There’s nothing quite like a serious road trip to really get to know your car – which is why I find my annual pilgrimage to the snow-capped Alps so important.
Not only does it prove what my long-termer is like over distance, I also get a true picture of fuel economy, practicality and, on the 1,500-mile round trip, a very good idea of comfort.
The Volvo V90 has proved to be perfectly suited to the task. First up, it excelled in the practicality stakes.
With the split-fold rear bench down, it offers copious space for a snowboard and all the gubbins that go with it, while still offering a suitable rear seat should it be needed.
In fact, the boot is so cavernous that, unlike other cars that have their rear view blocked by all the cold weather ancillaries needed for such a holiday, there is so much space that the view out of the back was completely unobstructed.
To prepare for the trip, I asked Volvo if they’d help by fitting some winter tyres. The T8 hybrid model I’m driving has all-wheel drive available as a setting when being used in electric mode, so I thought the addition of some grippier snow tyres would make it unstoppable.
The V90 returned from the workshop on the day I was due to depart, so after a cursory glance around the car and with the kit thrown into the back, I headed to Portsmouth to catch the Brittany ferry across the Channel.
When I arrived, sitting in the queue waiting to board, the tyre pressure monitoring system indicated one of the rears was low. I checked it over and could see nothing wrong, so assumed the system hadn’t been reset correctly when the tyres were changed. A few button presses later on the giant touchscreen and all was well.
This was the first time I’d crossed the Channel on holiday using the overnight ferry, usually opting for the Chunnel, and I must say it was a revelation. If you make sure you book a comfy cabin, you can sleep the hours away and wake up refreshed and ready for the eight-hour drive across France on the other side.
When we hit France, the T8 had used most of its 25 miles of electric range, and as I crossed the country I realised that when I got to the Alps and might need to call on the all-wheel drive, I’d need some electric to help me along.
Not wanting to stop to top up, and knowing the T8 can’t accept fast charges anyway, I used the car’s recharge-on-the-move function. At the press of a button, the engine charges the battery pack for you as you drive.
This takes around an hour of driving time, and once it’s topped up you can elect to hold the charge for later. To do this you simply isolate the battery pack from the drivetrain, but you need to remember to do it every time you turn the engine off and on again, otherwise it defaults to using it.
By the time I got to the Alps, I didn’t actually need the all-wheel-drive function as the roads had been nicely cleared by the efficient French snow teams, but it was good to know I wouldn’t have been stuck all the same.
As we crossed France, the V90 really came into its own in the comfort stakes. The seats are incredible, the driving position near perfect and the frankly staggering stereo system perfect for teaching my eight-year-old daughter a deep appreciation of Queen’s greatest hits.
I love the fact the V90 has Apple CarPlay too, as I use it for pretty much everything, including calls and replying to the odd message on the go. And now that Google Maps has been integrated into it I find myself reverting to my phone for navigation too rather than the in-built Volvo system.
It didn’t help navigate Paris, though. That was one downside of getting the Portsmouth-to-Caen ferry over the tunnel – the quickest way south to the Alps was via the congested capital. For those of you who have made the trip, you’ll know there’s one almighty long and deep tunnel that cuts across a swathe of the city.
That’s great, but midway through the tunnel the motorway splits into two and at that point you’re so deep underground that Google Maps has lost reception. It can be a little stressful to say the least, so make sure you know which way you’re going first.
Fuel economy took a massive nosedive on my French adventure. By the time I got back, the V90 hybrid had recorded an average of just 30.1mpg – that’s pretty poor by any measure. Comparing it to the diesel V90 I ran before this one, I really do love the T8’s smoothness, refinement and silence, but am not sure it’s worth the huge premium in price or fuel costs over the equally brilliant diesel.
I’ve only a few weeks left with the Volvo before it’s due to go back to the manufacturer and I’ll be very sad indeed to see it go. I’ve lived with it for more than 4,000 miles now and go by what I said at the beginning: This is close to being the best car on sale today. Big praise, but I really mean it. If you don’t believe me, go try one for yourself.