To use a slightly shopworn but utterly apt expression, Volvo is at a crossroads.

Or to be more poetic, they’re about to drive through the valley without quite knowing what’s on the other side.

Volvo, now under Chinese ownership, attempts a return to its core Swedish values

The iconic Swedish marque, founded in 1927, came to symbolize safety and good Scandinavian design, but faltered under the ownership of Ford, which acquired it in 1999.

By 2005, the company had stopped posting profits, and in 2010, it was in turn sold to China’s Geeley Automotive.

S60_V60_XC60_Las_Vegas_Vdara

The famed symbol on the Volvo grille, representing Swedish iron used in Volvo’s very first autos, still has value but needs to be recharged; its signature blend of ruggedness and elegance restored to former glory.

The word Volvo means “I roll” in Latin—and it’s time for the new owners to move it or lose it.

The launch of Volvo’s new Drive-E powertrain in the Nevada desert

Convincing the world they can do the job is quite an undertaking.

The niche Volvo’s defiantly boxy designs once dominated is now crowded with competitive models from Germany and Tokyo.

XC60_Las_Vegas_sign

As Tata has proven with Jaguar and Land Rover, foreign ownership need not impede success, but there can be no laurel-resting and tradition must be carefully tended.

And so with all this in play, we were invited to experience firsthand Volvo’s first major attempt at reinvention via the launch of its new “Drive-E” powertrains at a recent event in Las Vegas.

The Volvo wagon is back in action in the form of the sporty V60

At the crux of the effort is the return of the once revered Volvo wagon, poised to recapture the hearts, minds and wallets of whatever we call Yuppies these days and their global counterparts.

The Nevada desert and hedonistic hideouts of Las Vegas provided the backdrop for getting reacquainted with the car brand that played a part in nearly every East Coaster’s automotive upbringing.

V60_Las_Vegas_10

Focusing on engines is a strategy that may or may not pay off, to use a gambling metaphor; like everybody else, Volvo promises to maximize performance while minimizing consumption.

The new V60 wagon, XC60 crossover and S60 sedan are the first Volvos to get the new Drive-E powerplants.

Based at $35,300, the V60 undercuts BMW’s and Audi’s wagon models by about $5K

Those are the models we tested out on Vegas’ highways named for Rat Pack legends and the scenic route through the stunning Valley of Fire State Park.

The V60 is the real newbie here, aiming for a big slice of the sport wagon segment, and based at $35,300, undercutting the price of BMW’s and Audi’s models by about five grand.

V60_Las_Vegas_1

For that, you get 240 hp, an eight-speed stop/start automatic transmission with paddle shifters, heated leather sport seats, a high-performance infotainment module and various safety features like BLIS, the blind-spot alert system Volvo invented.

There certainly should be a good market for a pedigreed European vehicle parked between adolescent Volkswagen and the grown-up Germans, especially with Saab still recovering from its brush with death.

There’s a niche in between Volkswagen and the Big Three German marques

And we can see plenty of people liking the relatively reasonable price, high-end finish and general subtlety of the Volvo, a car that says you’ve got a real job and can afford a decent ride, but don’t need a flashy set of wheels to prove anything.

If Volvo can establish a reputation for excellence with its new models and connect with the right customers, the East Coast’s roads will be bristling with them once again.

S60_V60_Las_Vegas_4

For DRIVEN readers, who can afford to go the extra mile, Volvo’s R-Design and Polestar variants that add more power and style will probably hold more appeal, but the base models need to be solidly established for those to make sense.

And so Volvo’s message in Vegas was loud and clear:

Safe, fun, efficient, capable, powerful and good value for money, Swedish style

Safe but fun. Efficient but powerful. Capable when necessary. Good value for money. And still packing plenty of Swedish style.

We came away convinced that Volvo is on the right track, but more time and experience is needed to see if they can get where they’re going.

If their road through the valley turns out to be the right one; if they reach the oasis or run out of gas…