Wellie wearers rejoice! The much-loved classic Volvo estate is back and it’s bigger and cleverer than ever
Model: 2.0 D4 Momentum Auto
Top speed: 140mph
0-62mph: 8.5 seconds
Rather than coffee spoons, I have measured out my life in Volvo estates. So far I’ve owned four of the great slab-sided beasts. Sofa-soft with trunks the size of larders, they seemed more like rooms than vehicles. The first one in particular stole my heart. Fire-engine red with natty tweed seats, it was bursting with the kind of period details I called eccentric, but everyone else called failures: no fuel gauge, central locking which omitted one door, a nozzle which only sprayed the left side of the windscreen… So when Volvo announced it was producing an all-new estate, I started counting down the days until I could get behind the wheel of one. And now it’s arrived…
The V90 is the estate version of the S90 which is the saloon version of the XC90 which is the SUV version of… well nothing really as that was the first model built after the company was bought by Geely, the vast Chinese multinational headquartered in Hangzhou. The firm poured billions into R&D before launching its new range, and the results of all this investment have now brought Volvo the best sales figures it’s had in 25 years. In the UK alone, Volvo sold just under 50,000 cars in 2016, and just over 500,000 around the world. That’s 1,464 new cars a day.
The estate, for so long a cornerstone of the brand and an object of fetishised desire for the chinless classes, has played no part in those figures as yet, so the arrival of the V90 (the V stands for versatile) is only going to push the numbers ever upwards. The car, with its abrupt front and flowing lines, is certainly handsome. The details are all very calm, cool and collected – there’s nothing here to scare the horses, but from the front the gaping grille does make it look like a basking shark. Inside it’s wonderfully spacious and roomy and the feeling of light is boosted by the panoramic roof, blonde woods and leathers, and subtle lighting. The sheer amount of space is astounding – the knee gap for the back row passengers is bus-like.
The Volvo comes with just one engine size (1969cc) and it only comes as a diesel, either a D4 or a slightly more powerful D5. Both offer excellent consumption figures but the lack of a petrol unit will disappoint many. However, a T8 hybrid plug-in with both petrol and electric engines has just been launched. The D4, which I tested, is a wonderfully relaxed and capable drive. It won’t respond well to a thrashing, but then why would you want to hammer a Volvo?
Comfort and style aside, it’s with its compendious safety and driver aids that the V90 pushes its long nose way ahead of the opposition. From connectivity (featuring Apple CarPlay, voice control, standalone Spotify, an app that lets you remotely control locking and preheating) to anti-crash technology, the list is encyclopaedic. For me the star feature is the semi-autonomous Pilot Assist which, essentially, does motorways for you.
But it is a Volvo so all this may not come as a giant surprise. After all the brand has been a world leader in safety for decades. What will come as a surprise is the price. The V90 starts at £34,955. That is still a big number, but seven days at the wheel made me feel it was worth every penny. And considering my first Volvo estate cost me £750, that’s saying something.
Never drink and drive
For the past few weeks I’ve been breathalysing myself before I get into bed. I’ve also been breathalysing my wife, though recently she’s decided not to take part in my “experiment” any longer as she feels I am being “judgemental”. I’ve also been breathalysing myself again the morning after. The results have been fascinating, but not always in the way I expected.
The unit I’ve been using is the new AlcoSense Excel. It’s about the size of a small walkie-talkie, has a clear screen with intuitive graphics which give on-screen prompts and tips, and offers instant results. It is also the first breathalyser under £100 to offer the same accuracy as larger police-approved breathalysers.
The AlcoSense Excel is easy to use. You simply slide up the cover, which turns the machine on. You then insert a breath tube and follow the instructions. It counts down from nine seconds and tells you to exhale gently as if you are sighing. It then analyses your breath sample and within a few seconds gives you a detailed reading to two decimal places.
Confusingly, most countries have different limits. However you can set your AlcoSense to alert you when you are close to or over the limit anywhere in the world. For instance, the limit in Scotland is lower than it is in England, so you can change the settings of your unit after you drive over the border to make sure you are still within the local legal limit.
The AlcoSense Excel is particularly aimed at drivers with families who want to stay safe, those who rely on their license for work or play, and who seek reliability and accuracy at an affordable price. The results it gives are as accurate as the same evidential units used by the police, which costs £13,000.
All breathalysers (including the police devices) require periodic recalibration. The AlcoSense Excel has a recalibration alert which tells you when to send it back to the maker for servicing. This takes two days and costs £20, including return postage. It’ll ensure your product always remains accurate. However, to be doubly safe, all the readings the unit gives are compensated for by 20% so in the rare event the results drift over the year, you can be sure that you will always be well below the legal drive limit. Long lasting batteries are good for up to 300 tests over six months.
Confession time: I am sure I speak for many of us, when I say that we assume we can drink two units of alcohol and then safely get behind the wheel of the car to drive home. However, that isn’t true. Factors such as whether we are male or female, fat or thin, large or small and have eaten recently or not, all play a part in the speed our bodies move towards a level of intoxification.
England has the highest drink drive limit in the world. In the weeks I have spent breathalysing myself, I have been astounded by quite how high that limit is. Several times I drank more than I would ever feel comfortable driving on – let’s say half a bottle of wine. Knowing that I didn’t feel fit to drive, I tested myself anyway and to my astonishment found myself still under the legal limit. For me, a bottle of beer and three glasses of red over an evening still brought me in under the legal limit in England, but I would have been over the limit in Scotland – and most other countries in the world.
I spoke to Hunter Abbott, MD of AlcoSense, and a passionate campaigner against drink driving. I was worried that the unit might actually encourage people to drink more than they would think they could get away with. “It’s not just about being under or over the limit,” he said. “Studies show that if you drive while having only one-eighth of the English drink drive limit in your system, you are 37% more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than when sober.”
More terrifying still, Hunter tells me that if you drive at the English limit (0.35mg/L) you are 13 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than when sober, and five times more likely at the Scottish limit (0.22mg/L).
If you ever meet someone who has been over the limit and caught driving, they really do deserve to lose their licence because they will have been actively drunk. Hunter then tells me that almost 20% of all drink drive convictions occur the morning after.
Check yourself, but always remember the “legal” limit in England is very definitely not the “safe” limit. The only way to be truly safe on the road is to never drink and drive.
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