Falling Out of Love With Your Car

By Kevin Miller


2004 Volvo V70RPeople who drive appliance-type cars solely to get from point A to point B may not get this, but some of us have a lot of emotion and passion wrapped up in our choice of vehicles. Since I have been old enough to buy nice cars, I’ve been a Saab driver. A combination of my Swedish heritage, and the cars’ highly-engineered systems have always attracted me to them.

That being said, in 2004 I was looking for a car to replace my nine year old 900 hatch. Having gotten married and started planning for a family, a four-door car made sense. With my family planning to relocate to Eastern Washington, which would necessitate regular drives through snowy mountain passes, I wanted a vehicle with all-wheel drive, which Saab didn’t offer at the time. Appreciating sporty performance and handling, the ever-popular SUV wasn’t on my shopping list, but I still wanted utility. When I read in late 2003 of the 2004 Volvo V70R, I thought it sounded perfect. With 300 HP from a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual transmission delivering power to all four wheels, and a lower, electronically controlled suspension system, I felt the V70R offered the perfect blend of sport and utility, while staying true to my Swedish car-loving roots. Besides that, I thought it looked hot; very sporty and capable, but at the same time restrained in the same way as so many other Scandinavian products are.

2004 Volvo V70RAfter a few test drives and a lot of deliberation, I ordered my 2004 V70R from my local Volvo dealer in Portland, Oregon in January, 2004 (as I was relocating and changing careers, I didn’t feel I had time to take advantage of Volvo’s Overseas Delivery Program, so I custom-ordered my car to be built to my specifications). As the R-series cars were new and rare, I paid nearly full price for my Titanium Gray Metallic V70R, with Nordkap Blue leather interior, integrated child booster seats, and Premium, Touring, and Climate packages. During the four months I waited for the car’s arrival, I visited a popular Volvo owners forum where people who had already taken delivery of their Rs were chatting about them and posting photos. I downloaded photos for my computer’s wallpaper and looked at the brochure nearly every day. Yes, I lusted after my ordered V70R.

Knowing that I tend to keep cars for a long time, paying close to sticker for a car I’m intending to keep for ten years doesn’t bother me… I’ve got plenty of time to amortize the cost of the vehicle. The car was built exactly to my specifications, and four long months later my wife and I picked it up on a sunny spring afternoon. My beloved 900 was picked up by its buyer the same day.

2004 Volvo V70RThe V70R was a stunning performer compared to the Saab it replaced, as well as in comparison to the 2001 Saab 9-5 it joined in our driveway. While it suffers from a huge turning radius (an engineering consideration due to its large Brembo brakes, which themselves necessitated wider wheels that occupy more space than smaller ones in the V70’s wheel arches), its throaty sound and powerful kick in the pants more than made up for that. The 4C suspension, with its distinct Comfort, Sport, and Advanced settings worked well enough, though it was never perfect in my opinion. For 2005, Volvo integrated a faster processor which helped the suspension work better, but it was a part of a faster CANBUS.  In other words, something that was not able to retrofit to my 2004 car.

Of course, the 300 HP rating of the turbocharged motor is subjective, and depends on perfect climate conditions, high octane fuel, and a peculiar alignment of planets. It develops highest HP with around 95 octane by US calculations… but such high performance fuel isn’t readily available in the US. I’ve mixed a tank of 101 octane and 92 octane to boost the R’s performance, but it’s expensive and doesn’t last long.

Fast forward a year, and it was time to put an infant seat into the R when our daughter was born. I was surprised how the shape of the R’s deeply bolstered front seats took up so much knee room in the back, so that the child seat wouldn’t fit in what was supposed to be a family-friendly vehicle without seriously compromising front seat legroom. Things only got worse when she graduated to a larger convertible carseat. Too, the rear doors have a narrow opening angle and don’t open into the roofline like our Saab’s rear doors, so it is more difficult to load the kids and get them buckled than it is most other vehicles.

2004 Volvo V70RAs the months rolled by and the miles gradually accumulated, the fancy electronic suspension seemed to become worse at coping with road impurities, providing feedback out of sync with bumps and broken pavement, serving to accentuate the road’s imperfections while failing to offer assistance with actual roadholding. All of the imperfections transmitted into the cabin have come to make themselves known as rattles in the interior: the glove box, center console, dashboard, rear passenger door, cargo floor and cargo door all have distinct rattles. Our now-9 year old Saab has far fewer rattles than does our newer V70R.

All of the above issues serve to show that the proverbial bloom is off the rose. As mentioned above, in my household we tend to keep cars for quite along time. The ’95 Saab 900 that the V70R replaced was 9 years old with 157,000 miles on it when I replaced it. Our 2001 9-5 sedan was purchased new and is now almost 9 years old, with just 80k miles on it; that car continues to be rewarding to drive, practical to operate, and comfortable for our entire family. The newer V70R, though, with 60k miles on it and still under extended warranty, is done in my mind. It feels dated and impractical, and feels like it’s falling apart. Because of the rattly interior, ponderous handling, and the huge turning radius, my wife hates driving the R. And I can’t say that I blame her.

What to do, then? We purposely purchase new cars of supposedly-high quality on purpose, intending to use them well and for a long time. Resale value is of little importance because we keep the cars for nearly a decade. But now, just over halfway through that theoretical decade of ownership, I’ve fallen out of love and I’m ready to move on.

2010 Volkswagen Golf-2.5So it is soon time to replace our 9-5 based on how long we’ve owned it, but the newer V70R feels like the car that needs replacing. Mrs. M and I have a long-term vehicle strategy that includes one fuel-efficient car for running around town, and one car that is more spaceious, with AWD for longer trips and winter activities. The upcoming Saab 9-5 wagon would fit the bill for the larger car; while something like a VW Golf TDI or Mazda3 hatch would be perfect for the smaller car. Unfortunately, I’d buy the new 9-5 today and unload the V70R, but that car is at least a year away in the US, if not more. I hate to be without the hauling capacity of a wagon by buying our downsized car now, but it is under consideration.

The thing is: I wish the V70R was working the way its engineers envisioned it working. If the suspension actually responded to road inputs like it’s supposed to, it would be just fine. If the brakes bit at first application instead of going through a spongy zone first, I’d love it. And if the car didn’t have eleventy-six rattles inside, I’d be in heaven.

As it is, I don’t know what to do. Soldier on with the paid-off car I don’t like driving? Or sell it while it still has a bit of value left, and get something else? And should that something else be new, or used?

COPYRIGHT Techshake – All Rights Reserved

Author: Kevin Miller

As Techshake’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Techshake, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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  1. I hope I don’t have those same problems in 5 years!!
    XC 70 owner

  2. I’m a little concerned with our Toyota Sienna (’08) regarding the durability. The car just sounds like it’s about to fall apart. Rattles are coming from every pillar, every seat, every seam, and it drives me nuts. It only has around 35,000 miles on it…

    But with that out of the way, Washington road quality can’t be good for the car. I-5 is absolutely brutal (although I’m not sure about it now since they did diamond grinding).

  3. First, I would never buy a new car again because of the drive off depreciation and your experience reinforces my theory. You’re reluctant to dump the Volvo because you lost so much value that hasn’t been amortized yet.

    I would sell the Volvo and pickup a newer 9-5 wagon to hold you over until the the new 9-5 is 1 to 2 years old! Just like your car, the new 9-5 will have growing pains and you don’t want to be beta testing the car for SAAB.

  4. Dude, you sound like a nice guy and all and I wish you luck with your next auto purchase, but I have to ask, have you never read an issue of Consumer Reports? I mean really Saabs and Volvos? I wouldn’t touch a Saab or Volvo with a 10 ft pole. I drive 25,000 miles per year on NJ crowded roads. I don’t even know what sporty driving is anymore. I have a feeling that if you really looked at the kind of driving that you actually do on a regular basis, you would find the same thing. Its time to give up those teen fantasies of Speed Racer and get yourself a nice Ford Edge. Get a 2011 Edge Sport when they come down the line. If you feel you HAVE to own a quirky car, get a Subaru. Of course, the Subi won’t help you with your interior room shortages.

  5. Hey Kevin,

    Know what? If you did read CR religiously you’d be in a Toyota right now, bored to tears except for the panic attacks when you can’t stop the car.

    Keep the Volvo for a little while longer. The 9-4x will probably come before the 9-5 wagon and that might be an interesting prospect for you?

    Or if you just can’t stand the idea of holding the Volvo longer, move it on and pick up a 3 or 4 year old 9-5 Aero wagon to tie you over. Amazing machine.

  6. We had the same car, but a year earlier in age, and it had the same issues. Except ours also developed a very annoying “thrumming” from the engine after around 45,000 miles. There was nothing wrong with it, it was just vibration noise. It made me CRAZY.

    We replaced it with a BMW wagon. The inline six is still silky smooth with 92,000 miles on it.

  7. This is why I buy used cars. I can get three nice cars for the price of one new car.

    I get a commuter car that’s great on gas, a sports car and a luxury sedan. All used, with over 50,000 miles on them. I pick one of these according to the task at end that day.

    If my ardor for one cools, I sell it and get something else. I don’t take too much of a hit on depreciation because most of the depreciation has happened before I got the car. I nver buy a new car. I know this option isn’t practical for everyone, but it really works out great for me, and I’ve been doing it for 23 years.

  8. You don’t like the Porsche you had for a week, and you don’t like the top-of-the-line Volvo sportswagon. Sounds like you should get a drab econo-mobile. Clearly sporty cars are not for you.
    If you can’t stand the thing anymore, I’ll take it for a reasonable price (I’m used to having rattle-trap Volvos) and get yourself a nice AWD BMW wagon.

  9. A nice USED BMW wagon.

  10. I buy nice used cars, too. Good bargains.

    I also buy beater trucks, something I don’t get worked up about if the door gets dented.

    The only drawbacks are the places you need to park if you have more than one vehicle (I have four), and the fact that you will be on a first-name basis with your mechanic(s). If you don’t have a good shop to go to, then this probably isn’t a good idea. I buy used Mercedes, not because I think they’re better than BMWs or Audis, but because I trust the guy that works on Mercedes at the little shop I go to. Same reason I buy Chevrolet pickups. Not because I don’t like Ford or Dodge, because I actually prefer a Ford, but because he’s the go-to guy at the other shop I use, and he is a GM mechanic. If I had a shop nearby where the guy was a Ford mechanic and I trusted him, I’d get a Ford beater truck.

    Sometimes you have to adjust to the support infrastructure available to you.

  11. How about trading in the volvo on a Flex with ecoboost. It sounds like the perfect solution for what you need, room, practicality, fuel efficiency, awd, and good performance.

  12. Tough, very tough. Not as bad as falling out of love with a human, but still tough. It’s happened to me as well. As with humans, I have found a clean break is best. Walk away and don’t look back after you take the money and give the new owner the keys.

  13. Maybe you should buy the new Buick Regal wagon if GM decides to sell it, it would have been what a new Saab 9-3 will or would have been based on, an Opel.

  14. I wish Mazada would get smart and bring the Mazada6 wagon or the 5 door to the U.S. market. It’s a heck of lot better looking than the Honda/AMC Eagle solution. Subaru should step up to the plate as well and bring their Legacy Wagon. The Outback is o.k.

  15. Sorry to hear the love affair turning out like this.

    But I thought you were a wagon guy? Why do you have a 9-5 SEDAN??? Shouldn’t it have been a 9-5 SPORTCOMBI all along? Also, forget Porsches. True enthusiasts know that wagons are where it’s at (and I applaud you for that) and we’ve got plenty of choices. Just because the R wasn’t the one doesn’t mean there aren’t others to fill the void.

    Anyways, in regards to the 9-5 vs V70r, it’s kinda not fair to be comparing the two as the 9-5 hasn’t had a real update in… well, a long time. The R you’ve got is the first model year of its kind so it’s bound to have issues/niggles here and there. First round testers I suppose, and you paid for it with the new suspension and rattles coming from all over. On the subject of the brakes, maybe take a look and see if the rotors/pads are properly adjusted? That should get rid of any strange feelings from the pedal imo.

    As a car enthusiast and a family man, you’ve got to weigh your options really. Either bite the bullet and stick with what you’ve got (since it’s the most financially responsible decision) or if you’re that unhappy with what you’re driving, get something else.

    The family man in you will make the sacrifices and live with the choice you made. It’s also the more reasonable path as you know for a fact what the car has been through and what to to expect out of it really. To buy something else would be irrational at this point, be it new (huge upfront cost) or used (sketchy past).

    But as an enthusiast, all the aforementioned make no difference anyway. If the car doesn’t set your heart aflutter and you dread driving it everyday, then by all means, get rid of it. Life’s too short anyway. Try a C30 or GTI/A3 for a sporty roundabout and let your 9-5 continue being the larger car. Or maybe even a Turbo X Sportcombi! But on a side note, make sure you don’t throw your entire family’s financial stability away…

  16. Thank you for such a nice article.

    I don’t think the new 9-5 is that far away in the US. More like the end of this year.
    You mention the Golf TDI, how about the Jetta Wagon TDI which is a bit roomier.
    I test drove the Mazda3 last year and loved it too.

    I also drove a Saab 9-3 wagon for a week and thought it was a great car.
    Very solid and refined. A friend of mined had one leased for 3 years and loved it, never had any problems with it…

    Thanks again for your writing.

  17. Kevin:

    Have you looked into having your original shocks replaced and if so under warranty? The Rs higher spring rates can likely do a number on the dampers in 60,000 miles.

    The worn dampers would also affect braking.

    I looked on iPD’s site and saw that the OEM dampers (made by Monroe) for your V70 R with the 4C electronically adjustable suspension are over $400 each. Ouch!

    I personally would stay away from cars with computer controlled suspensions until they become so widespread that replacement parts become affordable.

  18. I had a 2000 VR70 (fwd) and it had so many nagging little problems that I just gave up on it. Nothing that ever left me stranded, but little things that just meade me crazy and required a lot of trips back and forth to the dealer.

    Sunroof wouldn’t close

    Passenger side rear window frozen shut

    Cupholder broke

    Stereo started having problems

    Service light kept coming on, regardless of service interval time

    I bought an Audi, which I still have.

  19. My boss from previous company was immigrant from Sweden and he had Volvo from 90s. It had so much trouble with VOlvo that told me that his next car will anything but Volvo. Same thing BTW applies to VW and Audi – they are trouble-some machines. Volvos these day are not well built for some reason, may be because of labor costs in Sweden. In the past they were known as indestructible car that can run forever and deserved reputation of being Swedish tank.

    If you want reliable and well built Volvo – buy Lincoln or Ford with Ecoboost. They all have AWD and turbo. Of course you will not get Scandinavian interior or exterior.

  20. My experience with a late model Volvo car was in fact quite positive. I previously owned a new 2005 S40 2.4. In 4 years the only non scheduled maintenance was for a radio software update.

    O course my S40 was not a highly-tuned R-version. It lacked any 4C suspension and it was shorn with All Season touring 16″ 55 aspect ratio tires rather 45-40 series low-profile gumballs.

    By their nature the R versions of Volvo’s are very taught suspended cars. They have higher spring and damping rates and are normally fitted with very unforgiving low profile tires.

    From what Kevin states it doesn’t seem that the V70 R is unreliable. It simply that the ride compliance/ handling compromise never favored ride compliance in the first place. Moreover as components start to degrade in more highly tuned cars like the R-series, the degradation becomes more noticeable.

    Rather than tossing the V70 perhaps swapping to a higher profile wheel/ tire setup is in order.

  21. The same thing happened to me with a 2003 VW Passat I had. One thing after another, squeaks and rattles, and I just finally threw in the towel.

    I loved that car, but then I grew to resent it, and then after that, to hate it.

  22. Sorry to hear your experience with the Volvo. I bought a used 2004 V70R back in 2005 from a private party since the Volvo dealers wouldn’t budge on price. Luckily I’ve had none of the issues you’ve encountered. BTW, I also modified the ECU, exhaust and downpipe, giving even more performance. I’m pretty happy with the car.

  23. Kevin-
    your breakdown of car needs: one spacious AWD wagon for longer trips and one smaller fuel efficient around-town car sounds exactly like what my family needs. We have a 2003 Subaru Outback that suffices for the larger car and are looking to replace an aging 1998 Mazda Protege. The two small cars you mentioned: the Mazda3 and the VW Golf TDI are both cars that we are considering. … your post on the Golf TDI pretty much shows your preference, but in your opinion what are the pros/cons of the two and which would you prefer?

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