Volvo XC60 D4 Momentum
Today I’m off to Hyde Park to help present our final outdoor shindig of the year, Radio 2’s Festival In A Day. Topping our most contemporary bill to date are Take That at 8.15pm, following the likes of Rick Astley, Emeli Sandé, Shania Twain, Stereophonics and James Blunt. Whatever the weather, it will be fun all the way with plenty for the sell-out crowd of 45,000 to enjoy, along with the millions listening and watching all over the world.
But, more pertinently, what does this line-up tell us? Is it that we, Generation X (ie, those of us born from the mid-Sixties to early Seventies), have now successfully completed our takeover of the middle-aged, comfortable, contented kingdom from the baby-boomers? Or simply that the word contemporary is an effective way of denying that, post thirtysomething, we are the grown-ups now and therefore need to start acting as such?
In which case, we should all trade in whatever car we own and buy a Volvo.
Much more Maserati Levante than Volvo’s various saunas on wheels of the Eighties and Nineties, the XC60 is the perfect people’s champion’s chariot
At first things may appear a little plain and underwhelming, but take a closer peek and you will notice more than a hint of luxury big car aspiration
Many derogatory things have been said about Volvos in the past, but those days are long gone. Nowadays, they are accepted, respected and eminently desirable. But they are also undoubtedly the most grown-up vehicles on the planet. If you choose to own a Volvo, you are simultaneously choosing to accept responsibility for anything and everything that goes wrong concerning anything or anyone remotely related to you – for the rest of your life.
So if that is the kind of masochism that gets your juices flowing, then let me tell you in no uncertain terms, this week’s car could well be the motor for you. It is so safe and so sensible and so reliable. It is the perfect automotive advertorial for any reliable, upstanding, trustworthy wannabe pillar of the community.
Do you hanker to be voted on to the local council? Do you dream of heading your local school’s PTA? Do you fantasise about complete strangers saluting as you cruise past at 29.9mph on your way to pick up a multipack of organic houmous from Waitrose? Then look no further.
Much more Maserati Levante than Volvo’s various saunas on wheels of the Eighties and Nineties, with its sculptured side scoops, sloping roof and state-of-the-art LED light clusters, the XC60 is the perfect people’s champion’s chariot.
Not only that, but a more risk-free, stress-free zone than the cabin you will not find anywhere. The chairs are ridiculously comfortable, firm and supportive. The driving position is like sitting in the director’s box, directly above the halfway line at a glitzy Premier League club but with all the creature comforts of corporate hospitality. And as well as having more storage bins, cubby holes, boxes and pockets than most walk-in wardrobes, there’s also bags of room for us homo sapiens in the front and the back.
And it’s nice in there too. Very nice. At first things may appear a little plain and underwhelming, but take a closer peek and you will notice more than a hint of luxury big car aspiration.
As kitchens sell houses, consoles sell cars, which means that major attention must be paid to that all-important infotainment and connectivity system. The first thing that impressed me was the colourful, easy-to-follow guide – far less terrifying than the usual Bible-thick instruction book. As technology becomes infinitely more sophisticated internally, we non-techies need it to become equally more simple externally. Ergo, a nine-inch screen is a good place to start.
That said, Gothenburg, we do have a problem, not that it’s exclusive to Volvo. It’s time for all manufacturers to admit that, as beautiful and attractive as touch screens may be, they do not work nearly as well in practice as a simple manual dial. Furthermore, their initial pristine appearance is instantly ruined by the faintest dab of the first sweaty finger to make contact with the screen. I predict that in-car touch screens will become extinct within the next few years. So there we are, a solid four stars out of five thus far. Agreed? Good.
The driving position is like sitting in the director’s box, directly above the halfway line at a glitzy Premier League club but with all the creature comforts of corporate hospitality
Everything about this car is smooth. Gear changes, braking, engine noise, steering, even body roll
Now, how’s that rating going to look after we take into account what she’s like to drive? Well, I’m not sure I need go any further other than to say the following: I have never felt more like a steering-wheel attendant rather than an actual driver in any car since I passed my driving test. When cars are terrible to drive you have to bully them into doing what you want. When cars are wonderful to drive, you simply invite them on to the dance floor and let the magic happen.
But this car isn’t either of the above. Volvo proudly declares that all XC60s sport three new features (steer assist, oncoming lane mitigation and blind spot information system with steer assist) which ‘represent clear steps in our work towards fully autonomous cars’. Which in my book translates as: ‘We have no long-term interest whatsoever in what it’s like for a human being to drive our cars.’ In which case, congratulations, because that’s precisely what it already feels like. You might as well be at home waiting for the kettle to boil.
Everything about this car is smooth. Gear changes, braking, engine noise, steering, even body roll. Life, if you will, becomes smooth when you’re in a modern-day Volvo. But it’s all too smooth, it makes driving the XC60 a comprehensively passive experience. Like Volvo is doing all it can to wean us off any joy whatsoever gained from interacting with a steering wheel, gear stick or foot pedals. Driving a Volvo has become akin to sitting down to do your favourite crossword but then being rendered obsolete as each answer magically materialises in front of you – in perfect numerical order, starting with one across.
Engine 2.0-litre diesel
Gearbox 8-speed auto
Top speed 127mph
Fuel economy 55.4mpg
First year road tax £200
But then again, few of us hunt and forage our own food any more. Nor did we think to march on Parliament when the remote control became de rigueur. And although I remember my mum nobly standing up for the rights of our humble washing-up bowl versus the dishwasher, I later found out this was only because we couldn’t afford one and she wanted to save face.
When it comes to cars, however, aren’t we just a little bit different? Don’t most of us find driving relaxing, exciting, liberating, romantic, escapist – meditative, even?
Yes, there is unquestionably much to admire about the Scandinavian approach to life. They seem to get a lot of things right, when most of the rest of the world is getting everything wrong. But I just don’t get this clamour for autonomous cars.
The XC60 is one of the safest, best-looking family cars of its type on the road, but whereas last week I couldn’t wait to drive the Lexus LC 500, I couldn’t wait not to drive the Volvo.
In which case, I suppose Volvo has got me completely where it wants me.