Backroading It in a 2013 Volvo S60

We drive through Utah's national parks in search of the Valley Tan

By Jason Davis | Photos By Jason Davis | November 14, 2012
My old man always took the back roads. "I like the control," he'd say, hinting without description the virtue of rowing his own boat, choosing his own line rather than being steered by the concrete current that moved around him. For close to twenty years, he commuted into Los Angeles, but on the weekends at home, the back roads became his sanctuary, his escape from the tedium of the weekday herd. Twenty years later, his commute had become my commute, and I've found in myself the familiar desire to get away. Years ago, I found similar refuge in the Tennessee and Kentucky back country. It was there that I would unwind. Like my father, I drove the back roads to get lost in the countryside, and to escape from the stresses of Army life. I didn't need a map. There was no traffic, and gas was cheap. Back in La-La Land, many of my old man's back roads have since turned into golf courses and housing tracts and shopping centers. In and around Southern California, the best remaining roads are well known and busy, far away, and heavily-policed -- hardly the atmosphere for escaping the constraints of the office, the 405 freeway, or my rapidly vanishing summer. I wanted to slow down, and to experience the unfamiliar. I wanted to make memory of something fresh, of something wild and strange, to escape LA, if even temporarily, to stretch my lungs, to refresh and to be, as John Muir says, "redeemed by wilderness." Utah promised the high-elevation escape I've longed for. The pitch was simple: I would fly to Salt Lake and take delivery of a 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, the Swedish automaker's best-selling sports sedan. From there, I'd back-road through the Beehive State for eight days -- all of it a thinly veiled excuse to hike various National Parks and Monuments -- then beeline back to Los Angeles with a travel narrative and a few hundred photos. For the most part, that's what I came back with, until a little "required reading" got in the way.

The Car

My S60 was a loaded, Ice White T5 Premier with all-wheel drive, a high-performance audio system with Sirius satellite radio and steering wheel-mounted controls, dual zone climate control, Bluetooth hands-free phone support, and an advanced adaptive cruise control system with distance and driver alerts.
The interior wasn't too shabby, either. Leather and soft touches adorned every surface, and the lighting scheme was modern and youthful -- and particularly attractive and visually stimulating at night. In the trunk, I fit two large suitcases, an ice chest, and a backpack full of photographic equipment. Under the hood lay a 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The S60 T5 AWD had plenty of freeway passing power, this I knew, but more impressive was its 29-mpg highway rating. This I hoped to top, but how much would the elevation affect its performance?
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The open road. It beckons some of us, compels others, and maybe even scares off a few. But for most, one of the great joys of owning a car is enjoying it on a road trip, whether it's blasting down an Interstate, exploring the wilderness, or driving to your favorite annual hoedown. We love road trips, and we love telling you all about them in words and pictures, so come ride along with us as we hit the road and discover what's out there.
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