Blind spot

It’s safe, all right – if you Cough up ex­tra

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Motoring -

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.

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