Category Archives: Reviews

Thoughts on the 2020 Volvo S60 after a 5 week, 5000 mile roadtrip

So we just got back from a 5 week, 5000 mile roadtrip in a 2020 Volvo S60 AWD (highly recommend Sixt for car rentals, BTW–the cost was reasonable and there was no mileage cap).  I thought I’d share my thoughts on the car with my gigantic readership.

Overall, we enjoyed the car as an extended rental, but I’d hesitate to buy one because of some quirks.  Let’s start with the good:

  • The car is peppy with smooth power delivery–there were some times that I stepped on the gas and was surprised to be in the 90s–not surprising with 316hp and 4000lbs.  Took it up to 120mph without issue.
  • The car is generally comfy for a 6′ 215lb driver (all legs, short torso).
  • I liked the ability to customize so many of the car’s features–e.g. should the rearview mirrors tilt down while reversing (and if so, passenger side, driver side, or both).

And some of the not-so-good:

  • The car’s B-pillar is like 8″ wide–it completely obscures your peripheral vision.
  • Either the steering assist or steering geometry is too aggressive–I’d prefer a firmer, more stable feel.
  • The transmission response is slow–even in the sporty “dynamic” mode.  Downshifts were notably delayed at times.
  • The car suffers from a lot of poor user interface.  For example:
    • Only 1 of the 2 USB ports can be used for CarPlay.  The usable port is indicated with a white box around it–not really that intuitive.
    • Something as simple as washing the windshield is a PITA.  You cannot lift the wipers while they are in their default (lower) position–you have to navigate through a tree of menus on the display to find the “service windshield wipers” option–this raises the wipers so that you can lift them off of the windshield.
    • The lumbar support controls are on a round, knob-like protrusion.  Good user interface design tells you that you to turn knobs, but the actual lumbar support control buttons are located on the top of the knob.
    • Despite having a giant touchscreen display, the CarPlay portion is relegated to the bottom half of the display.  Switching from CarPlay to other parts of the UI is not intuitive at all.
    • Changing the drive mode brings up 3-4 options in a tiny font on the giant touch screen–why not make good use of that screen real estate?  And there’s no way to dismiss the screen–you just have to wait for it to go away.
    • The location of the physical driver mode control is dangerously close to the e-brake control–I accidentally deactivated the e-brake when I was trying to switch the driver mode.
    • There’s no tactile feedback on the steering wheel controls–the buttons are smooth plastic with no bumps, and you have little idea which button you are pushing unless you see it with your eyes.
  • Not a major deal, but it’s odd that the steering wheel is round, but it does not rotate around the center.
  • The car features a sign-recognition system that displays representations of street signs that are captured by the camera–cool feature, but it’s not terribly reliable.  It once read a 65mph sign as 85mph, and it often missed signs that were in clear view.
  • The cruise control doesn’t deactivate until you press the brake pedal by a good amount–I’d guess at least 3/4″.  I wonder if the brake lights have the same trigger.

Overall, it’s a good enough car, but for nearly $50k, these user interface issues are pretty annoying.

Thoughts on the 2019 Ford Fiesta ST after 1 year of ownership

Ford Fiesta ST

Well it’s been a little over a year since I got my 2019 Ford Fiesta ST, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it (not that you can get one in the US anymore, because ‘mericans want their pickups and SUVs, not no econobox).

First, some context: I’m in my early 40s, and this is my daily driver.  I don’t plan to race the car, nor do I intend to make any major upgrades.  I’ve owned a 1993 Ford Ranger (5 years…yeah, I was born & raised in Texas), 2001 VW Jetta GLX VR6 12 valve (2 years), 2002.5 VW GTI VR6 24 valve (2 years), 1987 Toyota MR2 (1 year), 1992 Nissan 300ZX (6 months), and a 2000 Mazda Miata LS (13 years).

I was intending to drive the Miata into the ground, but after getting rear-ended twice in 6 months by idiots on their cellphones, I wanted something with some modern safety features and a little more heft.  I began my search for a small (parking is tough in San Francisco) stick-shift hatchback with leather interior and a sunroof–that pretty much left a GTI (already owned one), Mini Cooper (didn’t want to pay $$ for maintenance), and a….Ford Fiesta??

I had never heard of the Fiesta ST, but after doing my research, it seemed like a lot of car for the money.  Since Ford had decided to discontinue all their passenger cars (except for the Mustang) as of 2019, I scrambled to find a Fiesta ST on the West Coast.  Serramonte Ford had one that was close enough to what I was looking for, and after what was supposed to be a tire-kicking test drive, I was hooked and bought it on the spot.  One year later, and I still feel like I’m 16 again–I want to drive this car all the time.  It’s honestly the most satisfying, least expensive (comparing new car prices), and most useful car I’ve owned.

So…let’s start with the good:

  • Despite the car’s size, at 6′ and 215lbs, I’ve got more than enough room (note that I’m all legs, short torso)
  • The car has just the right amount of technology–enough to make life easier, but not so much that it robs you of the driving experience.  SYNC3+Carplay is as good as it gets (not great, just good) and keyless entry/ignition is convenient.  Traction control is pretty uninvasive (and can be disabled).
  • This car handles amazingly.  I didn’t appreciate the full extent of the handling until I went to the ST Octane Academy (a day of driving school at Ford Performance Racing School) that came complimentary with the car.  That’s worthy of its own post…but the jist is that the Fiesta ST’s neutral steering makes for a very forgiving experience, allowing you to push past the limit without fear of losing control.
  • There’s plenty of get up and go with the 1.6L Ecoboost four-banger.  Don’t let the small displacement fool you–it has almost the same horsepower as a gen 1 Porsche Boxster and 15% more torque.  This is my first turbo, but I haven’t noticed significant turbolag.
  • My ST came with all season tires (Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3), but they feel like summer tires on dry pavement.
  • Low end torque is a little weak, but on the highway, you don’t have to drop gear too much to get a little kick.
  • For a front wheel drive car with some decent power, torque steer is pretty manageable.
  • The hatch area is very spacious–and the deck plate can sit on either of 2 levels, giving you some good compartmented space.
  • There is a button that lets you change the interior ambient light color–through the rainbow to off.  It’s a little gimmicky, but a fun feature.

Room for improvement:

  • Coming from a Miata, I gotta say that the turning radius sucks.  It’s enough for maneuvering through San Francisco traffic, but it’s a roll of the dice whether a U-turn is going to end up being a 3-point turn.
  • Also compared to the Miata, I miss the short throw of the shifter.
  • The interior finish is cheap and the plastic panels scratch easily.  But the car feels solid.
  • I would have loved it if the car had one-touch up/down windows on the passenger side too (it’s only available on the driver side), as well as one-touch close on the sunroof (it’s only one-touch open).  There may be aftermarket options to make this happen.
  • The factory stereo is good enough…and with the integrated stereo/display, I don’t know if there are a lot of options for upgrading.
  • The black rims (an upgrade option) are just begging to get scratched.  Wish I went with the standard silver rims.
  • I wish that they made the horn easier to access while keeping your hands on the wheel.
  • I wish they offered the 3-door European version state-side.  The backseats are a joke, so there’s no need for a 2nd set of doors.  And the 3-door version has better styling than the US 5-door version.
  • Some of the controls (e.g. seat warmers, traction control) need a little more tactile feedback so that you can manipulate them without looking.
  • SiriusXM is seriously invasive.  Even after the 6 month free trial is over, the stereo often defaults to Sirius stations.  I wish there was a way to delete it from the audio source list.  However, using FORSCAN (a CAN bus interface, not to be confused with what a redneck calls the extra flesh on the end of his donger), this might be able to be done (check the spreadsheet from this forum post).  UPDATE: This is most definitely doable.
  • The e-brake has a hole under it which is a portal to a black hole.  Whatever you drop in there will require removing most of the center console to retrieve it.  Though you can buy a cover from these people.
  • The stock 205/40R17 tires look great, but the low profile doesn’t work great on shitty San Francisco streets.  I’d prefer 45s or 50s on a smaller rim for city driving.

Overall, I absolutely love this car–the only thing that is a major bummer is that they are irreplaceable.