MOTORWAY travel is the best way to test a car: driver and vehicle face mile after mile of tough Tarmac
MOTORWAY travel is the best way to test a car: driver and vehicle face mile after mile of tough Tarmac on a massive rolling test bed of endurance, reliability and comfort.
Major roads and winding country lanes may give indications of a car’s handling and performance but the real nitty-gritty of motoring these days is on our congested motorways.
A 450-mile round trip before Christmas confirmed my belief that in this respect modern cars undergo the sort of daily hammering our fathers and grandfathers in their old jalopies could not have survived.
Of course, today’s cars are built with motorways in mind. Indeed, they are tested in adverse conditions and ruthlessly belted along the freeways and autobahns of the world as part of their routine development.
But the simple prerequisite for any motorist setting out on a long motorway journey is reliability. First of all, you want to get there and preferably in one piece.
Bonuses along the way are good fuel economy and comfort. This week’s test car, the Volvo S80, on our pre-Christmas trip to Cornwall delivered these essentials for a successful trip in spades.
I appreciated the fact that not everyone on the M5 was driving such a vehicle: a splendid luxury saloon with leather seats, options that put it in the £37,000 bracket, and a 1984cc diesel engine that allows you to cruise all day without blinking. Overall, the S80 delivers an extraordinary average fuel consumption of 65mpg.
The point is that the motorway is the great leveller in car ownership. People often ask me what car I prefer (or what car I would buy) given the choice and I always reply that it depends entirely on your personal taste and use. There are some great city cars available today but faced with regular long motorway trips none of them would be my first choice. Neither would most of the splendid superminis that most people around the world drive. As with most things, ultimately it comes down to what you can afford or are prepared to pay.
A car costing about £30,000 is not cheap but if you regularly travel long distances on motorways I would recommend the S80 any day.
For a start, you feel safe. Safety of course has been a watchword of Volvo for decades: to my mind this carmaker long ago set the standard that others have followed.
The S80 is not a spectacular car but it is undoubtedly a safe one. I find its BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) is an invaluable safety feature for motorway driving: every car should have one. BLIS registers if another vehicle is in the offset rear blind spot alongside the car and alerts the driver via a visual signal.
At first this may seem over-the-top, but with the close proximity on motorways of other vehicles in all kinds of hazardous conditions it is a must. Too many drivers are becoming too casual about signalling when changing lanes. I think a blindspot warning system should be compulsory. Many drivers are far too relaxed these days about the frequent occurrence of motorway accidents that could be avoided with more care and a little technological help for the driver.
The S80’s comfort zone — the spacious interior — is a pleasure to be in. Apparently, eight out of 10 Volvo customers specify leather upholstery, so with the S80 the designers aimed at “creating unbeatable seating and side support”, accentuated by Scandinavian hide. This kind of attention to detail gets my vote on a long drive.
The 2013 version of the S80 includes a number of new features: the diesel option is extended to a new five-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbo diesel, all diesel-powered versions have CO2 emissions at 120g/km or below and the estate can be equipped with the new systems Road Sign Information, Active High Beam and Tunnel Detection.
All in all, this is a car to be considered if you are buying a vehicle where long trips with economy and comfort are required. The kind of Volvos presently coming off the production line are markedly more advanced than they were just five years ago. You can see from the basic cost of the car plus some options set out below that you will be required to dig deep. Yet if you travel regularly on the motorway, I think the investment is worthwhile.