Seldom a fan of habitual festive frivolities, Iain P W Robertson decided to revive a tradition and whisk a Volvo to and from Bruges to test its frugality, load capacity and to restock the seasonally-depleted domestic cellar.
Freedom is what I seek, without resorting to short-legged Australians donning woad and crying it in a cod-Scot’s accent from atop a shire-horse. Part of my motoring freedom lies in an ability to reach the near continent and exercise my buying power, while shouting loudly at locals who fail to comprehend my best intentions (New Year‘s Resolution: Learn some foreign tongues).
Residing in the quaint calm of Lincolnshire, all long drives are a challenge. Enjoyable, I shall grant you, but a challenge all the same, due mainly to the contrary nature of the county’s roadways and its lack of motorway access and egress. Departing four-up, in a Volvo XC70 2.4D, with auto-tranny, in fog, at 4.30am, added to the issues. Yet, three hours later, we boarded a P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais, none the worse for our travails, the Chinese go-anywhere estate car being more than up to the task.
Now owned by the Geely Car Company, it is fortunate Volvo retains its sturdy Swedish origins, of which winter driving is a vital pillar. The XC70 had shrugged off early-a.m. frost, both on-car and on-road and, apart from its windows accommodating an increasingly opaque layer of grey salt and detritus, we crossed in Business Class comfort to coastal France, partaking of a timely breakfast (including porridge) in the ferry’s on-board Brasserie.
Having consumed a seemingly excellent three bars of the digitally monitored fuel gauge‘s twelve, the prospect of covering the return mileage on a solitary tank looked probable. Costs incurred thus far were £2.00 for the Thames crossing (one way) and £149 Club Plus for the ferry (return fare for four occupants of a large car, including priority boarding and the use of the well-serviced Business Lounge, notable for the paucity of screaming shell-suit wearers and their offspring, with ‘free’ refreshments and a selection of daily newspapers). The ‘Full Englishes’ were a mere £13 per head and the service was First Class.
It is abundantly obvious that the notoriously jest-free Gauls have been exacting their revenge on free-thinking Britons of late. Speed cameras proliferate on the uncluttered roads networks in northern France and Belgium is overrun with overzealous rozzers determined to keep GB plate-holders at comfortably below their posted speed limits. I am not complaining (much), as the steady cruise equated to active parsimony on the right pedal front.
De Panne/Adenkerke was the first stop in Belgium for its Delhaize supermarket beer and wines, the chocolatiere and a coffee shop. However, we soon returned to the northbound motorway route to Bruges, using the Volvo’s excellent distance cruise control, which adjusts the performance according to whatever the traffic flow. I am not a fan of ’platooning’, which is a scientific EC-funded experiment incurring a hefty Volvo investment. Yet, some of the electronic safety developments arising from the technology are certainly practical.
Bruges was as beautiful as ever, its seasonal street market and skating rink adding to its appeal. Shopping completed (with boot full), we headed south to Calais, re-crossed the Channel, enjoying afternoon tea in the ferry’s business lounge and departed Dover at potentially the worst time of 5.30pm. Yet, a trouble-free run meant that we were able to reach home, unload and catch the end of Corrie, while marvelling on Volvo’s many superior points, not least its outstanding fuel economy, all attained within a one day trip.
Conclusion: Very few large family cars, especially equipped with automatic transmissions, can match the Volvo XC70’s 39mpg overall. Comfortable, capacious and impeccably well-built, while Volvo might shrug its shoulders at ‘premium’ references, it is a real rival to any of the top German brands and makes ‘les Froggies’ look genuinely sick.