Thursday 26 April 2018

Lording it in sleek, safe estate

Campbell Spray enjoyed a trip down memory lane with a good-looking Swede and was impressed by numerous safety features if not the fiddly gearbox

SOME 10 days ago I went for a trip down memory lane or more accurately through the leaf-strewn villages and downs of southern England that I visited with my father when I was in short trousers nearly 50 years ago. My father had left after 34 years, what we shall euphemistically call government service, and fancied the idea of running a small hotel or pub. In many ways it didn't turn out to be a good idea although it put me through a top boarding school. But that was all still to come and in 1960 I travelled with him as we drove around south Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire looking for suitable premises. A couple of them stuck in my mind because this was Wellington country; he of the boot, Waterloo and the monument in Phoenix Park.

So I was delighted to revisit the Wellington Arms in Baughurst, Hampshire. This time I would be behind the wheel of the car and not stuck in the car park with a lemonade, straw and bag of crisps (complete with salt in a twisted blue wrapper). In fact crisps would probably be off the menu at the Wellington Arms as it was recently voted the second best British country pub to eat in by the Times.

I have inherited my father's love of Swedish car brands so I was delighted to be driving the Volvo V60, the estate version of the attractive S60 which is a super-safe and brilliantly comfortable rival of the BMW Three Series in the premium family car market.

While estate cars are the nearest I will come to possessing a landed demesne of my own I do identify with them.

I have driven some exceptionally good ones already this year with a Mercedes and BMW standing out as they are not cowed by the poor reaction such cars normally get over here.

Hopefully that will change as people see that the SUV was an aberration and that a good estate can do everything and more than most of the Ballsbridge and Chelsea tractors aspired to. In reality the current trend for "crossovers" is a reworking of the estate concept by adding a bit of artificial padding.

The V60 is a very comfortable, well-specced four seater with oodles of safety equipment and very low-slung profile which stakes a claim for being a coupe estate. It has the right curves to put memories of Volvo's old boxy estates out of your mind. It could be the firms's best-looking car yet.

The fallacy that any of the cars in the family/executive sector can be true five-seaters was demonstrated when we were met at Southampton airport by two XC60s to take us to Baughurst. Three decent-sized men had to get in the back and the hour or so along the motorway proved to be one of the most uncomfortable journeys I have ever done.

The safety set-up on the V60 is immense; detecting everything from pedestrians, blind spots, veering out of lane and even if you are tired. You probably need them as the gearbox is so fiddly that your attention will wander to it when your eyes should be on the road.

The diesels are punchy enough and exceptionally thrifty. However, the D5 number with a twin-turbo-charged five-cylinder diesel is the one to choose if you really want power and it had us flying over the Hampshire Downs. It was a very precise car to drive which was just as well as the November sunshine was blinding at times. Prices may start at €34,000 for a competent V60 petrol model but don't be surprised if you spend another €10,000 if you go diesel and opt for luxury.

A day's driving such a good car in the company of convivial colleagues and then a good lunch isn't the most arduous thing in the world and I am lucky to be able to do it occasionally.

Putting the V60 through the school run, a week's commuting, a trip to Ikea and a run down the country after Christmas will be more testing. But I can't wait. This seems a very fine car and is in the final seven -- jointly with its saloon sister -- for the European car of the Year. I wish it well as it gave me a break from the current misery and put me in touch with less complicated times.

Sunday Independent

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