It’s safe, all right – if you Cough up extra
When the British army was fully engaged in the Iraq War, its soldiers at the Basra airbase who needed a new gun, or a replacement axle for a Snatch Land Rover, had to queue up at a window in the stores warehouse. It was known as “the window of no”, because everything you wanted was never in stock. It was the army version of Monty Python’s cheese shop. Except for one thing…
When I visited the base there was a mortar attack and I was ushered past the window of no and into the building itself. I discovered that while there were no guns or bullets, there were 6000 pairs of chefs’ trousers. This is because the army is fundamentally a government operation, and everything run by the government doesn’t work.
Which brings me neatly to the debate on clean air. Back in 2001, a bunch of hand-wringing bicycle lobbyists managed to convince the powers-that-were that petrol was evil. As a result, Gordon Brown immediately adjusted tax rates to make diesel-powered cars more financially attractive. A decade later, another bunch of hand-wringers convinced those in charge that diesel was killing pensioners and everyone should use petrol instead. And guess what. The clueless imbeciles agreed. So now all those who bought diesels have been told they must pay more company car tax and vehicle excise duty.
Now everyone thinks – wrongly – that they will be worse off if they buy a car with a diesel engine.
Yes, the taxes are high and persecution of diesel enthusiasts will undoubtedly reach a point where police will be entitled to murder anyone found to be one, but for the foreseeable future you’re financially better off using a more economical diesel in a big 4x4 than a petrol-powered V8 or V6. And really, they can’t ever outlaw diesel because their precious buses use it.
I’ll therefore stick my neck out and say that this diesel debate will soon quieten… before some more lobbyists cause the government to change its mind again.
I bet Volvo has its fingers crossed on that one, because as recently as three years ago it was selling almost no petrol-powered cars in Britain. To make life doubly difficult for the Sino-Swedes, their diesel engines have never been any good. And the 140kW 2-litre turbo unit in the Volvo V60 D4 Momentum Pro I tested recently is no exception. It’s a dismal power plant: rattly, noisy and gutless.
Sure, Volvo says it’ll do more than 4.7 litres/100km, which is pretty good for a car of this size. It’ll save you lots of money. But so would never going out at night. And who wants to do that? Actually, scrub that. Lots of Volvo drivers never go out at night. Nothing says your sex life has died more than a Volvo in the driveway.
There’s another issue I have with the V60. Volvos are billed, in my view correctly, as the safest cars on the road. The company boasted two years ago that by 2020 no one should die in one of its cars. And figures show that in Britain, in the 16 years since it was launched, no one has died in an XC90 in a collision with another car.
However, in the V60 a lot of the really clever tech that’s used to help avoid an accident in the first place is an optional extra. You want crosstraffic alert systems and rear-collision mitigation and blind-spot information and so on? Well, the package into which that lot is bundled will cost an extra $3000. It’s like Coca-Cola charging extra for the bubbles.
There are lots of things, in fact, that are not provided as standard. While the model starts at £31,810, the actual cost of my test car was an eye-watering £45,390. This is known to economists as “a lot”.
Of course, maybe you don’t mind paying a stupidly high price for a noisy car that runs on a currently unfashionable fuel, in which case you’ll be interested in the upsides.
There are a few. It’s a handsome thing, and it’s a truly lovely place to sit. No one, apart from Rolls-Royce, makes better interiors these days. Oh, and it’s extremely spacious.
I’m not sure, however, that this is enough to offset the drawbacks.
All things considered, then, you’re better off with a Beemer.