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

Into Moab

The route to Moab, home city to both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, grew and fell in elevation, killing the S60s fuel economy, but never the astonishment as I gazed on the orange-peel horizon. Sixty miles from Moab, with the chariot of Helios descending toward Old Ocean's stream, the multilayered mountain walls blushed amber and foreboding, until finally, a train carrying mineral carts beneath the upturned Moab fault led us into the Grand County.
As luck would have it, the nearest restaurant to my hotel, just a few paces from the Porte-cochere, was the Moab Brewing Company, chief attraction in a one-street town of many mud-colored, southwestern-styled strip malls. Inside, a friendly hostess showed me through the busy house to a shabby table in an adjoining room that was raised above the main dining hall. What the Moab Brewery lacked in class, it made up for in brew, namely the ice-cold Black Imperial India Pale Ale recommended by my server, Cindy, who upon examination knew little about strong drink. "Oh wow," she remarked, when I asked if she had heard of a whiskey named Valley Tan. "I had no idea, but that sounds really interesting."

It Speaks

The Volvo S60 T5 AWD is not a wolf in sheep's sheet metal. That isn't its intended or hidden nature. But something happened when the road into Arches National Park bended. For the first time, the sports sedan woke up. It showed me how and where there is more than what meets the spec sheet. Anyone can drive a brand-new car on the highway, or around town, and proclaim, "I like this car," or "This car is as reliable and faithful and rewarding as my dishwasher." But it isn't until you actually do something with the car that you get an accurate sense of what the car is really about, of what emotion lies beneath its sculptured shell, and of what comfort and confidence it exudes in relation to its surroundings. This leads one to ask, "Is this a car that I can live with, or is it merely a tool that I tolerate?"
The road into Arches National Park wilted under the summer sun. Sand piles on the soft shoulder spread onto the road, overlooking the unprotected cliff face. Here, I learned the spectacle of torque-vectoring all-wheel drive is that four wheels of powered traction are better than two, which in no way means that it is safe or responsible to also effectively double the suggested speed limit.
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