Why Volvo’s mak­ing it big again

Spa­cious, sturdy and safe, the re­vamped Volvo V90 is back with a vengeance, says Charles Ran­ge­ley-wil­son, who re­lives the car’s hey­day aided by a 1980s playlist

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Charles Ran­ge­ley-wil­son drives the Volvo’s re­vamped V90

IWAS look­ing for­ward to my week with the new Volvo V90, the car the com­pany should have been build­ing th­ese past 20 years. I even had a 1980s playlist on my ipod. Back­seat teenage jour­neys were al­ways in a large Volvo es­tate, my fa­ther’s de­fault pick from the com­pany-car list. A 265 GL was the first. It re­placed some dread­ful Re­nault, which had re­placed a Bris­tol when the price of fuel went through the roof.

The Volvo was a wel­come step back to­wards com­fort­able mo­tor­ing. It had a six-cylin­der en­gine and could eas­ily swal­low an au­tumn term’s worth of books, a hi-fi, LPS, posters, lamps and du­vets from Lon­don to a muddy val­ley in Sus­sex. And it had a cas­sette player. When I look at one now, I can hear The Cure (my choice) or Glen Camp­bell (my fa­ther’s).

The 265 be­came the 760, be­came the 960, be­came the 850. I learned to drive in one (the 760) and I bought the last (the 850) from my dad, when he re­tired and it was my turn to have a fam­ily. Those big Volvos had be­come an al­most time­less icon of dogged, pi­o­neer­ing safety and spa­cious prac­ti­cal­ity. No one else built cars like th­ese.

For a teeny win­dow of time, the 850 mor­phed into the V90 and then Volvo had a col­lec­tive brain freeze and re­placed its sine qua non with a shrunken ver­sion, the V70, and, for a full gen­er­a­tion, ev­ery­one with a grow­ing fam­ily missed out on the ‘classic’ Volvo. Mercedes, then Skoda par­tic­u­larly, stole the mar­ket in enor­mous es­tates. Now, with a fresh in­jec­tion of cash, Volvo has found its way again and the V90 is back.

An AWD (all-wheel drive) D5 In­scrip­tion ver­sion was de­liv­ered al­most new and gleam­ing fresh to my Nor­folk drive­way, just in time for the sugar-beet har­vest. Be­fore it got cov­ered in mud, I took a few min­utes to be struck by the looks. Volvo has the styling spot on.

My AWD ver­sion was pow­ered by a four-cylin­der turbo-diesel (they’re all four-cylin­der now), so was a teeny bit growly when pressed hard, but not in­tru­sively so. This one had plenty of power and low­down shove. It’s not a car that en­cour­ages you to get a hus­tle on, any­way. Volvo has de­lib­er­ately built a re­laxed, mile-munch­ing cruiser. Ba­si­cally, you en­gage D, leave it there (no flappy pad­dling needed) and glide about the place in im­mense com­fort, co­cooned by ev­ery safety fea­ture known to man.

I had the car for a week, bustling to the shops and back for a few days, be­fore un­der­tak­ing a very long round trip (fruit­lessly) chas­ing wood­cock in West Wales. The re­turn jour­ney of 254 miles was taken non-stop in the dark and the rain, full tank, ipod con­nected, caf­feine in­jected and it says a lot about the com­fort of the car that I got out at the far end with no aches or strains. The boot swal­lowed all my gear—i took a ton of stuff—and looked only a quar­ter full. Plus, with the front seat (which was as comfy as Volvo seats al­ways are) set as far back as I needed, there was still enough room for a tall pas­sen­ger be­hind me.

It’s a very good ma­chine for con­sum­ing vast tracts of tar­mac in pam­pered com­fort—ski trips, sum­mer weeks in Scot­land or the en­tire fam­ily and dog off to see Granny at Christ­mas. So far, so very Volvo. How­ever, there were nig­gles, or rather a sin­gu­lar nig­gle, in the shape of Sen­sus, the car’s

touch­screen com­puter sys­tem. It hadn’t bugged me in the XC90, so per­haps it was the jour­ney, but who­ever de­vel­oped the in­ter­face needs to try work­ing the thing at night, in the pour­ing rain in heavy traffic some­where near Dud­ley. There are no easy-to-hand but­tons or dial-like con­trols; it’s all touch­screen or voice com­mand, so that most tasks (find­ing Ra­dio 6, a phone num­ber, an­other route) in­volve a la­bo­ri­ous scroll through menus or talk­ing to a com­puter.

It’s a clever sys­tem, but us­ing it saps too much at­ten­tion from the road ahead—and that’s not very Volvo at all. Ver­dict: a dial and a but­ton might lie be­tween very good and great, but the big one is back and not be­fore time.

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