Last month the annual international auto show invaded the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, displaying the worlds newest vehicles and concept cars. The Big Apple doesn’t get quite the cool debuts that Detroit or Geneva does, (No Volvo Concept Estate for this station wagon lover) but it’s still fun to see so much glitz and sparkle in one place.
I’m not in the market to buy a new car, nor do I ever see myself being so. I’m just too frugal to put that much money down on an asset that will depreciate so quickly, and I’ve got enough loans with Sallie Mae to last my lifetime. I’ll just keep tinkering with my old Volvo and do the best I can to keep it on the road in good shape.
In the spirit of making the best of what you’ve got, I present a competition: my 1992 Volvo 240 wagon versus all of the cars at the NY Auto Show. The competitive criteria will be based on the classic characteristics of the 240 series of Volvos. Boxiness. Cargo room. Slowness. Safety. Longevity. How does the cavalcade of new passenger vehicles stack up against my trusty black brick? Let’s find out.
Round 1: Boxiness
The 240 is the gold standard of boxy vehicle design, with a steep windshield and more right angles than a box of t-squares. Over the years the term of derision "boxy" has morphed into a badge of honor. Designers and marketers realize that not every car has to be shaped like a suppository and that it’s hip to be square. Nissan even named their cube-shaped subcompact the… Cube. What was once outré is now in.
There were quite a few boxy cars at the NY show, including the Scion xB and the Kia Soul. But these rectangular cars look sleek and aerodynamic when put up against to the box-on-box design of the 240.
Winner: Volvo 240
Round 2: Cargo room
Unlike car buyers in European countries, US consumers have a slim selection of station wagons to choose from. Manufacturers assume that if an American wants more cargo room they’ll just buy an SUV rather than a passenger car with a long roof line. The selection at the auto show reflected this assumption. Even car makers that offer wagons, like BMW and Mercedes Benz, didn’t have any on display on the show floor.
A notable exception was the NY debut of the VW Golf SportWagen Concept. It’s a sleek update to the Jetta SportWagen and Volkswagen claims it has 10 percent more cargo room than the outgoing model. According to my calculations, this puts its rear space, with seats folded down, at 73.5 cubic feet, just shy of the 76 cubic feet of the Volvo 240 wagon.
However, while wandering into the territory of Volvo's former step-parents I discovered the Ford Flex. While the Flex is termed a crossover utility vehicle, I find it to be the closest thing to a classic station wagon as you can find. With a max cargo room of 83.2 cubic feet it trumps the Volvo and even has slightly more space with the rear seats up: 43.2 vs 41.1 cubic feet.
Winner: NY International Auto Show
Round 3: Slowness
I had a difficult time finding a car that had less power than the 114hp rated standard red block 240. Even the hamster-powered Kia Soul puts out 164 horses. To find a vehicle that had less power than my lumbering brick I had to travel to the far reaches of the GM annex of the Javits Center, all the way to the back, where I was introduced to the Chevy Spark.
With a 1.2 liter engine, the 84hp Chevrolet Spark had the lowest horsepower rating of any of the cars I saw at the auto show (For the record, I don’t think the 70hp Smart fortwo counts as a car. Street legal golf cart, yes; car, not so much). With a five-speed manual transmission the Spark can accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 12 seconds. You can rest assured that a Volvo 240 will accelerate to 60mph also, if you have enough time in the day.
While the Spark has less power than the 240 it also has considerably less weight. At 2269 pounds the Spark’s power to weight ratio comes in at .037 hp per 1lb. A Volvo 240 wagon weighing 3200 pounds has a power to weight ratio of .036 hp, thus giving the Volvo a .001 hp ratio disadvantage over the the Spark.
Winner for losing: Volvo 240
Round 4: Safety
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Volvo 240 wagon was the safest car on the road in 1994, with no deaths reported in any late model 240s from 1989-1993. While that is an impressive feat, car safety has come a long way in the past 20 years.
My 1992 brick has a driver side air bag and ABS. According to the Volvo US website, the new 2015 Volvo V60 Sportswagon offers the following safety features: Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake; Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection; City Safety; Blind Spot Information System; Cross Traffic Alert; Driver Alert Control; Lane Departure Warning; Road Sign Information; Side Impact Protection System; Whiplash Protection System; Tunnel Detection; Pyrotechnical pretensioners; etc.
Winner: NY International Auto Show
Round 5: Longevity
Our last category is longevity. We can’t really predict how long any of these new vehicles will last. Volkswagen's latest ad campaign claims that there are more VW cars on the road with over 100k miles than any other brand. That sets the bar pretty low since the current crop of automobiles are more dependable that ever before and can be expected to last over 250k miles. While that kind of durability may be impressive, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of Volvo 240s hitting one MILLION miles. And while I'm sure there are plenty of Hondas and Toyotas also reaching one million miles, the current world record for most miles driven by one person in one vehicle is THREE million miles, by Irv Gordon and his 1966 Volvo P1800S. Volvo FTW.
Winner by family association: Volvo 240
And the champion is: Volvo 240 Wagon
This totally unbiased competition puts my 1992 Volvo 240 above the entire inventory of new cars at the New York International Auto Show. Considering I bought it for 10% of the price of even the cheapest new car, it’s a bargain too!
About the author: Jay Boucher
Jay Boucher is a weekend DIY mechanic who loves station wagons and redblock Volvos. When he's not scraping his knuckles under his 1992 Volvo 245, he's working as a freelance illustrator and interactive designer in northern NJ. Jay's portfolio is at jayboucher.com and he blogs at myblackbrick.com.