Here are some obvious facts.
Luxury cars, like any luxury product, give you above-average quality. They also give you more than the usual features and frills. In exchange, you pay more to purchase one.
But some of that extra money also pays for the part of a luxury car you can’t see or touch: the prestige linked to its exclusive image. People pay more for luxury goods, in part, because they announce, “look what I can afford.”
What’s less obvious, but interesting and very promising, is the way some car companies are boldly ignoring that tie between luxury and prestige. Models like the Hyundai Sonata sedan and, especially, the Hyundai Equus deliver the high quality and extra gear ordinarily found in autos from big-name luxury brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But Hyundai can’t charge you extra for its name. So you get a top-notch auto that still costs more than a run-of-the-mill car, but not as much as you’d pay to get a name-brand luxury model of the same caliber. Call it unpretentious luxury for sensible consumers.
Hyundai gets a lot of attention for taking that approach with its Sonata and Equus. But if you want a sterling example, look at the Volvo S60.
The S60 is so sensible, so solid, with so much undisguised luxury, that it epitomizes the underground route to premium motoring. Starting just under $32,000 and ranging into the high $40,000s for top-end versions, this middling-sized, four-door, front- and all-wheel-drive Volvo sedan is one of the best buys among autos today.
Gary Jaffarian, owner of Jaffarian Toyota Scion Volvo in Haverhill, explained that S60 drivers find the car appealing because of its completeness.
“The price of the car, for the technology, the safety, the style, and the performance make it the best value in the market today, especially among European brands,” he said.
I heard a similar assessment come spontaneously and independently from my wife, Donna. (It’s always a sure endorsement of a car when a guy’s wife takes notice.) I happened to be standing in the driveway when Donna just returned from a solo jaunt in the S60 I evaluated recently. As she climbed out of the Volvo, she flipped off the comment, “I like this car. It really zips around. It’s a lot of fun to drive.”
I looked at the pertly styled, deeply contoured Volvo with new admiration. When my eyes fell on the saddle-brown leather seats inside – set off handsomely by surrounding beige trim – I added, “yeah, and I like the interior, too.”
“The inside is real nice,” Donna affirmed.
Its cabin volume places the S60 in the government’ s compact car size. But tidy or well scaled are far better terms to describe the Volvo. The S60 certainly doesn’t feel compact or in any way constraining inside. It is ample and comfortable. The interior is also artfully styled, showing the extra care a car company takes when it crafts a luxury model.
My test model was a T5 version with all-wheel drive, an option that adds $2,000 to the S60’s base price. The T5 AWD is a new addition to the S60 line-up for 2013. Before now, you had to buy the upper-level, T6 model to get four-wheel traction. By placing the option on the lower priced, but still generously equipped, T5 level, Volvo expects to substantially increase the number of S60s it sells with the all-wheel drive – rising as high as 50 percent to 75 percent here in New England, according to Carl Rogers, Volvo specialist and sales consultant at Jaffarian.
At the Haverhill dealership, about nine out of 10 new S60s currently arriving from Volvo feature all-wheel drive, Rogers estimated. The shift is well timed for the season.
A Swedish auto maker that is now owned by the Chinese car company Geely, Volvo has traditionally operated in what car-biz pundits call the premium class, or the near-luxury class. But that still puts its brand image a step below full-fledged luxury.
Therefore Volvo doesn’t typically see, say, hard-core BMW or Mercedes shoppers drawn mostly to the image of those high-flying brands.
“But when someone is shopping with an open mind, they come in our door,” said Jaffarian’s Rogers. “The S60 is very comparable to the BMW 3-Series and the Audi A4. Once you get people behind the wheel, especially with Volvo’s new technology, they get excited.”
That technology includes all the communication and connectivity features built into top-end autos today. But it also lays a heavy emphasis on safety systems, extending Volvo’s long-standing reputation for making safe, sheltering vehicles, Rogers noted.
For example, he said, customers are drawn to the S60’s “city safety” features that automate aspects of vehicle control to prevent accidents.
“The car will stop itself if another car should stop short in front of you, at speeds up to 20 miles per hour,” he explained. “It comes standard in the vehicle, with every trim and package. It’s something that Volvo puts into the vehicle and it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg.”
Rogers said the S60 is considered the “athlete” among Volvo’s models. “It’s not a big, bulky car. It zips and zags to wherever you want to put it.”
Such characteristics make the model most appealing to youthful drivers, he explained.
“We get a lot of people in their 30s and 40s,” said Rogers. “We get some people in their upper 20s, young professionals just out of college who are buying their first new car. They see that, dollar for dollar, what they’re getting is unbelievable.”
Some mature drivers see that luxury-for-less value too.
“I just delivered one to a man in his 80s,” said Rogers last week. “He bought a bright orange-copper one with every option in it.”
It seems that good sense knows no age.
Jeffrey Zygmont has written about automobiles since 1982. Based in Salem, N.H., he writes books and articles about innovation, technology and culture. He can be contacted through the website jeffreyzygmont.com
2013 Volvo S60 Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive compact sedan Price range: $31,750 to $43,900 (plus options) Warranty: 5 years/50,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/50,000 miles free maintenance; 5 years/50,000 miles free wear-and-tear parts replacement; 5 years/unlimited miles roadside assistance Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged I5 Power: 250 horsepower at 5,500 rpm; 266 lb.-ft. torque at 1,800 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic Fuel economy: 21 mpg city; 30 mpg highway (with FWD) Wheelbase: 109 inches Length: 182 inches Width: 73 inches Height: 58 inches Weight: 3,548 pounds Fuel capacity: 17.8 gallons Turning circle: 37.1 ft.