Friday Fleet Notes: 10.19.07


This week we get feedback on quite the cross section of cars. From the sporty Volvo C30 hatchback to the Mazda CX-9 crossover to the aggressive Dodge Viper, the staff was hopping in and out of some diverse vehicles that recently got the full review treatment on

2008 Volvo C30

  • The outrageous Volvo S60 R, now discontinued, probably raised my expectations. The C30 is no S60 R. Neither is it a Volkswagen GTI, but it is a fun car and a nice size. The steering isn’t the best attribute, but saying a Volvo has numb steering is like saying a Hell’s Angel has a tattoo. Having driven it, I still have sticker shock – the good kind, but I wonder if they shouldn’t bring over one of Europe’s smaller and more efficient (please, more efficient) four- or five-cylinder engines and sell it cheaper still. That might be asking too much. Making a car look distinctive isn’t easy these days, so I like the C30’s easily recognized rear window and shape. — Joe Wiesenfelder, senior editor
  • For once I took a car out and didn’t see if it could carry my bike. (I think it could, if I took the wheels off, but the narrow width of the cargo opening concerns me.) Anyway, the C30 was peppy and fun to drive around the city and on the highway. I think it fits in the Mini Cooper/Volkswagen GTI crowd, but the C30 stands out as my favorite. It’s got unique styling — it’s not a derivative as the Mini and not as conservative as the GTI. It felt more solid than the Mini, but lighter than the GTI so I could feel it hit the sweet spot.

    There is one big issue to check out: There’s a fairly large blind spot over your left shoulder that caused issues when merging. It might be the way I had the seat positioned, but check it out. As much as I like the C30, that might steer me toward another car if I were shopping. It’s the kind of thing you put up with on a test drive, but perhaps not if you have to live with it. Also, if you have long legs you might find the seat doesn’t go back far enough for you to be comfortable. Still, it fit me and, with the manual transmission, it was a nimble, fun car to burn around the city in. — William Jackson, Buying Guides editor, Weekend Athlete

2008 Mazda CX-9

  • There wasn’t much I didn’t like about the new CX-9. The exterior was sleek and made this crossover seem smaller than it actually is. The interior of the Grand Touring model could definitely compete with the pricier (and smaller) Cadillac SRX I test drove this summer.

    This may sound a little strange, but one of my favorite features on the CX-9 was the armrest in the front seat. The one between the driver and passenger was wider than most, with more than enough room for two elbows, preventing the fight over the center armrest I’ve experienced in other SUVs. The armrests on the doors were also wider than normal and curved to allow more room for my hand. It’s a minor thing, but it makes longer drives so much more enjoyable for me.

    Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the CX-9 and really liked how it handled in the city and on the highway. If my ’99 Explorer ever gives up the ghost, this is one model I’d take a closer look at. — Amanda Wegrzyn, Advice editor

  • Funny enough, I noticed the armrests, too. They were so nicely padded, especially those in the door. When you’re slacking and resting your elbow on the door armrest it’s very comfortable. Otherwise, I completely agree with Amanda on how nice the interior is. It’s right up there with the Acura MDX and far superior to GM’s line of large crossovers. The sporty handling is also a standout in the class. My favorite aspect, though, was how nice the center console was to put stuff on, like a cell phone or MP3 player. It was nice and flat and quite wide, so you could put even an awkward-sized item like a Zune on it and still have space. — David Thomas, KickingTires editor

2008 Dodge Viper

  • No lies: This car intimidated the crap out of me. I mean, come on: 600 hp, a top speed close to or over 200 mph, and zero to 60 in less than 4 seconds? Not to mention the office talk of journalists repeatedly wrecking the car. That being said … this car was a breeze to drive around town, not at all like the horror stories I’ve heard. I’m sure it could be an entirely different car on the track, but on the street it was a fairly tame snake. The Viper’s engine has so much torque it’s almost impossible to kill it at stoplights, and the clutch is surprisingly soft for a performance car, which made for painless stoplight-to-stoplight cruising. The steering and brakes were so tight and responsive I felt as if my brain were plugged directly into the car. — Joe Bruzek,

2008 Ford Taurus

  • I thought the Five Hundred was grossly underrated, and the larger engine and new transmission that came with the new model name should quiet some of the dissent. I also drove and reviewed the wagon version, the 2008 Taurus X (formerly the Freestyle), which doesn’t distinguish itself too much in the oversaturated class of six-plus-seat crossovers. Conversely, the sedan’s miraculous roominess, tall stance and elevated view of the road make it exceptional among passenger cars. It’s good enough and safe enough for people to overlook some interior shortcomings. I hope more people have the sense to buy — or at least try — it. — Joe Wiesenfelder, senior editor

2008 Volvo C30 Expert Review (
More Volvo C30 News (KickingTires)
More Mazda CX-9 News (KickingTires)
2008 Dodge Viper Expert Review (
2008 Ford Taurus Expert Review (
More Ford Taurus News (KickingTires)

Photo of David Thomas
Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

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