Driving with Miss Dashboard: Getting a run for my money in Volvo’s luxury hybrid

Alexandra Tilley Loughrey drives petrol free for a week in the Volvo XC90 T8

The Volvo xC90 is not an uncommon sight at the school gates, supermarket car-parks and on Cotswold country lanes. For many years it has stood for safety and security in the large family car market. but this new xC90 hybrid version, the T8, is in another league of luxury and innovation.

I’m a massive fan of trying out new technologies and have driven several electric cars, but I wanted to see if such a huge chunk of a hybrid car (it makes my Land Rover Defender look positively meagre in size) would fulfil my driving needs for the week. Volvo maintains that the car can drive up to 27 miles on a full charge, so I figured that was enough to do all my local daily driving. It costs about 90p to charge fully per night, so my plan was to do all the school runs, after-school clubs, work meetings, dog walks etc on about £7 for the week.

My first trip out was to Chipping Campden (about 8 miles from home), driving demurely along winding country lanes, especially as I was stuck behind a visitor slowing down to look at the dormant bushes at Cotswold Lavender in Snowshill. Campden is always a great place to visit with its many independent shops, with their arts and crafts heritage. I found a gorgeous card from the Cherry Press, then dropped in to try on hats for an impending wedding at Louise Pocock millinery. I was seriously tempted by a headpiece modelled by singer Paloma Faith, but am considering a bespoke felt fedora, once I’ve found the right dress.

A New Holland tractor had rather inconsiderately parked right on my front bumper, but the XC90 is so easy to manoeuvre (and the rear-view camera ensured I didn’t “kiss” the car behind) that I zipped out of the tight parking space and headed off for school pick-up.

When I collected my daughter she immediately “retrieved” the third set of seats from the boot. Unlike some family cars that can just about squeeze a couple of extra basic seats, these are as luxurious and large as the five regular ones, easily reachable for the rear heating controls and with extra cup-holders to boot (always a popular choice with my nine and eleven year olds). Again with many cars, folding out the extra sixth and seventh seats leads to a lack of bootspace, but there was still plenty of room for our leggy lurcher and the amply built Edward (the terrier-mutt) on our weekend dog-walks in Guiting Woods.

Charging the car really is easy. As easy as charging a mobile phone, which we all do, at various points throughout the day – with a full-on boost over-night. I just plugged the charging cable from the car into the bog-standard socket in our garage. On a regular socket an overnight charge (from empty battery to the maximum charge of 27 miles) takes 6 hours. Volvo have a deal with a company called POD who can install a fast charger at your home for about £400, which enables you to fully charge the battery from empty to full in about 2 ½ hours. People asked me if I’d found an electric charger (there are hardly any in the Cotswolds yet, though this is changing – Soho Farmhouse & Oxford Services have them), but you really don’t need one for local driving – you just plug in as soon as you get home. And of course, being a hybrid car, if the electricity runs out while you’re out and about, the car automatically kicks into using the petrol engine.

I loved driving the T8 so much (it’s like snuggling into a moving chic leather armchair) that on a couple of occasions I lazily drove to our wonderful new shop at Temple Guiting (which is usually only a 15 minute walk over fields) to meet friends for coffee or grab some of their delicious Bertinet Bakery’s sour-dough, David Moore bacon and Jess’s Ladies organic milk.

The week continued with trips to Bourton on the Water, to collect my son from various football and rugby matches at The Cotswold School (armed with plastic bags to keep the mud off the immaculate leather upholstery). I bombed over Cleeve Hill to go school shoe shopping with my daughter in Cheltenham (“bombing” does eat up the electricity quicker than you’d like, as does whacking the heating or air-con on full blast), so when returning home I plugged it in for a couple of hours so I had enough electricity left to drive to Winchcombe for running club.

Did I fulfil my challenge of driving for about £7 for the week? Well I did – yes. But, isn’t there always a but - one note of caution on the joys of running this car so cheaply - once it hits the high roads it gets extremely thirsty. My husband borrowed it for a couple of round-trips to Oxford and (of course loving the acceleration) it drank nearly a full tank (albeit a smaller than average tank as this is a twin engine car) of petrol. Ooh!

Although it pains me to say this – I absolutely love, love, love this car. It pains me as Volvo has always had a safe, sensible car - ergo - dull reputation. This is a fabulous family car that has all the seats and space you need for the school run, the weekly shop, weekend rugby tours and motorway driving. This car is not in the least bit dull, it’s extremely exciting!

Factbook

Fuel consumption – Volvo claims the car can do up to 134mpg!

Road tax - £0 – or as they’d say in Sweden – Nolla

Safety – many mycket (Swedish for loads) - safe features, as most people expect from Volvo – if the car inadvertently leaves the road, the front seat belts are automatically tightened, and the front seat frame has a collapsible section (a world first) that reduces forces to help prevent spinal injuries. Another world first is its “City safety” (it works in the countryside as well) feature – offering fully automatic emergency braking if a large animal, pedestrian or cyclist veers into its path (even at junctions).

Media -  An easy to use iPad-style touch screen system which accesses radio, satnav, blue-tooth connection, fuel consumption, drive modes – with the most marvellous surround-sound speakers.

That Bling Thing – heated front seats and steering wheel, the most powerful LED headlights that dip automatically.

This seasons colours – 10 options covering a subtle Scandi paint palette in solid or metallic, with white, grey, black, brown and a slightly uacteristic red.

The drive – Oh, just gorgeous. Light as a Mary Berry Victoria sponge and as smooth as whipped cream. You won’t believe that such a big car can turn so deftly.

Trim – Three price options of Momentum, R-Design or Inscription, offering soft, luxurious leather upholstery in blonde or black and a range of alloy wheels and added extras – from safety features to widgets. This hybrid comes with a full length glass sun-roof as part of the package.

Automatic or manual – Being a twin engine (hybrid), it’s automatic – with an 8-speed, 4-wheel drive gearbox. The T8 has seven drive modes: Pure, Hybrid, Power, Save, All-Wheel-Drive, Off-Road and Individual, which means the car can be a locally driven, zero-emissions electric car, a fast performance SUV, or a combination of both - all at the touch of a button.

Optional extras – POD home charging system (for faster charging), 360-degree parking camera and park assist, retractable tow-bar, headlight cleaning system. The list goes on…

Warranty 3 year unlimited mileage

Price from £60,450

Follow Alexandra on Twitter @MissDashboardUK for a refreshing take on cars.