The lease on my beloved 2004 Volvo XC70 is up in July and I've been caught up in new car shopping fever for the past few months. Since my current car has been an absolute paragon of reliability and I utterly love it to death, a new 2008 XC70 would seem to be the obvious choice. And it is, except that it's awfully bloody expensive. I was hoping to reduce the amount of money I pay every month for my transportation, so I decided to try out some other less expensive alternatives. Since the XC70 is actually quite competitively priced in its class, cross-shopping with similar models (Audi, BMW) wasn't really an option. Other Volvo models aren't really that much cheaper so I'm not considering those, either. So I started with some more commonly popular vehicles.
My first test drive was with the uber-popular Hyundai Sonata. I took their top trim level car (V6, leather, climate control, other niceties) for a drive and was thoroughly unimpressed. My main beef with this car was the short travel length of the suspension - it kept bottoming out on me. So much so in fact, that I thought there must have been something wrong with the car. But no, this is apparently how it rides. I understand that the 2009 model of this car is a complete redesign so I may have to revisit it in the future and see if it has improved. Unfortunately, my disappointment with this car was to be the first in a long line of disappointments.
My next test drive was with a top trim level Nissan Rogue. Though smaller than the big Murano, the Rogue is still SUVish in size and style. So SUVish in style, in fact, that my wife was sure it was going to roll over while we were driving it. And while the Rogue is wonderfully fuel-efficient, its 4 cylinder engine coupled with a CVT transmission means that it goes nowhere fast. My next test drive was going to be a Subaru Outback, but due to some crazy cash incentives from Subaru the dealer had none left in stock! I may still investigate this alternative, though reviewers claim the economically priced V4 is quite sluggish, and the more suitable V6 is almost as expensive as the XC70 so I'm not holding out much hope.
Other cars I have tested included the Volkswagen Passat which actually wasn't too bad. It handled well, had very nice acceleration, and was more or less comfortable. The same could be said of the Honda CR-V I drove, too (except for the acceleration part). However, as was starting to become painfully clear to me, my expectations were way too high for any car to meet. Naturally, none of the cars I was driving were even in the same class as the XC70 and while I knew this intellectually, I couldn't help but compare every car I drove to the Volvo. The result was that every test drive left me feeling empty inside (pathetic, I know).
On a whim, I even took a Mercedes C230 (they had no C300s in stock) out for a drive. It was the sport trim model, and I'm not a sporty car guy (bet you figured that out already, didn't you) so you can see where this is headed. The Mercedes is a fantastic feat of engineering genius and high-quality manufacturing that more or less exactly failed to impress me. I would have taken the more luxurious "Elegance" trim level for a drive, but as you can probably guess they didn't have one in stock.
So, I now have roughly 55 days until my Volvo lease expires and I have no idea what I'm going to do. Paying the buyout for my car isn't an option since it's much more than what the car is worth on the market today. Leasing a new 2008 XC70 leaves me in the poor house for another 4 years, though it is obvious I will not be satisfied with anything else. Actually, I have my eye on a 2009 instead of a 2008 since the 09 has a much better engine option and has integrated Bluetooth (for the two phone calls a year I make from my car - yes, Bluetooth is VERRRRY important to me). And that much better engine is going to cost even MORE money. I am totally, 100%, unequivocally screwed.
So what is it that I like so much about the Volvo? Two words: creature comfort. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree with the statement that Volvo has the absolute best seats in the automotive industry. I could ride all the way from Halifax to Vancouver and not feel the least bit fatigued, they are that good. And on this car the seats are at the perfect height to make getting into and out of the car totally effortless. So, the moment I get into the driver's seat of any other car I am immediately unhappy. And, while many driving enthusiasts would likely find the wagon's handling less than ideal, it is just about perfect for me. The steering has just the perfect amount of resistance, the suspension has the perfect blend of comfort and firmness, and the turbocharged engine with the all-wheel drive transmission has plenty of power. What more could I ask for (except for a lower price)?
So, seeing as how any car other than the Volvo is going to leave me terribly unsatisfied, I believe I have two real choices: suck it up and get the new Volvo, or simply buy some used late-model version of pretty much anything bigger than a Hyundai Accent. In the latter case, I may not be happy, but at least I won't be paying much for my unhappiness (as opposed to say, a new VW Passat). Stay tuned as my pathetic melodrama continues to unfold over the next several weeks.