Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Seeing the San Francisco Bay Area Through Volvo's Windshield

2016 Volvo S60 Inscription.
I'm not the kind of guy who turns down a carmaker's invitation to San Francisco simply because I don't much care for the place. So when I received the nod from AutoTrader to represent it at the recent Volvo event there, I cowboyed up and went. And, despite having to travel across the bulk of the city from the airport on the way to the Cavallo Point Hotel where Volvo hosted us, the hotel is actually in Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Technically, I wasn't staying in SF at all.

I had bunked at Cavallo Point before, as had some of the other older hands on this trip. I was there with Jeep Cherokee perhaps 10 years ago. Occupying much of what was Fort Baker from the Civil War through WWII, the hotel sits at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Army compliment stationed there manned the artillery guarding the north end of the bridge and the access to San Francisco Bay. V.M.I. has seen more combat. 

Several of the fort's buildings remain arrayed around what was once the parade ground, and today serve as both guest rooms and common areas. We could clearly see the Golden Gate Bridge from almost anywhere on the property. I got a good look at it from my room's perch up the side of one of the hills overlooking the bay. I calculate I had a climb of roughly 80 steps straight up the mountain every time I returned to my room. It was like a training course for Sherpas. I could have ridden to my room in one of the available hotel cars, but it was a matter of pride. I now realize I might well have joined Fort Baker's handful of casualties over the years, following into history soldiers who accidentally stabbed themselves with a fondue fork or took a fatal header off their barracks' front stoop. My legs ached for three days after my return to South Carolina. 

A beautiful property, Cavallo Point is more than eight miles from downtown SF. Ten or fifty would have been better. I could still see SF across the bay. Those of us, though, who like to strike out from wherever we are staying, taking a walk to enjoy the sights – or in my case, sample some craft beers – had to settle for hanging out at the hotel. It's not within walking distance of much of anything, but it's not a bad place to be stranded. And, I must admit, the hamburger I ate there for lunch on my first day was one of the best I've had. So it's got that going for it.

Singing for their supper....
Dinner both evenings was on the property. Among other hotel features is a cooking school. Ostensibly we were to participate in preparing our own dinner on the first night, taking directions from the hotel's chef and her gaggle of minions. In the finest military tradition, they organized us into several five-person squads and assigned us to a squad leader. A few of the squads wound up being under manned as some of us, deciding discretion the better part of valor, drifted out through the bar to the balcony to enjoy some wine and fresh air rather than shuck corn. Dinner turned out okay, but, unsure of where some of my colleagues' hands had been prior to the dinner prep, I picked at my salmon and ignored the baked chicken thigh. I did wrap an extra dinner roll in a napkin in case I grew feint during the mile-high climb back to my room.

Volvo introduced us to two new versions of its midsize S60 sedan: S60 Inscription and the S60 Cross Country. Both are labeled 2016s. Because these are variations of the popular S60, they don't really break a lot of new ground for the Chinese-owned Swedish carmaker. Each in their own way, however, are unique S60 variants.

2016 Volvo S60 CC.
When it arrives in Volvo showrooms in early fall, the $38,700 S60 Inscription will assume its place as the S60 flagship, replacing last year's Platinum grade. It's a long-wheelbase version of the sedan, and has the historic distinction of being the very first car built in China to be imported to the U.S.. Volvo stretched both the S60 Inscription's wheelbase and overall length by three inches, translating into more legroom. At 36.9 inches, Volvo claims bragging rights to the most rear-seat legroom in the S60's class.

Front-wheel-drive versions derive go from a 240-horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine mated to an eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. Opting for AWD will change the powertrain to the 250-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbocharged engine and six-speed automatic transmission found in other AWD 60-series models. Government-estimated fuel economy for FWD is 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway/29 mpg combined. AWD scrubs about 6 mpg from each number. 

A butched-up, off-pavement sedan, the $43,500 S60 Cross Country has AWD as standard equipment. It also provides 7.9 inches of ground clearance – about 2.5 inches more than the regular S60, and the same as the Ford Edge. Its power comes from the same 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder and six-speed automatic in other AWD 60-series vehicles. Fuel economy estimates are 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway/23 mpg combined. Volvo is only importing 500 units of the 2016 S60 CC, so get-em while they're hot!

Among the many high-tech features included in the S60 CC is Volvo On Call app that allows you to remote start, as well as lock and unlock the car from your smart phone. There is also standard 3D navigation with Map Care, which includes free map updates twice each year.

On our ride-and-drive day, we dined from a food truck.
Our morning drive included some wonderfully windy roads, and concluded at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds where we had lunch. Volvo had set up some cones designed to demonstrate antilock-braking steering control. 

Relaxing by the fire pit at dinner the second night before the frostbite set in.
Dinner that evening was on an outdoor terrace. By the time the sun set, the temperature was probably in the 50s, and the wind was roaring. It was like being on the foredeck of the Titanic. This was all well and good for the dessert of ice cream and homemade cookies, but made keeping the hot main-course items even remotely warm between putting them on a plate and returning to our seats a serious challenge. Thank goodness there was a fire pit. If nothing else, however, we automotive-media types are hardy and resilient; so, we somehow managed to endure. I wrapped up a couple of extra cookies for the long trek back to my room.

In the S60 CC and S60 Inscription, Volvo has two strong additions to its 60-series lineup, which accounts for roughly 75 percent of all Volvo sales in the U.S. Although SF is far from my “happy” place, it was as good a spot as any to get a first look at these new Volvos.

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