I once saw four Volvo XC90s parked nose to tail outside a local prep school.
I actually stopped and tried to think of any other time when I’d seen four of the same model of car parked together, dealerships aside.
And I couldn’t.
At the time, even before I knew I’d be taking another Volvo away for a weekend in the West Country, I realised that this was the perfect illustration of just how successful and how vulnerable the Volvo brand is in SW London.
You see their XC90 model may be twelve years old, but it’s been an incredibly successful twelve years.
It’s a car which has achieved the impossible.
It’s aspirational but largely without the negative “Chelsea Tractor” connotations that accompany Land Rovers and Porsche Cayennes.
It’s a massive lump of metal, with four wheel drive and seven seats, but it doesn’t have the swollen turgidity of an Audi Q7.
In fact it’s so good that Jeremy Clarkson owned three of them and it’s become so ubiquitous, in Nappy Valley at least, that you could be forgiven for thinking that Volvo is a one model marque and that’s the automotive equivalent of having all your eggs in one basket.
So Volvo will be hoping that the Spring 2015 launch of their new XC90 is a equally successful and, in the meantime, they’re quickly making new baskets which they hope you’ll love as well.
And that’s where the XC60 comes in.
It’s positioned to steal some of the “small” premium SUV market, traditionally taken by the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.
And on the basis of our trip down the M3 the Germans should be very worried indeed.
We were off for a long weekend visiting ex-neighbours who’d sold up and moved out. They’d traded a four-bed semi in SW12 for half of Devon and we were set for a weekend of driving, surfing, eating, socialising and walking.
In short the perfect test for this medium sized Sino Swede.
First impressions were positive. The car may not have the sheer volume of the XC90 but it sits wide and tall and the cabin has stacks of room. My children climbed into the back and ooh’d and ahh’d over all the features (more of that in a moment) but even with Mr NVN touching six foot four, and the driver’s seat raked all the way back, we still felt we were travelling with space to spare.
And that’s important.
My interior design friend tells me it’s all about storage in the home and the same rule applies to cars. We were packing Boogie Boards, iPads, wetsuits, flowers for the hosts, wine, sleeping bags and about a ton of Shepherd’s Pie. I wanted everything stowed in the boot so that when the whizzy electric tailgate closed we could stretch out without crushing luggage stored in footwells or stuffed between the kids.
And that’s exactly what happened.
So as dusk fell we were heading down the A3 and apart from a few bits of tech smuggled by the children for the journey (merrily charging away via the rear passenger power socket) it was just us, tons of posh leather and the muted glow of the XC60 dashboard telling us where we were going, what we were listening to and when we’d arrive.
There seemed to be a million combinations for heated this and cooled that and, if we’d had the car for longer than a few days, I’m sure I could have mastered all the controls. Suffice to say that with my eleven year old giggling away that her bum was boiling and her face freezing (she’d been messing around with the heated seats and the air conditioning) I think the optional Winter Pack is more than up to the job.
We chose the M4/M5 route and, unbelievably for a Friday before half-term, we were lucky with the traffic. The roads were busy but moving and that’s where the gadgets on the XC60 came into their own. I’m not a great fan of techie drivers aids. They often feel like technology for technology’s sake and do little to make life easier, but on the XC60 I changed my mind.
The cruise control kept the car merrily humming along at 75mph and whenever we drifted slightly out of lane a gentle beep would remind us to keep between the lines. That in itself was reasonably useful but what really worked was the combination of radar braking, line sensing, the blind spot alert AND cruise control.
Whenever we came up behind a slower car the Volvo would automatically slow down, tell me when it was safe to pull out and then, as we changed lanes, actually accelerate back up to cruising speed, all without the driver having to touch a pedal.
This made the rolling non-stop ebb and flow of motorway drive significantly less tiring and it one of the features we’ve both really missed since handing back the (contactless) keys.
And that meant when we finally arrived in Bantham we were surprisingly fresh, ready to cook the Shepherds Pies and uncork the Pauillic. It’s a weird thing to confess but we genuinely stayed up later and had bigger hangovers the next day because of that car!
Next morning it was an early start and we took our sore heads off to the beach to catch some surf or, in Mr NVN’s case, just get washed in. The XC60 showed its versatility as we loaded it up with surfboards and squealing children and headed off down a bumpy track to the beach.
I’d be fibbing if I said we needed a 4X4 and traction control to get there but it was far from a metalled road and my friends in the A6 behind were wincing every time they grounded their German limo. And this is where the ‘60 really comes into it’s own. It was equally at home on the motorways chewing up the M3 or bumbling up and down the Devon hills. In fact the following week Mr NVN dropped me at a Hurlingham press event and it didn’t feel out of place amongst the Porsches and BMWs of the Fulham set.
So would I buy one?
My main concern is a lack of a sixth and seventh seat but that’s symptomatic of the small premium SUV market as opposed to this particular model
Indeed I’d go a step further and suggest that if you’re a two car family then you couldn’t go far wrong with a brand new ’60 for “best” and a tatty old ’90 for hauling a tribe of kids and their friends around the sports fields and activities of Nappy Valley.
What we drove:
A Volvo XC60 D 4 Manual SE Lux Nav.
XC60 prices start from £31,205 and the model we tested with driver support pack, metallic paint, winter illumination pack and other optional extras was £42,910. The car is diesel and we covered around 630 miles on just under one tank of diesel which cost £74.