Avid listeners already know that in addition to being car-crazy, I’m also really into motorcycles. I’ve ridden them for nearly twenty years, and my brand of choice since the beginning has been BMW. I’ve ridden them for somewhere around a hundred thousand miles, everywhere from Cape Canaveral to Big Bend to Devil’s Tower to southern Ontario, and I’ve served in various volunteer roles with the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, including a term on the Board of Directors. You could say that I’m into BMW motorcycles. So when I received a copy of The Complete Book Of BMW Motorcycles, I dug into it with true gusto.
Author Ian Falloon is a well-known authority on many marques of motorcycle including BMW and has written many books on the subject, so this book comes with a great deal of confidence in its content. The book is less a narrative history -although there is some of that- than it is an encyclpaedic guide to almost every motorcycle ever produced by BMW. The C-series scooters have been omitted, but this will hardly be noticed by most BMW enthusiasts and only a die-hard C-fan will truly object. The rest of BMW’s two-wheeled products are detailed, from the R32 of 1923 through the many models of 2020.
The introduction tells the story of the origins of BMW as a producer of aircraft engines and how the young company transitioned to manufacturing motorcycles. Subsequent chapters generally follow the different design-generations in chronological order. Each chapter contains a few paragraphs about what new models or changes happened in each generation, followed by simple technical data for each model. If that sounds like a description of a fairly dull reference-work, it would be if not for how much more this book contains then mere technical details. This would be a much smaller book if it merely contained descriptions and data. What makes it shine far beyond that is how richly illustrated it is with a great multitude of excellent photographs, many previously unpublished, and a small number of technical drawings including some cutaways- I wish there were more of the drawings to illustrate how BMW’s many innovations worked, but that’s my own technical bent and not all readers may desire this. Also included are several sidebar articles about BMW’s many forays into racing- from the early regional events of Germany all the way through World Superbike, and of course the Paris-Dakar Rally, which BMW dominated several times, doing so at just the right time to bring attention to the then-fairly new line of G/S models which were the beginning of a line that would go on to become BMW’s best-selling bikes of all time.
If this book has any weaknesses, there are a small few factual gaffes but they are very minor things that only the most knowledgeable enthusiasts will notice. The fact that only three pages are devoted to the wartime-production of the R75 of 1941-44 appears at first to be another weakness, but those three pages contain a wealth of information about this dark period of BMW’s history, even if it comes across as a bit ‘sanitised.’
If you’re interested in BMW motorcycles, this book is an excellent resource and should be included in your library. Its 312 pages are full of useful and interesting information that any BMW-enthusiast will appreciate. It is also a large and handsome volume, stylishly designed and easy to read. You can order your copy from quartoknows.com, and you’ll be glad that you did.
It was another one of
those hectic travel days. As I lay there trying to fall back asleep,
my wife Jennifer nudged me and asked me what time I was supposed to
get up. Then she told me that it was almost 45 minutes past that
time. Panic, expletives, the most impressively-efficient shower I’ve
ever taken, dress, grab my bag, hit the road for the train station.
Made my usual train instead of an earlier one I’d intended. The
reason for all this is that it was the Monday after Thanksgiving and
I knew that the airport would be busier than usual. Unfortunately I
wasn’t able to avoid having to fly that day to see a customer in
northern New Jersey, via Philadelphia’s airport because flight
choices at Newark weren’t very good. On top of that, bad winter
weather was in the forecast for the northeast. I managed to get to
the gate on time since the crowds were not as bad as I expected, and
in a bit of luck, there was a short flight delay so I even got a bite
of breakfast. The snow-dump that Philadelphia was expecting didn’t
show up, so it all went smoothly. And as I stepped off the rental
car shuttle, I wondered as usual if there was anything interesting
did briefly spot this one car that I had written most of a review for
and was waiting to rent one again so I could complete that review,
but quickly forgot about it when I saw a shiny little black
Mercedes-Benz crossover. Could a Mercedes really be available in the
non-upgrade section? Yes, and I focused on it so quickly that I
didn’t see the bigger black Mercedes SUV a few spaces down, which,
as I was exiting later, pulled out in front of me suddenly-enough to
find out that the brakes in the car I got were A-OK. That bigger
model looked nice, but what I got was a GLA 250 4Matic, which was
just fine for me and my gear. Small and nimble is usually better in
my book. But I’m getting ahead of the story here. Once I decided
to go for the cute little GLA, I noticed that whoever backed it into
the parking space had backed it within inches of the guard-rail which
meant that I would have to move it forward to load my gear.
Before climbing in, I did
notice that the interiour looked very comfy and inviting and
tastefully appointed. One visual thing that made an impression was
that the floor mats were edged in the same colour as the seats. It’s
a little thing for sure, but it screams NICE.
The seats looked really comfy too, but I have yet to get into a
rental car that didn’t need its seats adjusted to fit my tall
frame, so I took note of the adjustment multi-button on the side of
the seat and gave it good long pushes in both back and down. Then I
sat down and found my head touching the ceiling! This didn’t seem
right. Push the button in the downward direction again, and hold it
for a good few seconds. Nothing. Hmmmmmmmm. I wondered if there
was some seat-memory issue that was keeping me from adjusting the
position, so I looked over to the door where most manufacturers put
the memory buttons…and right there next to the memory buttons, was
a set of buttons shaped like a side-view of a car seat. It makes
sense on one level, but not on the obvious level since most
manufacturers put those buttons on the side of the seat. I adjusted
the seat for comfort and noted that it could go back REALLY far, much
farther than even I need. Remember the 1970s TV-ad in which Wilt
Chamberlain drove a Volkswagen Rabbit? He would have done even
better in this car. What, then, did the button on the side of the
seat do? Turns out that it controls the lumbar-support, which has no
fewer than THREE different adjustable segments. If you’re a
control-freak with a sensitive back, YOU NEED THIS CAR.
Not to be out-done by the
seat, the transmission then gave me its own challenge. No shift
lever in the center console, no knob to select a gear, nothing
obvious. Another Hmmmmmmmmm, then after a moment I spotted it. The
stalk on the right side of the column, not very big or obtrusive, had
some letters and arrows on it that suggested that it might be what I
needed. Sure enough, move it up or down to get into reverse or drive
respectively, and a little button on the end puts it in park.
Finally, I was able to pull the car forward to load my gear.
Remember the gear? With that and everything else done that needs
doing when I get into a rental car, I was under way, but noticed
before leaving the lot that I wasn’t done with confusing controls.
The headlight switch isn’t visible from where my eyes are in this
car, obscured by the steering wheel. It’s in the position on the
left end of the dashboard that is familiar to other cars, but I still
had to look around the wheel to see what the positions of the switch
were. And as I got into the line for the check-out, it hit me that I
didn’t see cruise control-controls anywhere. Really? I know that
this isn’t an inexpensive car. How on earth can you sell a luxury
car without cruise control? I did remember that a BMW X3 I’d had
on a trip a while back was surprisingly spartan in its features, so
maybe this was more of the same. But just by chance when I turned
the steering wheel at one point, I saw a second stalk on the left
side of the column, smaller than the one for the turn signals, and
farther down…right where the wheel completely obscures it most of
the time! And to add to the frustration, you have to give the wheel
a good turn to see the markings that indicate which way to move the
stalk to make the cruise control do which function. If I owned this
car and drove it on the highway a lot, I’m sure that I would
eventually remember which direction to push the stalk to do what, but
during my time with it I did require some trial-and-error to get it
So, finally out on the road, my first impression was that this car felt like pretty much every car these days. Yes, we have reached the point where, the carmakers scared by the economies of scale in today’s gigantic market that give so little room for error, every car drives about the same. With more time behind the wheel, I formed the impression that the steering was light but precise. This combination can be good if you’re paying attention or bad if you’re not. Power from the turbocharged 2-litre 4-cyliner engine is okay but not spectacular, at a claimed 208 hp moving a 3340-lb curb weight via a 7-speed Dual-clutch automatic transmission and an automatic all-wheel-drive system. It’ll move when it needs to, but won’t leave you breathless. But This is a luxury car, not a sports car. The GLA 250 handled well on the wet pavement, and after about 45 minutes it began to snow- but at no point did the car show any sign that I should lose confidence, at least until once near my destination, I pulled into a parking lot and gave it a sharp turn to see how it did in the fluffier fresh snow…and it did very poorly, taking the steering input as a mere suggestion. I daresay that my six-year-old FWD Mazda 3 would have handled that moment better.
Shortly after that snowy
skid I parked the car for the night, and the next morning it was
covered with a 4-inch layer of snow with an icy base. I was pleased
with how quickly the front and rear defrosters did their job, but
this does bring me to the temperature controls. Thankfully they’re
not as difficult to initially figure-out as the systems mentioned
above, although I did notice one odd quirk. With many cars, instead
of having a button for every possible way to aim the air, there is
one or two buttons that allow you to toggle through the
possibilities. In the case of my Mazda, it’s a button with a left
and right arrow that you press either end of to scroll through the
choices. This Merc has a pair of MODE buttons, one above the display
and bearing an up-arrow, and one below the display and bearing a
down-arrow. Not having the buttons immediately adjacent to each
other is a little awkward, and that awkwardness is driven home by the
fact that unlike cars such as my Mazda, you cannot use one button to
scroll through a loop of the choices- press one MODE button enough
times and you’ll reach the end, and must use the other button to go
back through the choices.
The location of the
climate controls down low near the console made them seem a bit far
away, especially since the dashboard as a whole feels very tall and
wall-like. Even as tall as I am, I did feel much of the time like I
was down in a hole whenever I looked at the dashboard. The tallish
band of textured silver plastic (poplar-wood can be had for $325,
which I’d gladly pay to save me from staring at that too-coldly
teutonic silver plastic all the time) that contains nothing except
the upper vents only encourages this effect, as does the ledge of
black that slightly protrudes above it, as does putting the audio and
climate controls fairly low, and as does putting the tablet-like
display screen way up high. And if that wasn’t enough, the lower
edge of the windscreen is higher still. Forward visibility still
isn’t bad though, but it does seem to clash with all that
verticality inside the car.
Over the next few days I
did note that once you get used to everything enough to relax, the
GLA is very comfortable. The seats have plenty of support and
adjustability, including the length of the thigh-support. The
steering wheel feels good in hand, the climate control kept me cozy.
The driving itself pleasant, the ride being smooth without feeling
disconnected, and it was easy to put the car where I wanted to put it
without thinking about it too much. I did find a twisty two-lane
through the forest nearby, and gave the GLA a good thrashing there.
I was impressed by the car’s abilities in that regard, especially
since because the road was unfamiliar to me, I changed speeds a lot.
The handling somewhat reminded me of a VW Mk IV GTI I once had, with
its combination of sure grip, rubbery smoothness, and just enough
sensory feedback. Ergonomics were good for my tallness, and I had no
problems with ingress or egress. Cargo space is quite decent too,
and will certainly meet the needs of anybody buying a compact SUV.
The GLA 250 4Matic has a
starting MSRP of $36,250, which is $2000 more than the FWD version,
and whether that difference is worth it to you is quite subjective-
some people think that AWD is a MUST in a family-car these days, and
I think that that is by far more true in marketing than it is in the
real world. Mercedes-Benz’s website didn’t make it clear whether
some features were package-only or could be had as standalone
options, but I was really surprised that keyless entry is not a
standard feature. There are plenty of features though, too many to
go into much detail about, and there are several connected technology
features that are free to use at first, for example one called
‘Mercedes me connect’ for which three years of use are included
at no charge. There are of course many option-packages for
everything from maintenance-plans to AMG exteriours. Smartphone
integration requires a package rather than being a standard feature,
but at least you get the option of the $350 Smartphone Integration
Package (Android Auto, Apple Car Play) rather than being forced to
swallow the $2300 Multimedia Package, which includes the same
integrations plus several other features. If you check all the most
expensive boxes in the options and packages on the website, you’ll
arrive at a maximum price of $56,745. I seriously doubt that very
many GLA 250s get sold at that level, and when I ran the version that
I would prefer -moderate equipment, tasteful aesthetics, not fully
tech-loaded and no AMG- it came to a much more sensible $41,600, not
a bad stretch from the base MSRP when you consider how extremely you
can raise the price of cars in the luxury market-segment by adding
options. If I run my version again in the FWD version, I can get it
Overall, I liked the GLA
250 4Matic. It did take a little getting used to, and regular
readers may recall that I mentioned quirky controls in a review of a
Volvo XC60 too- but the Volvo’s quirky controls were much easier to
get the hang of in a short time. But if everything else about the
GLA appeals to you, don’t let the quirks hold you back. Compact
luxury cars are a good thing, and this one definitely felt good. I
can see living easily with this car. The luxury wasn’t so far over
the top that it constantly reminded me that I was driving an
up-market vehicle, and for that I give it much credit. If a compact
luxury SUV sounds like your kind of easy living, check out the GLA
The company sent me to
Colorado for a few days. That was already a nice break from the
usual, as Colorado is one of my favourite places to visit. It has
great scenery, lots of great twisty roads, and I have dear friends
there who I don’t get to see near often enough. Would my rental
car be on par with the other things in Colorado to which I was
looking forward? Or would the question of the day be, which Dodge
Caravan would you like? Don’t laugh, that’s pretty close to the
situation the last time I visited Chicago.
There were only three of
us on the rental car shuttle. One disappeared to another row, the
other zeroed-in quickly on a red Camaro. I was in last place due to
the amount of stuff I had to carry, and I strode the row with some
trepidation, noting all the chunky SUVs and vans and dull sedans.
Then, miracle of miracles, I spotted a Mustang! It was a beautiful
dark metallic grey convertible and I knew that it needed me. After
loading my gear I started the engine to get the aircon going and tune
the radio and adjust everything, and a moment after starting I
noticed that something didn’t sound quite right, a bit noisier than
it should be. Was the exhaust system broken? I tickled the pedal to
check- was that a rumbly burble? Oh my. Look on the side in front
of the door, and sure enough, it says 5.0! And a GT badge on the
back end! A Five-O Ford right here in the regular section, not over
there in the special upgrade section. How could it be? I decided to
take my chances and drove away with it. The gate attendant assured
me that all was well, that the car was where it was due to some
administrata that I won’t bore you with except to say that the
upshot was that I got this V-8 Mustang for the price of the
turbo-four Mustangs I’ve driven in the past. So there I was, in
Colorado with a Mustang GT convertible, and nowhere to be until the
next morning. What would you do? Naturally, I took it to Pike’s
Pike’s Peak is famous for having an annual hill-climb racing event that lasts a week and features every class from Lightweight Motorcycle to Unlimited Car. The road up the mountain is a 28-mile, two-lane ribbon of asphalt that starts out pretty tame but once above a certain altitude it has a lot of steep grades and tight turns, as in chasing-your-own-tail-light-tight hairpins.
There are also very few guardrails and only limited shoulders, and many places where going off the pavement will result in a long and steep tumble, which is of course combined with scenery that will make you want to watch anything BUT the road. The summit is at 14115 feet above sea level, one of only three places in the United States where you can drive your car to above 14000 feet. Speed limits are low, and higher up in the thin air neither your engine nor your brakes will be able to cool themselves as effectively as at lower altitude. Add in the usual tourist traffic, and the reality is that most of the time you can’t go very fast- but it doesn’t take much speed to screw up on this kind of mountain road. Unless you go to some really unusual places, this is probably the most dangerous road you’ll ever drive.
The cruise down the
interstate to Colorado Springs was effortless. Colorado has some 75
MPH speed limits on I-25 and the Mustang’s cruise control handled
them easily. The forecast for the day predicted a high of 100F, so I
left the top up and kept the aircon working hard. The vented seat
kept cool air at my back, and that’s a very nice thing. Once off
the Interstate it’s a few more miles to the Pike’s Peak Highway
toll-gate, and the road curves through some canyons and passes
interesting places like Garden of the Gods and Manitou Cliff
Dwelling. A few miles shy of the toll-gate I pulled over and dropped
the top. I figured the adventure ahead was worth some sweat,
although it really wasn’t bad since the Mustang’s vents allow the
air to be directed almost anywhere you want it, better than in most
cars, and keeping the side windows raised helps create a ‘bubble’
of more comfortable air. But it didn’t take long for things to get
more comfortable anyway, since the temperature falls as you climb,
and I would later observe about 30 degrees difference at the summit.
So how did the Mustang do
on Pike’s Peak? It did just fine, and it didn’t miss a beat at
all. The miracle of modern electronic engine management kept it
accelerating eagerly at every altitude, and I had no issues with
brake fade. In fact, there’s a mandatory brake temperature
checkpoint on the way down, where a park ranger takes a second to aim
an infrared thermometer at your left front brake. “You’re good,
you’re doing it right,” the ranger said with a smile as he waved
me away. That brings up technique. One thing I did do during both
the climb and the descent was use the manual-shift capability of the
Mustang’s automatic transmission. I’m not generally a fan of
so-called ‘flappy paddle’ shifting, but combine it with the sort
of throttle-technique that you’d use shifting a real manual
transmission and I was able to get very precise shift-responses in
either direction. I mostly used second and third gears on the way
up, with first now and then in the tighter turns. The descent was
mostly just second and first, since gravity’s pull is strong on the
But if you get away from
the numbers and the details, how was the experience? The best
single-word answer is FUN! I’ve been up Pike’s Peak a couple of
times in the past, once on a motorcycle and once in a VW Mk IV GTI
1.8T, and this time was as fun as those. A powerful convertible is a
really great way to experience high-mountain driving, probably
beating the motorcycle by a narrow margin since I didn’t have to
wear a helmet and therefore had the wind in my hair at all times.
Whatever conveyance you use on the Peak, horsepower is your friend
because in most places you don’t have much distance to change
speeds, so whenever you can steal a little speed it’s good to be
able to take it. Of course you want great handling too, so if your
car is optimized for drag-racing, it’s probably not the ideal
choice. But get yourself in that curve-handling state of mind, start
twisting the wheel, and you’ll have a great time. It may be a
dangerous road, but don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be just
fine. I find that there’s a certain rhythm to the hairpins, not in
how one comes after another, but in the very similar way that each
hairpin is constructed. They have a similar radius and a similar
grade, so the right timing of throttle and steering will work over
and over again.
Relax at the summit. Find
a place to park up there and take the time to walk around, enjoy the
views, and by all means, go into the gift-shop and get yourself some
liquid refreshment and definitely get some of the donuts they make
there. They can’t be replicated at low altitude and they’re
delicious, so enjoy this special treat. The calories plus some
hydration will recharge you for the drive down, which can be every
bit as enjoyable as the drive up. On the way down it can be tempting
to put the car or bike into neutral and let it coast, but this is
probably not the best idea due to how fast brakes can get hot in the
thin air. Use low gears to keep your vehicle from runaway speeds and
still allow you to use some throttle on the less-steep parts between
turns. At some point you’ll pass the tree-line, and I find that I
notice the trees coming back on the way down more than I notice them
going away on the way up. Stop where it’s safe and take plenty of
pictures- the views are spectacular!
course I had other fun too with the Mustang while I was in Colorado,
like picking up my friend Craig from his office to go have a bite and
a beer before returning him to finish the evening part of his shift.
We made sure to leave some tire-marks in a distant parking lot before
we parted. I was also able to visit my fried Ross and go for a spin
in a couple of Lotus Elans he owns, and the contrast between their
light, zippy quickness and the Mustang’s heavy powerfulness was
really something to behold: great fun at two very different extremes.
But eventually all things must come to an end, and so it was with a
bit of sadness that I bid the Mustang farewell at the airport. I
couldn’t have had a better rental-car for driving a fun,
challenging, performance-intensive road. I really, truly enjoyed my
high-altitude adventures with this ponycar and if you get the chance,
you will too!
Lately I’ve been shifting much of my rental-car use to a different company because they have locations nearer me, which is a lot more convenient for getting myself on and off the road. The variety of cars usually isn’t as nice or as interesting, and they don’t have a full aisle from which to take my pick (three Impalas in a row…wake me up when it’s over!), so this plus being crazy-busy on the job has made for fewer opportunities for Rental Car Reviews. But this week I got a little bit lucky. It’s a short week due to a holiday on Monday, and in the remaining four days I’ve got one of those trips where I fly out and drive back, seeing customers along the way. The far point was Columbus Ohio, an airport where I’m usually disappointed by what they’ll let one-way customers take from them, but this time was an exception- especially nice since my flight had been delayed.
The rental car agent asked me if a Volvo XC60 would be OK, and having almost nothing to inform the choice but knowing it was a rare opportunity, I said yes without hesitation. I knew that the XC designation made it one of the chunkier models, but I couldn’t picture exactly which one. I knew that there were XC models and Cross Country models, but XC seems like an abbreviation for Cross Country so that muddies things a bit. Just to clarify the models up-front, I’ll mention that the next day I checked Volvo’s website and the Cross Country models are wagons and the XC models are SUVs. The XC60 is the middle of three models in the XC range. The XC60 has a starting MSRP of $38900 and can go up above an eye-watering $75000 if you tick enough boxes on the trim levels and packages and options. Staggering on one hand, but on the other, it’s kind of cool to have such huge flexibility in one model. I had the low-end Momentum trim and the T5 Engine, a 250 hp 5-cylinder. That’s right, FIVE. Not completely unheard of, but rare for sure and at least in the US market, only something you see from a few European brands.
The XC60 doesn’t look that distinctive on first impression. Cover the front and rear faces -which are somewhat understated themselves- and at a quick glance you could easily mistake it for a similarly-sized Jeep Cherokee. But the Swedes have always been known for an aesthetic that is simple and clean while still being stylish and even beautiful when they really get it right. In my opinion they did get it right with the XC60. They styling is clean and balanced without being boring, has just enough accents, and looks like it belongs in Volvo’s current lineup.
Inside, there’s more understated Swedish goodness, with simple styling that’s pleasant to the eye. The downside of this is that so many features and functions -too many in my opinion- are completely dependent on touchscreen control, and some of them aren’t very intuitive, and by the end of the second day I still hadn’t figured out how to manipulate some of them. To Volvo’s credit, if all else fails the owner’s manual is viewable on the touchscreen when the vehicle is not in motion. The Swedes are also known for a little bit of quirkiness, and one quirk became apparent as soon as I tried to start the engine. Like most modern cars, the XC60 uses a proximity-type key, which usually means pressing a button located either on the dashboard and almost always to the right side of the steering column, or in a few cases on the center console near the dashboard. No button in these locations. I soon found an oddly-shaped and interestingly-textured knob that was labeled as START located a bit farther back on the console, reminiscent of where Saab usually located their ignition locks. Instinct made me push down on it, which did nothing. Then I gave it a twist, and the engine started. The knob is spring-loaded and only turns a few degrees. Another quirk of this knob is that you turn it the same direction to shut off the engine.
Another quirky control is the drive-mode selector, a cylindrical roller in the center console. It has its own interesting texture and you press down on it to bring up the mode menu, then roll it to scroll through the choices, then press down on it again to select the mode…then wait…an interminably long time…for the screen to revert back to whatever was on it before. The drive-modes are Eco, Comfort, Dynamic (high performance), and Off Road. Comfort is the default mode and sadly, it reverts back to Comfort when the car is shut off. I say sadly because I found that Dynamic mode had two advantages over Comfort: quicker passing on the highway, and much less lateral wiggle when going over less-than-smooth defects in the pavement such as patches and shallow potholes. In fact the amount of lateral wiggle caused by such defects was a bit shocking. Not dangerous, but quite noticeable, much more than should be expected from any modern vehicle. Other than that, the two modes felt the same going down the road. The handling is easy and responsive, and I had no problem carving some tight and twisty roads in the hills of West Virginia, although a more progressive steering rate would have been welcome in some sections.
While we’re on the driving experience, I’ll say that overall it’s pleasant. The ride is smooth, maneuvering is easy, the controls give acceptable feedback, the turn-radius is good, and the brakes are quite competent. The various safety-systems all do their thing, and one in particular impressed me. There was a moment when everybody in front of me on the highway went into a panic-stop for reasons that were never apparent. As you may know from experience, due to accumulating human reaction times, the farther back you are in the line of vehicles, the more quickly you must react and brake to prevent hitting the car in front of you, sometimes faster that what a two-second-plus following distance will allow (read Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt for some insights into this and other human factors in driving). I was on the brakes, smoothly but very firmly, and the XC60 responded in kind with all the stopping I needed, and no collision occurred- but the front collision warning sensors weren’t happy and I got audible warnings, and the really impressive part was that the seat belt began to tighten and hold me firmly into the seat. This was no mere inertia-reel action; this was a motor retracting the belt gradually as dictated by the increasing forces of deceleration, and then gradually releasing it once I was off the brakes. I like that feature, and I hope to see it in more vehicles.
Another thing that worked really well was the air conditioning. It did a great job of cooling the car quickly on hot days, but I wish the fan was quieter. Being the warm part of the year, I didn’t test the heated seats or steering wheel, but I did note that all four seats have heat, and the rear seat heat is controlled by buttons where the rear passengers can reach them. The front seats are really comfortable, enough to earn a spot on my comfiest car seat list, and are electrically adjustable in multiple directions. In addition to the usual fore-aft and seatback angle, the height and tilt of the base is adjustable, the lumbar is adjustable for both the amount of support and the height of the support, and the thigh-rest at the front edge of the seat is adjustable fore-aft. The lumbar and thigh support adjustments are a bit clever, using a circular button that can be pressed in any of four directions, surrounded by a ring with a tab on it. Push the tab down to select thigh support; pull it up to select lumber support. Luckily the screen goes to a pictorial guide on how to make these adjustments work whenever the tab is moved.
I have to give some credit for the design of the key. Its shape is kind of big and square, but it’s thinner than just about every modern electronic key I’ve seen, which means that it’s not a chunky bulky thing when it’s in your pocket. The buttons are along the edges, and up next to the hole on top where a key-ring can be attached is a small slide-button that allows the release of the plastic cover on the side with the Volvo logo. Once this cover is removed, the physical backup-key is revealed, as are tiny words next to each button that explain what they do when given short or long pushes. Unfortunately, those words are not only tiny but also are merely molded into the plastic with no contrasting colour added, so you’ll need both good eyesight and plenty of light to read them. There is also another slide that is revealed when the cover is removed, and this one releases the cover for the other side, allowing access to the battery, the size of which is indicated on the plastic so you don’t have to look it up in the manual when it comes time to change the battery.
Cargo space is ample in back, and for this trip I had TWO Pelican 1610 cases to carry, plus my tool-backpack and personal bag. I managed to fit everything in back without going vertical into the cargo-cover’s plane of existence. This cover is the retractable type, and a nice touch is the raised position you can click it into for easier access without having to fully retract the cover. The hatch is electrically operated, no surprise in this class of vehicle.
Volvo has been owned for the last few years by the Chinese automotive conglomerate Geely, whose holdings include Lotus and… Thankfully, Geely has taken a very hands-off approach with its holdings and allowed them to make cars their own way, building success the way they know how to do so. Like Volvos of the past, this one can be summed up as quirky comfort and after four days in the XC60 I almost didn’t want to give it up. It was comfortable it and did everything well and with mostly minimal fuss. If I had to drive it long-term I would go through the manual and learn more about how to work some of those cryptic controls, so as a rental car that’s a weakness- and possibly as a bought car too, since so much modern tech is so easy to use that some potential owners may find this discouraging. But if those few quirks don’t bother you, give the Volvo a try. I enjoyed it and would not hesitate drive an XC60 again.
Have you ever wandered around a car
show, looking at all the cool cars, wishing that you could be one of
the judges? That you could help determine who gets to take home
those shiny trophies? I recently had that honour, and I’m here to
tell you- it’s not as easy as it looks.
Recently, The Thing About Cars was
contacted by the organisers of the Mountain City Mayhem Festival, who
invited us to provide a judge for the festival’s car show. After
some discussion among the TTAC team, it became apparent that I was
the only one who was available that day. So I volunteered, eager to
add show-judging to my growing list of automotive experiences. Look
at a bunch of cars and evaluate them in a competition? This should
The day finally arrived. I had
recently done a bunch of electrical work to my trusty BMW mo’orsickle
and was eager to road-test that stuff, so I threw a leg over the
saddle and told the GPS to take me to the small-town airport where
the show was to be. I mention this because I arrived at a car show,
noted that some cool cars were present, and found a text message from
fellow TTACer Mickey, who said he was by the stage. What stage?
There was an EZ-up with a band set-up under it, but Mickey wasn’t
near it. After some asking, I learned that I was at the wrong show!
A kind person informed me that the show I wanted was on the other
side of the airport. Back into my gear, back on the bike, and around
the airport. Too bad all those cars weren’t at the same show!
Finding the Mountain City Mayhem Festival on the other side of the
airport was no problem, although everybody there was so nice that I’m
left wondering where the mayhem was. Maybe I should come back after
midnight to see it? That will remain a mystery for now.
I found the guy in charge, got the
basic rundown, and we had to find the other two judges. Once
everybody was there, we got the judging forms and clipboards and were
turned loose. There were thirty-five cars to judge, and each needed
a form filled out. The form had basic information at the top: the
car number, which was found on a slip on the dashboard (or tucked
under the seat of the two motorcycles in the show), and fields for
make/model and class. The classes were things like Domestic, Import,
Truck, Classic, Motorcycle. Then we had to give 1-10 points on body,
paint, interiour, engine compartment, and tires/wheels, and then
there was one more field for extra points for dual class (e.g.
Classic and Domestic) or whatever bonus-points we wanted to assign.
I had some fun with that last field.
The first thing I did was to walk up
and down the line and just give everything an initial glance so I’d
have an idea of the overall field of entries. They ran the gamut
from a first-generation Mazda 3 with tired paint and no discernible
custom-touches beyond a sticker, to a fully show-worthy 1963 Impala
with tons of chrome under the bonnet and custom leather inside.
There was an early ’50s GMC truck that was immaculately restored
without being over-restored, four or five old Toyota pickups
converted into lowriders in desperate need of paint, a Suzuki GSXR
600 that bore some battle-scrapes, an old Dodge truck with faded,
patina-ridden paint carefully protected under matte clearcoat, an
immaculate ’57 Chevy, and so on- you get the idea.
After my once-over, it was time to get
down to business and start filling out 35 forms. Time to start
giving one to ten points in six categories, thirty-five times.
Anywhere from 210 to 2100 possible points to allocate. How do I do
it? The first one seemed easy, then it felt trickier, then as I
became aware that I needed to finish them in time for the tallying,
it felt like pressure. On top of that, it’s really subjective.
REALLY. Subjective enough that I started to envy the concours judges
at the prestigious events, because they have solid criteria for
originality and authenticity to guide them. On top of that, I needed
to try to make it somewhat objective too, so that I could judge
fairly. A certain car might not be my personal taste, but it
deserved a fair shake. Regardless of style, the owners put a lot of
effort into their vehicles. Then there’s the fact that I’ve been a
car-nut all my life, which means a certain amount of my own jadedness
that I had to be careful with. And how do you fairly judge both a
dead-stock car and one that has been highly modified, in the same
contest? How do you give everybody a fair chance, especially when
some show up with working-class daily drivers and some show up with
cars worth more than the guys with the daily drivers make in three or
four years? And on top of that, I’m inherently enough of a nice guy
that I want to be generous with the points for every car. I know
what you’re saying, it’s just a small-town car show that doesn’t mean
much in the grand scheme of things. Why get so deep into it? Why?
Because I’m a car-nut, and I want to make my fellow car-people happy.
In the aforementioned grand scheme of things, this is a hobby for
most of the people involved. Hobbies are supposed to be fun. I want
everybody to have fun. Therefore, I wish I could make everybody a
winner. But it’s a judged show, and I was there to judge. There
weren’t enough trophies for everyone. So I had to make choices. It
was difficult, but I managed. And on top of that, it was HOT out
there, and I had to juggle my clipboard and pen and a big cup of
lemonade. The ice melted quickly.
But I got through it, and I’m glad to say that I only overheard one person trying to make me overhear them about bribes. They mentioned dropping some twenties on the ground around their car. I pretended not to hear them and went about my business. There were a few buckets of candy by some of the cars, but I’m trying to watch my sugar-intake so it was lost on me. Nice try, although I wonder if it got more votes from the kids for the Kids Choice Trophy. The few owners with whom I came into contact were very nice, and that’s one of the things I love about being into cars: the people. I can say the same thing about the motorcycling world, but we’re talking about cars here. I’ve had great conversations with people of all socio-economic levels who just plain love their cars. From the guy with whom I worked years ago who felt a close kinship and devotion to his somewhat beat Geo Prizm that had seen him through thick in thin to the guy who brought a truly gorgeous 1963 Ferrari to a recent show, they’re all great people who love to commune with other car-lovers. But back to business.
The people in charge were already
tallying when I turned in my forms, and I made a lot more work for
them. As it turns out, the other two judges skipped a bunch of cars.
I don’t know how, but they did. So I guess that means that my
judging was even more influential on who got the trophies. If I had
a bigger ego, I’d be proud of that. The tallying got done and the
winners were announced. Several people won two trophies, and I’m
happy to say that two trophies were decided by children. One was the
Kids Choice Award, and the other was the Queen’s Choice Award, given
by the Marble Queen and Princess, a high school kid and elementary
school kid, respectively. I assume the marble in question was the
rock rather than the game, since the local business association had
something to do with the festival. The winners were happy with their
trophies, everybody had a good time, and the lemonade sure was good.
Not a bad day.
So the next time you find yourself at a
judged car show, have some sympathy for the judges. It’s hard work.