Thursday 17 August 2017

Volvo XC60: 'It was good to be cocooned in such a safe car'

It was back up to Donegal again for Campbell Spray and this time he was cocooned in the ultra-safe Volvo XC60

A little over-hyped: the Volvo XC60 is a real looker and premium class but not perfect
A little over-hyped: the Volvo XC60 is a real looker and premium class but not perfect
Campbell Spray

Campbell Spray

I returned to Donegal for a few days' holiday at the end of last month, exactly a year after visiting the county for the first time as the guest of the Wild Atlantic Way marketing initiative.

We and Sam the dog returned to Rathmullan House on the banks of Lough Swilly on the opposite side to Buncrana, which most impressed us last year.

We returned at our own expense after being guests of the WAW last year. And it didn't disappoint again, although the weather once more failed to rise above mediocre.

One year it will, so we can live in hope.

Last year for our trip to the north-west, we were testing the new Volkswagen Tiguan SUV which since then has been rather over-shadowed by its siblings in Audi and SEAT.

The Audi Q5 is a really lovely premium SUV which is a joy to drive but begins to be frighteningly expensive as the options are added in.

At the other end of the scale, the SEAT Ateca is a truly excellent buy - more sporty and stylish than the Tiguan and better value. I have tried diesel and petrol and the latter suits the Ateca better, giving the car a refreshing lightness of touch.

This year for our sojourn, we were testing the new Volvo XC60, which is a lovely looking and ultra-safe SUV with some very intelligent crash-avoiding tech on board.

There are some annoyances; the rear doors should open wider, the sat-nav is temperamental and took us way out of our way on more than two occasions and there's a fair bit of road noise in an otherwise well-built and sturdy car.

Yet some might think that the XC60 is over-hyped. Its driving didn't deliver in the same way our hotel on the banks of Lough Swilly did. The driving is confident but the steering feel is rather limp and the automatic gearbox didn't have the immediacy I wanted, yet once it eventually kicked in, it delivered in spades.

The XC60 has been a massive success since its launch nine years ago. It now has a real premium class cabin and the overall Volvo architecture is a winner.

The last version was one of the best-selling premium SUVs and Volvo's top-earner, and this one will do better, despite my caveats.

The test model was very well accessorised but did cost €60,045 which pits the car against Mercedes and BMW, if not with a slight premium.

The former especially is building some of the best cars in the world now but there is a certain cache about the Swedish marque, but then I was for many years a committed Saab man.

We had a good holiday and did a lot of driving in some pretty bad weather.

It was good to be cocooned in such a safe car as the XC60.

*****

Volvo made news last week when it announced plans to build only electric and hybrid vehicles starting in 2019, making it the first major automaker to abandon cars and SUVs powered solely by the internal combustion engine.

This is very laudable but the whole dynamic of a car can change with extra weight being added, so the company should tread carefully.

The move came in the same week that France said it would outlaw the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. The move to electric can only gather pace which puts up all sorts of challenges in tax revenue, the future of petrol stations, infrastructure and the possibility of a nation's transport fleet being compromised by cyberattacks creating massive power surges.

Meanwhile, I read in the Daily Telegraph that an economist at Stanford University has predicted that virtually all new cars on American roads within a decade will be self-drive electric vehicles. And he isn't alone in this prediction.

The main reason lies in lithium-ion, the key component of car batteries. The cost of this material has fallen by 73pc since 2010 and is forecast to fall further. By 2025, this falling cost will make electric vehicles cheaper than internal combustion engines. Sam Hall, a senior researcher at Bright Blue, believes that rather than reach for regulation like France, governments should be accelerating this market-driven transition through incentives and infrastructure investment.

A transport system dominated by electric vehicles requires a different refuelling infrastructure. Government loan guarantees could unlock the necessary private investment for this by lowering financing costs.

Many experts believe charging will take place at home or at work, when vehicles are stationary for long periods. So planning guidance should encourage new properties to have charging facilities.

The only reason Macron's government has been able to propose a total ban is because markets are on course to deliver this outcome in any case.

Sunday Independent

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