I hadn’t been out on a drive, just for the heck of it, in a long, long time. I desperately needed an excuse to go road-tripping. And the Volvo S60 gave me that reason
Five days before I started writing this, I discovered that it was estimated that if you have just US $34,000 (about RS.19 lakhs) lying around for yourself, it would be enough to put you among the 1% richest elite in the world. That, you’d say, isn’t a huge amount really – and you’d be correct. In a world where investment bankers charge five times that sum just to move paper around occasionally that’s peanuts – loose change.
And you don’t even have to go so far as to look at the salaries of MBA grads, just look at our homegrown businessmen and ministers. Just a few months ago, there was news of some Full Monty – or was it Ponty? – keeping over 100 crores of cash in a mall in the NCR. Now, that’s being charitable! Doesn’t it just show the immense progress that our society has made over the years? It’s 100 crores, and the man isn’t even bothered to deposit it in a secure facility – like a Swiss bank, perhaps? After all, it isn’t exactly a meager sum – and keeping it somewhere in a shopping mall – he mustn’t really care for his money I guess. Either that, or it just shows his large-heartedness! And our government servants aren’t too far behind either – many have assets well into the hundreds of crores. This is the reality that our country finds itself in, and some random people with time to do rubbish surveys talk about 34,000 US dollars.
Now, I don’t quite have 20 odd lakhs lying around in the garden, and I work hard to earn my bread in order to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle – some friends have even called me a workaholic, but I don’t mind. Times are such that you ought to work your butt off, or else you’ll lose this rat race we call life. Thus far, my working life, thankfully, has given me immense satisfaction and I truly enjoy every bit of it – so much so that I hadn’t taken a proper vacation in about 4 years!
So, when the Volvo S60 came in, I didn’t quite want to do a regular drive report of it. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Volvo S60 – and on the couple of times that I’ve driven it in the past, I’ve enjoyed it but haven’t been able to truly invest time into getting to know it well enough. This time around, though, I wanted to get to know it better, so I decided to take it up to the hills – Shimla maybe? Well, no – it’s become a hideously populated marketplace, and has lost the charm it once had. I pressed on, going to Narkanda instead.
Starting from Delhi at 5 in the morning, the roads already started getting busy with trucks and inter-state buses. Yet, much of that heavy-vehicle traffic wasn’t a bother because, as I hit the highway, I realized that this D3 S60 doesn’t feel that inferior to the D5 engine. Yes, the D5 is 2,400cc and 215bhp, while the one I was driving – the D3 – was only a 2.0 litre, 163bhp example. The numbers may seem like there’s a huge gap between them, but when it comes to the real thing – driving on the road that is – the D3 is actually quite usable. These were things that I was mumbling to myself, just as I got the chance to open the taps after I hit a clear bit of highway. And that’s the problem with us motoring hacks – we start thinking about performance figures, numbers, the feel and character of the car the moment we so much as touch their door handles! So, I shut my brain completely and just thought about the 400-kilometer drive ahead of me.
Surprisingly, you can go through a lot of emotions when driving on Indian highways. I was feeling confused, betrayed, and angry – all at the same time. I can’t quite get my head around how difficult it seemingly is to lay down properly smooth roads? Why must there be continuous surprises on the road – and I’m not even talking about the usual suspects like cattle, people, etc.? I’m referring to the undulations and the constantly changing road surface. Even the roads that we’ve become used to calling smooth aren’t really smooth – the tarmac is wavy, and that unbalances any vehicle travelling on it. You have to keep fighting the steering to drive in a straight line. I remember riding the Honda VFR1200F on the very same stretch of road, and I can’t even begin to express what a breeze the Volvo S60 felt to pilot in comparison. On the VFR, it was suicidal. I was riding at, well, high speeds, and there were times that I’d skip from one lane to the other, not by choice, but plainly because the road itself would force me to – it was that pathetically undulating!
But the agony ends once you reach the Chandigarh bypass. From there onwards, the road is such that you almost feel the need to stop, get down, and kiss it! The winding nature of the road – those flowing curves, and the sudden crests keep you involved at all times and you feel this soft smile settling on your face. You don’t quite realize it, but your movement is quite rapid and you’re fast dispatching vehicles ahead of you. On occasion, you even see their gaping faces asking how you can manage to be so swift as you go past – and you simply feel this ego-enhancing warmth while you feel the pedal digging deeper into the carpet. And, before I knew it, I was already at Narkanda – a good 450 kilometers from Delhi in a bit over 6-and-a-half hours. It’s the kind of journey that you don’t even feel in the Volvo S60 – this is what the Volvo is made for.
That night, after barbeque and beer, I sat gazing at the open sky and pondered on the subtle things in life that we so often forget to enjoy. And then it dawned on me – the Volvo S60 is one of them. After all, had it not been for its involving drive, I wouldn’t have been sitting on that wooden plank, drinking Budweiser, and feasting on some delicious chicken! So, did I get a feel for the Volvo S60 then? In a word – yes. The next day, I went down to the Sutlej, and drove her to the Hatu Top. I went to little towns and just drove around aimlessly, soaking in the vistas and the brilliance of the mountains. It’s a properly charming car this. It has flaws, no doubt – like the transmission could be a bit quicker when downshifting and the ride could be a bit plusher to compliment the absolutely brilliantly cosseting seats. But, other than that, you can’t really find fault with the Volvo S60. The chassis feels planted all the time, there’s sufficient feedback from the steering, and the handing is good – even involving on snaking roads. The interior is beautiful, and there’s a lot of feel-good factor about the car. And then there’s the way it looks. Yes, this particular one was orange, so it stood out that much more, but it’s supremely stylish nonetheless. I had people stop me to ask me various things about the car – with people even trying to befriend me just so I’d let them sit inside, or, better still, let them drive! So, I perfected the art of excusing myself politely from such a setting!
The next morning, I was sitting in the garden at the hotel while looking at the beaming orange Volvo S60 waiting for me – the early morning rays kissing its shapely body ever-so-softly. I smiled, and looked at the mountains standing tall in front of me. I grabbed my luggage – there was another 450 kilometer experience awaiting me. This drive was not for work – it was just an escape from the routine of city life that we’ve submitted to. This was for the heart, and I had a bright partner to share it with. No complaints.