Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Volvo XC70 Phasers, Photon Torpedos & Tractor Beam

Recently, DDF and I upgraded our 2007 Mazda 6 station wagon to a newer, more modern model.
There was nothing "wrong" with the Mazda 6.  I'd been running full synthetic Castrol oil in it since we bought it with just 50 miles on it.  Regular filter changes, routine inspections, 2 sets of rear brake pads and one set of front pads, and 4 Yokohama tires (the front 2 which wore out faster than the back two when I fell behind on rotations).  It made it to 81 thousand miles without any major (or minor) problems, driving around Arizona, and then to California, and back to Arizona again for a Mardi Gras trip 2 years ago.  It's been a good car, and I will be driving it to our son Nathan Jr's home later this year.

When we got the XC70 home, DDF asked me "what are those things on the windshield?" (pictured above, onto which the rear view mirror was mounted).  I looked at them, and replied "Oh, those are the photo torpedoes, the phasers, and the tractor beam."

Pedestrian Sensor Array, blocking engine cooling air-flow
You see, this Volvo is covered in sensors.  Blind spot sensors, pedestrian sensors, back-up sensors, collision avoidance sensors, a 10,000 image library of "similar images" that the on-board computer tries to compare on-coming obstacles to and determine if it is a threat (person, raccoon, bike, bridge abutment...) or if it is benign (sign post not on a collision course, rock on the side of the road, turtle that has crossed the street, etc...).

This vehicle has more I/O than the first two projects that I ever designed and built back at Michelin Tire in the 80s, combined.  It is a technologically advanced machine, modern, and very impressive to the engineer within me.  And it cost substantially less than Mercedes, Audi, Cadillac, Porche, Land Rover, or BMW.  There's ultrasonic sensors for the curb sensors, digital imaging cameras and range finders for the collision avoidance and image libraries, and at highway speeds, the ultrasonics kick up their range to double as blind-spot vehicle detectors All Around the vehicle.

There's front bumper, rear bumper, left and right front quarter panel near the fog lights, left and right rear quarter panel near the tail pipes, rear camera, front camera, rain sensors for automatic wipers, And all the collision avoidance.  THere's almost so much technology that is Could lull the driver asleep or enable distracted driving, but so far I am enjoying the sensor feedback and driver-interaction.  There are options to turn off the sensor arrays while driving, but I've not found them overly intrusive or annoying yet, so I keep them on.

The XC70 has the same engine as DDF's C70, turbo-charged inline 5 cylinder, 2.5 liter, 250 HP, 266 ft-lbs, dipsticks included. Volvo (along with Audi & BMW) is moving away from dipsticks to this ridiculous "computer controlled maintenance schedule" that is supposed to tell the driver when to add & change oil.  No thanks, I'd Much Rather do it the old-fashioned, more accurate, and less-dealer-interactive way that has worked for over 100 years, with a dipstick and rag.  The 4 cylinder 2 liter engine was fancier, had no dipstick, but was not available on the AWD model, so that's not what we bought.

And, since it's a Station Wagon, and not a SUV [superfluous un-useful vehicle] it fits in my cramped, Tetris-like, barely a 2-car garage.

Sadly, it has Pirellis...  but those will get replaced with Michelins once they quickly wear out. At 235/50 R18s they are the LARGEST tires I've ever had on any vehicle I've owned in my life... but I am secure in my masculinity and have no need to put on Huge, over-sized tires or desire to "sit up higher than everyone else" on the road as apparently so many Umerikuns are afflicted with such a height
jealousy disorder.

I would have been happy buying another Mazda, had they not stopped making station wagons in 2007 for the American market.  I test drove a Toyota Venza, but it was huge, bulky, low tech, unimpressive.  I was interested in an Acura Station Wagon, but Honda decided in 2012 to stop making Acura wagons... and all the used ones I saw were unusually high mileage vehicles, so I passed.

I could not buy an Audi or VW since they falsified their emissions and have a corporate culture of dishonesty.  Looked at the Porche SUVs and laughed at the +$60K price tags. No thanks. (and they're part of the VW corporate culture).  Buick makes no station wagons, just SUVs.  Cadillac stopped making wagons in 2014.  Mercedes wagons are famously prone to chronic mechanical and electronic defects & operability issues.  BMW stopped making a 5 series more than 5 years ago in a wagon, and the 3 series was just too small.  Ford's Flex was far too boxy and far too expensive for what was included when compared to the Volvo.  Mazda's CX-5 sat up too high, never would have fit in my garage, and was too small for what we needed it to do.  I Really Wanted a V70 (we had one back in 2000, and it was a very good car), but Volvo only sells them in Europe, and I was not going to wait 10 to 14 months to have one shipped over, modified to meet California emissions, and then have the Only 2017 V70 in California where I could never find a part for it.   Europe and Australia get all the good wagons.

So with El Niño upon us, combined with the fact that Northern San Diego County is remarkably hilly, an AWD vehicle was not a hard choice to make.  And if we ever drive it to the mountains or off-road, the AWD and 18 inch wheels will give us clearance and traction advantages as well.

The mirrors turn in when I lock it, which is one of the coolest features... no more wondering "did I lock it, or did I forget?".  All 4 windows roll down, and go back up, All The Way, with a single touch - as every car should but most American cars don't.  There's handy grocery bag pop-up holder walls and straps in the cargo area, seat position and mirror position memory tied to his & her keys, blue tooth, USB ports, 12V charging, a large center counsel digital display... it is the fanciest & most advanced vehicle I've ever owned.  And it will likely be the last internal combustion engine car I ever own as well, as a Tesla or other electric vehicle will probably be the next car we get in 2 or 3 presidential election cycles from now.  
This was the sunset that I witnessed the first time I made a blue-tooth call from my phone, through the car, to my parents, while parked next to the PCH, US Route 101, watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.  The call came right after I enabled the Sirius Radio, and personalized the dash board display.  

It was almost 80F here today, with a gentle breeze.   Yeah... life doesn't suck here in Southern California.  You should come visit.


  1. Nice! Funny about the BMW 3-Series. We are thinking about our next car, and decided the 3-series is too big. :-).

    Oh, and BMW still makes a 5-series wagon, just not for sale in the states.

  2. I don't understand why European manufacturers have stopped offering station wagons for the US market, and have nearly entirely shifted to SUVs. 5 series BMWs, V70 Volvos, both are available in Europe and Australia, but not the US. Stupid marketing move. "Americans want..." - No, I'm an American and I don't want that. But that's ok.. the XC70 will haul whatever I need it to haul, and get me there and back Very safely.

  3. The BMW 1 Series is also not for sale in the US! That's possibly our next car. The Audi A2, our current car, was never sold in the US. I guess it comes down to brand image (per country) and marketing.

  4. We just put a downpayment on a BMW 1-series 4dr hatchback (aka "5dr", but I don't think the hatch should count as a door). Anyway, woo! It's virtually new. Do they do "pre-reg" in the states? Here it's a thing: dealers get end of year bonuses from the manufacturers for hitting certain targets so if they are close to target in some cases they can make way more money by just buying their own inventory, getting the mfr bonuses, and then selling them as used cars at a discount -- "pre-reg" meaning pre-registered, since the dealer is the first registered owner rather than you.

    Then they want to get these off the books so they get more heavily discounted if they are still sitting around this time of year. So ours is a 2015 BMW 120i, marked down over 22% (!) from list.

    Once again we're buying a car that's too small for the US market :-)

  5. I've seen some 1 series here in SD County... not many though. The pre-reg thing doesn't exist here, I don't think... but I am glad you got a bargain. The XC70 is kind of a behemoth, but it is not as HUGE as a XC90 or any of the larger, taller vehicles I drive around... and I could fit a washer or dryer or wine fridge in it if I had to... we'll be putting lots of plants in it next weekend as we get ready for spring planting.

  6. Ah, I should have noted the X1 is available in the US. This is the puffed-up SUV-ish version of the 1 series. It's bigger than the regular 1 series. Regular 1-series is actually rear-wheel drive. Haven't had one of those in *quite* a while. Should be fun!

  7. I've seen both the 5 door lower profile 1 series, and the taller-smart-car-on-steroids SUV version 1 series here. Often, the SUV version has garish color schemes for the wheels and trim, while the smaller stream-lined 1 series 5 door looks like a well made early 1990s Honda Civic wagon, if Honda had contracted BMW to make small wagons for them, before Honda quality standards went down hill and their car sizes bulked up like MLB players on steroids.

  8. Looks like the 1-series coupe and convertible were sold in the US from about 2008-2013. I couldn't find mention of the hatchback but since 2014 looks like they cut out the US market, and Canada, except for the X1. I don't think I've ever seen a coupe or convertible here. The hatchback's pretty popular here.

    My 85 Honda Accord was likely the most reliable car I will ever own. It was still running *perfectly* after 121,500 miles when it was prematurely killed by a drunk driver early one morning. Even after that and sitting on the tow lot for a couple weeks, when I went to collect my things from it I gave the ignition and try and it started immediately. Still wanted to keep going. Would have lasted over 200k I'm sure of it. Honda doesn't make 'em like they used to.

  9. my '88 Honda Civic, the same way.. taken out by a drunk driver who T-boned me, while he sped backwards, out of the Monroe County fair grounds. That was the best Honda I ever owned... far better than the 91 Accord, or the 95 Civic coupe after that. Sad.


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