Car for birders review #8: Volvo XC60

Okay,  if you’ve read of my car reviews, you’re probably aware that I’m not really a SUV woman. Most just don’t seem to really do anything very well other than suck up a ton of gas and take up a lot of space. They’re rarely all that comfortable to drive, which is a pity, since they seem like they should be the ultimate road trip car.  And the prices? Ow. v1

And I have to confess. I fell a little bit in love with the XC60 I rented in Florida for a week this December. I never thought I’d say that, much less about a Volvo SUV. I can sort of see the appeal. That’s all canceled out by the price of course, which is insane! but I’ll stop mocking those of you who buy these. Not that I ever mocked you out loud. Just in my head, where I do most of my mocking because it’s safer to do it there.

But back to the review. For birding purposes, this is the best SUV I’ve driven yet. It’s reasonably nimble, decent on gas which is super important when you’re driving down one way back roads in rural Florida and forgot to tank up before you left, and it has that SUV benefit of sitting up just a bit higher than a sedan.

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Honestly, it’s a bit of a Tardis. It looks like a relatively small SUV but it’s surprisingly large inside. That’s one large suitcase, one weekender, and a medium sized duffle bag in that back. And it has the overlay over the cargo area so if you do have some expensive optics in there, they can’t be seen from the outside. (Why don’t all SUV makers do this? Just automatically?) And three reasonably sized adults could fit in that back seat, though the middle one wouldn’t be able to move much and probably wouldn’t be able to see a whole lot, either. It got me to wondering exactly how big the XC90 is because I thought this was more than enough vehicle for most people.

I didn’t get to take it out to Tosohatchee game management area which is really my test area for the rural birding thing. In Florida, anyhow. There’s a one lane wood bridge there that scares me even in small lightweight cars, and I’m now a little curious about how the XC60 would have felt going over that. But I did a couple of the one-direction graveled roads in Merritt Island NWR and even when pulling over on the slightly wider spots to let somebody pass it never felt like a major road hog.

Back to that cargo area again for a moment. I’m not exactly an expert on new cars, but the XC60 had one feature that–once I figured it out–I really found useful. Maybe more cars than this one are doing this, so if so, my apologies, I’m giving Volvo more credit than they deserve. The auto hatch closure button? Is actually 2 buttons. One closes the hatch. The other closes the hatch and locks the doors. So if you’re offloading the car to go for a hike, you hit the second button and you can just keep walking. But if you’re loading in cargo and getting ready to pile in the car and leave, you hit the first one. That tiny little touch really impressed me. And the graphics on the buttons were large enough that I didn’t have to wear my readers to make out which one I needed to hit.

So, the not-so-impressive bits. That key fob. What a dumb design. All the buttons were on the skinny sides. And the unlock button was on the direct opposite side of the fob from the “set the alarm on the car screaming and annoy everybody within a two mile radius” button. And the graphics on the little silver buttons were carved in so unless I had amazing light, my readers on, or had finally trained my brain to remember lock/unlock/cargo buttons all had graphics and the panic button was on between two uncarved bits of silver trim, it was a pain to deal with. I only set the alarm off once and that was an awful enough experience for me to get familiar with the flashlight button on my cell  phone so I could see the fob well enough in the dark. To bring this back to birding, you’ll want to be careful with this key fob. Setting off that alarm when you’re getting out of the car to take a closer look at something? You might get a view of its tail as it’s heading off at high speed to get away from you.

I also wasn’t too impressed with some of the nanny state features. The pedestrian warning light on the dash that never came on for actual pedestrians but took an inexplicable dislike to a Toyota Sienna I followed in traffic for a few miles. The speed limit indicator on the dash which was okay, helpful if I’d failed to notice what the speed limit was, but blinked when you crossed over speed limit even if you were just keeping up with the traffic (and in heavy traffic moving a couple of mph over speed limit is not the time I need a light blinking on the dash thank you very much). It also wasn’t all that helpful off the main roads. In my friend’s neighborhood, it kept insisting the speed limit was 50 instead of 25, 50 was the limit on the arterial edging the neighborhood. And it had no clue whatsoever as to the speed limit on a couple of the roads in the wildlife refuge. So maybe a little more debugging is needed on that system. I hope for the sake of any of you who buy this car that you can turn off that feature, or at least set it to stop blinking at you when it doesn’t agree with your driving choices.

I’ll give Volvo one other thing. When birding the more riparian areas of Florida (are there any non-riparian areas in Florida?) I like car birding because it puts some walls between me and the ubiquitous gators. In a Volvo, you’ll always feel like the gator isn’t going to be able to get you. Not every car I’ve driven there has left me feeling all that safe. This one did.  gatorindisguise

So my score? Is skewing upper end. I don’t know if that’s because I think this is a pretty darn good birding car or because I was just so surprised that I could kinda sorta like a SUV. I’m leaning between 8 and 9. I’ve been trying to stick to whole numbers but I also never figured I’d find something that I’d rank above 8. But 9 seems extravagant. So 8.5.

I was going to end there, but then I realized I had a post about car birding and didn’t manage to get a bird picture in it. I have a fair few to choose from and am thinking about a couple of other posts about this trip, so in the meantime I’ll leave you with the photo that when I was flipping through the files on my SD card I thought “wow, that’s a great shot of that bird.” I haven’t seen a lot of reddish egrets while birding and I certainly don’t have a lot of good photos of them, so it made me happy to see how well this one had turned out. I hope you like it too. reddishegretcropped


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