Where Teslas fear to tread
On some trips a big, comfy diesel with a 500-mile range and hotel levels of comfort is very hard to beat. By Ben Oliver
is to be lauded for its announcement that every new model launched from 2019 will be electrified to some extent. But perhaps like a few other Volvo owners, I walked out to my V90 on the morning I read the news and felt like my clean, sophisticated but conventional diesel had been subtly disowned by its maker.
It seems diesel’s days are done, despite the case that can be made to the contrary. Government ministers caution us not to buy them, knowing that punitive taxes and an eventual ban are on the way. I recently bought a nearly-new car of another make from a main dealer, and the salesman’s desperation to convince me that one of his in-stock diesels would be best for the use the car will be put to (it really wouldn’t) gave him away. Sales of new cars are down, but sales of diesels more so.
So I thought I’d make a road trip ideally suited to a diesel, and which you’d still think twice about in a fully electric car: from the Sussex coast to Belfast, diagonally across much of the UK. It’s a round trip of 1010 miles, almost all of it on motorway with the Volvo ticking over in eighth and returning a best-ever 508 miles and 41.8mpg from a single tank. I made a similar trip in harsher circumstances across Sweden in a petrol V90 for a story in the April issue, and my diesel was even less stressed. A Volvo’s ability to compress long journeys is extraordinary. I filled up near Brighton, listened to five or six albums, ate on the boat and filled up again in Belfast. The petrol would have needed an extra stop.
The purpose of the trip was to compete in the Gran Fondo Northern Ireland, a 110-mile bike race – or meander, in my case – starting in Belfast and heading south over the Mourne mountains to the border with the Republic, and back again. I am aware of the absurdity of driving 1100 miles to cycle 10 per cent of that.
The Volvo’s boot wasn’t troubled by the presence of a 7kg racing bike – which it of course swallows whole – nor the associated tools and lycra. Instead the car proved its worth afterwards. The ride itself was fast, gloriously scenic, mostly dry and I surprised myself with a top-third finish. But celebrations at the finish line were curtailed by torrential rain, high wind and plummeting temperatures. My five-mile ride back to the hotel with tired and stone-cold muscles was probably the most miserable I’ve had. By the time I reached the car in the hotel car park my hands had ceased to function.
So I threw the bike in the back, sat in the front passenger seat and let the fierce seat heaters reanimate me while I consumed every calorie in the cabin. It’s a nice hotel but the Volvo was a better place to recover.
And more impressively, despite driving home two days later, just when the aching is always at its worst, it delivered me feeling like I could do it all again.