THE alarm wakes me at 05:00 hours. Family holidays need to be run with military precision. Scheduled time of departure – 06:00 hours sharp. We are looking at the best part of 850 miles by Volvo V70 D3 SE Geartronic and Brittany Ferries, from Edinburgh to St Jean De Monts on the central west coast of France, and I want to get most of the driving done while the roads are quiet.
The actual time of departure – once me, my wife, our two sons aged 11 and nine and our six-year-old daughter have finally gathered our passports, ferry tickets, sunglasses, magazines, kindles, cuddly toys, colouring books, travel games and DVDs, and once we have fed the fish, watered the plants, locked up and double checked all of the above? The back of 09:00 hours. Quelle surprise...
I needn’t have worried about setting off late. The car I’m testing for two weeks is a two-litre, two-tonne diesel automatic behemoth which is soon devouring the motorway miles in comfort, speed and unrivalled safety. Although loaded with luggage for five people who don’t know the meaning of the words “travel light”, the cavernous boot copes easily and the cabin is unlittered, with endless bits and bobs stowed in Tardis-like pouches attached to the front seats and in door pockets.
“Keyless drive” means the car jumps into life when a button on the dashboard is pushed, with the brake pedal depressed, and the car in Park mode – the actual key only needs to be close enough to be picked up by electronic sensors, so it saves rummaging about in pockets or handbags.
And before long, we are at Tebay – the duck-friendly jewel in the crown of motorway service stations, on the M6 in Cumbria. Normally I’d expect to stop earlier but the kids are engrossed in watching movies, sitting snugly in cunningly integrated booster seats to the left and right, while the oldest boy is in the middle. He doesn’t need a booster seat any more, but it’s a shame there aren’t three of them because when the kids swap seats later, the single booster we had brought with us for the middle covers the lock slots, making belting up in the back slightly awkward.
Anyway, we’ve got a ferry to catch so I set the splendid adaptive cruise control to warp speed and head off. The car purrs smoothly up to the assigned mph, and maintains it or adapts it according to the velocity of the car right in front, while keeping a safe distance behind. In practice, this means simply pointing the steering wheel in roughly the right direction for hours at a time, with no need to use brake or accelerator at all, as the cruising speed is tweaked up or down by a button on the steering wheel. When a car hoves into view travelling slower than you, simply move into the overtaking lane (the Blind Spot Information System in the wing mirrors flashes a warning light if something looms in an adjacent lane) and zoom off. This surely is the future of motoring and I love it.
Soon we are aboard the good ship Bretagne. After a dreamless sleep, we hit French roads and very nearly a BMW. Oopsie! My fault. NB: take extra time to look left past your passenger if your car is right-hand-drive and you are joining a roundabout on the continent.
The powerful climate control system quickly helps get my temperature down to normal, and the soothing tones of the flawless Satnav system put me back on an even keel. Somewhere along the N3 from Rennes to Nantes I recognise the familiar flash of a speed camera in my mirror, but pay it no heed – I’m sure the gendarmes have bigger poissons to fry than the casual rosbif who strays over the 130km-per- hour speed limit.
Besides, delightful though the drive is in this Volvo – it handles like a dream, has an impressive turn of foot to overtake dawdling motorhomes, and a top notch sound system including DVD, radio, USB and Bluetooth connections – the fact is that when you are on holiday with three kids you just want to get to your destination as quickly as possible.
Indeed, when we get to our Vendee campsite carpark, the Volvo decides we are arriving a little quicker than strictly necessary, and as I trundle along at two miles an hour, anticipating the site barrier will rise as I near it, the Collision Warning With Autobrake kicks in and we jolt to an instant halt.
Oh well, at least we know it works. And even if it hadn’t, everyone in the car would have been cosseted by the usual Volvo array of airbags, side-impact protection systems and inflatable curtains.
The rest of the drive is a delight, and the total distance covered along a mix of motorways, country lanes and corniches before returning home comes to about 2,750 miles. I only manage an average of 39.8mpg but blame me, not the car. Drivers with more nous and a lighter foot might achieve 55mpg – if they’re not encumbered by passengers who repeatedly announce they need the toilet NOW, just as you drive past the last service station for 50 miles…
CAR Volvo V70 D3 SE Geartronic
PERFORMANCE Max speed 121mph; 0-62mph 10.0s
MPG (combined) 49.6mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 149g/km