What is it? Volvo was bought by Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. (Geely to its friends) five years ago. While the Geely/Volvo cooperative has produced several cars in China for other markets since then, the first Chinese-made, Volvo-branded car has now arrived in Volvo showrooms here, and the American market may never be the same.
Remember when Korean cars first came here? Japanese? European? Well, now it’s China’s turn, and after a good day behind the wheel of the stretch S60 Inscription from Chengdu we can say: it was just fine.
While there are a few trim and packaging differences, the Inscription is otherwise a well-equipped S60 with 3 inches more legroom in back. The Chinese market loves rear legroom in its sedans: the big boss likes to ride in back and the big boss wants to stretch out. The Chinese home market is packed with long-wheelbase E-classes, 5-series, even 3-series, A4s and A6s. And there is a Volvo S80L, too, which we haven’t seen in the U.S.
If you sit in the back of an Inscription, you might think that Volvo should just offer this version of the S60 in America, since the rear legroom in the regular model is a bit tight. There are also sunshades for the rear-seat occupants, as well as 19-inch “Portia Diamond Cut” wheels. It’s luxury all the way, baby, as Chairman Mao used to say.
The rest of the specs are straight from the S60 T5: The front wheel-drive Inscription is powered by a 2.0-liter direct-injected turbo four sending 240 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque through an eight-speed automatic. The all-wheel-drive model is powered by a 2.5-liter inline turbo five-cylinder sending 250 hp and 266 lb-ft to a six-speed automatic.
What’s it like to drive?
Our first stint behind the wheel came on a particularly twisty section of Highway 1 well north of San Francisco. Once the traffic cleared out and we could open it up a little, we found the S60 Inscription remains fun to drive, not unlike the regular S60. You really have to push hard to induce understeer, and up till that point, you have a well-controlled 3,433-pound luxury sedan at your fingertips. The standard Corner Traction Control -- Volvo’s name for torque vectoring -- helps you approach but not surpass the limits of adhesion. Body roll is minimal, and there’s even some side bolstering to keep your Chinese/American/Swedish torso upright and in place. The rest of the driving, on straightaway, flat Highway 101 for instance, was downright coddling. We liked the seats, in particular -- very comfy. And the S60's back seat is exactly 3 inches nicer than before.
Do I want it?
You really need to drive an S60 Inscription if you’re looking at sedans in this class. Volvo says the Audi A4 and Lexus IS are competitors, though we’d bet some shoppers a class up might also consider it. Pricing is downright reasonable for a luxury/performance entry, starting at $39,640. And the made-in-China roots of the car? That may not be as big a deal as we all thought. Granted, we were only in it for a day, but it felt just as solid as any Swedish-made Volvo we’ve been in.
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