mph
Max Power 204bhp
Performance 0-60mph in 9.5 sec
Insurance Group 16
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