Overview

In the days of 240s and 760s, Volvos used to be easy to figure out. One was the cheap version, the other, the upscale model, but with both series you got Volvo's safety, durability and unchanging style.

The model mix then became a little more muddled. The 8-series cars were front-drive and sporty, while the 9-series were traditional rear-drive vehicle and included both entry-level and upgrade models.

Things have become clearer for 1995. A redesign of the 960 makes the distinction between the 940 and the 960 more obvious.

The 4-cylinder 940 models remain essentially unchanged and are the least expensive Volvos, ranging from $23,820 to $26,120, including destination charges.

The extensive make-over inside, outside and underneath the 6-cylinder 960 models, however, clearly makes them the luxury Volvos (only the turbocharged 850 models have a higher base price).

With a strong list of standard items, the Volvo 960's base sticker price comes in at $30,360 including destination charges, which makes it a value when compared with many other comparably equipped cars in its class.

Our test model, a 960 sedan with a Cold Weather package that included heated seats and an outside temperature gauge, was priced at $30,710.

Walkaround

A Volvo is a Volvo is a Volvo to many people. Boxy, t all, durable and safe, theses cars have a family resemblance that is pretty much unmistakable. For 1995, though, the 960 sedan gets and exterior make-over that rounds it sufficiently to improve the aerodynamics - its coefficient of drag drops form 0.34 to 0.32.

The 960's lower and smoother front lights, grilled and fenders anchor it more closely to the ground, while the body-colored bumpers soften the overall appearance.

Add in handsome 16-in. alloy wheels, Michelin all-season tires (205/55 VR-16) and our test car's lush metallic hunter green paint and the look verges on jaunty, in a dignified sort of way.

A revised multi-link rear suspension is available this year. The 960 sedan has seen this type of suspension before, but this is the first time it has been fitted on the 960 wagon.

A Volvo engineer's thoughts rarely stray from safety, and the new 960 has several enhanced safety features.

When re-engineering the front suspension to lessen body roll and brake dive, engineers took the opportunity to add a diagonal cross-member that will manage crash forces better in an offset frontal collision (the sort of accident in which a car crossing from the other lane hits the front corner of your car).

Also, additional high-strength steel inserts in the front fender wells reduce the amount of wheel intrusion in an accident, and several energy-absorbing door inserts improve side-impact protection.

Interior Features

The 960's new interior is still Volvo - glassy, functional and upright - but is now more refined. The standard leather seats and steering wheel, optional walnut accents on the instrument panel and doors, and standard power sunroof all-create the ambiance of a house with Scandinavia furnishings. Which is to say it's not an obvious sink-into-it luxuriousness, but the kind of luxury that comes form good design and craftsmanship.

Safety features abound, of course, on the 960 sedan: dual airbags, as well as headrests and 3-point belts at all five seating positions.

One important thing to note is that the seat belts are not height-adjustable, but they do seem to be well-positioned for most people.

The instrumentation is traditional and all the controls are easy to reach. The stalk-mounted cruise control is standard, as its a long list of other features, including air conditioning, electronic climate control, power heated mirrors, power sunroof, remote keyless entry and 8-way power front seats.

We hesitate to be critical of Volvo's renowned supportive eats, but we found it difficult to find a comfortable position upfront. The problem here seems to originate in the fixed headrest: The closer to your head, the safer, but these seem reminiscent of airline seats in the upright and uncomfortable setting.

We did eventually get comfortable, and with three memory positions, we could have duplicated that very seating arrangement - but you should probably check this situation out for yourself before you commit to buying one of these vehicles.

Otherwise, the 960 maintains all the traditional Volvo virtues of a high seating position and excellent visibility. The sunroof did cut into some of our headroom, but a pocket at the rear of the roof opened up space for tall backrest passengers.

Several nice touches include a rubber flap under the fuel filler to protect the paint from clumsy gas nozzles, a clear clip mounted to the front-right side of the windshield to hold parking claim checks, and - for the fist time - standard cupholders for the front and rear.

A pass-through in the center of the rear seat accommodates long items such as skis or rolled carpets.

One last item about instrumentation: All 1995 Volvo's are equipped with Daytime Running Lights (DRLs), which means that the headlights stay on whenever the engine is engaged.

DRLs have been in use for years in sunlight-challenged areas such as Canada and northern Europe to increase cars visibility and reduce the number of accidents. Not everyone views this technology as desirable: you'll obviously make up your own mind.

Driving Impressions

This Volvo will not be mistaken for a sports sedan, but several changes for 1995 make it a better-handling and more responsive car. The front suspension has been redesigned along the lines of the sportier 850. body roll has been reduced 35 percent; the 960 dives less while braking and stays flatter during cornering.

As always, the 960 sedan has excellent road feel and a predictable response. The changes to the front suspension don't' alter the car's tight and maneuverable 31.8-ft turning radius.

The 960's 2.9-liter DOHC 24-valve in-line 6-cylinder engine has been retuned for American driving habits. By dropping some maximum horsepower, the 181-hp engine delivers more torque - 199 lb.-ft. - down low. That made our test model a much better freeway merger, as well as being a little quicker off the line.

The transmission in the 960 is a 4-speed automatic with economy, sport and winter-wet modes. the winter mode, in which the car starts out in third gear, is highly effective in snowy areas and a good alternative to the extra control of the manual transmission.

Driving the 960 was a thoroughly pleasant experience, with a firm but not harsh ride. The multi-link rear suspension, in particular, helped deliver a smooth ride without any handling surprises.

One note: It is recommended that you use premium fuel in the Volvo 960. this is a particularly important consideration when car shopping because of the fluctuating nature of gasoline prices.

Summary

Volvo's are what they are. The Volvo 960 sedan, for example, isn't sporty, light or nimble, but it has never pretended to be. It is durable, safe, reliable and, now, quite luxurious.

The standard package is exceptionally honest - no come-on pricing here. From its headlight wipers to its capacious trunk, what you see is what you get with the 960 - and that's a well-built, well-packaged sedan with exceptional safety consciousness.

Model Line Overview
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