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To save money we went with a now defunct company called Ski West and they had one really really clever idea. Which was to use sleeper coaches to transport hoards of skiers to the Alps.
That might not sound like a big deal
But the devil is in the detail and Ski West did the detail very differently. Their coach seats would fold both up and down, so that the entire coach was turned into a single massive pair of bunk bends.
The. Entire. Coach.
I’ve no idea how the mechanics of it worked, but they did, and it meant if you were on the top bunk you slept nose to tail with twenty or so fellow traveller on one huge horizontal slab of cushioned seat with a similar bank of snoring skiers below. It worked beautifully, for three or four years, until someone asked ‘what would happen in an accident’ and the answer was ‘total carnage’ because a sudden stop would tip us through the front windscreen like lemmings off a cliff. So we went back to non-reclining seats, cramp, no sleep and long long drives down to the mountains.
I mention this because those childhood memories die hard and I’ve refused to drive to the alps ever since. Once I was in charge of my own holiday destiny it was flights and trains all the way. But this Volvo changed my mind. The XC60 swept us down to the pistes, on admittedly much better roads than the ones of my youth, assisted by driving aids that made a huge differences to the levels of stress and tiredness that one would usually endure.
I’m now a convert for ski driving with all the zeal of a reformed smoker. We took the two wheel drive version with big winter tyres and a roof box. That gave us more than enough space for two adults, two teenagers and all their luggage. I’d downloaded the BBC iRadio app and as we floated down through the Eurotunnel towards Paris we were warm, comfortable, entertained and safe. And this is where the car’s driving aids really come into their own.
The cruise control kept the car merrily humming along at 75mph and whenever we drifted slightly out of lane a gentle beep would remind us to keep between the lines. That’s pretty amazing in itself but what really worked was the awesome combination of radar braking, line sensing, the blind spot alert and cruise control. Whenever we came up behind a slower car the XC60 would slow down, tell me when it was safe to pull out and then, as we changed lanes, actually accelerate back up to cruising speed, all without me having to touch a pedal.
This made the rolling ebb and flow of the Autoroute significantly less tiring than normal and the 900 miles or so passed in a relaxed fug of Rumpole radio re-runs and sleeping kids. Once in the resort we used the car for daily transport to the slopes and again it didn’t disappoint. The fold down seats enabled us to pack skis in the back and the chunky snow tyres and traction control made short work of any banks of snow we encountered on the way.
In fact such short work that one fellow driver, whom we towed out of a stubborn drift, refused to believe that it wasn’t a 4×4, giving truth to the alpine pub maxim that a two wheel drive with snow tyres is better than a 4WD without. So at the end of our trip I handed the XC60 back with a heavy heart. This is exactly the sort of trip for which this car is designed. It dealt with the sub-zero conditions, tons of luggage andthousands of miles with ease.
But would it be right for our London urban streets?
On balance, I say yes. The upright driving position and parking aids would make those city streets a breeze. And combined with the smaller size and footprint compared to a real Chelsea tractor, the XC60 is both easier to use and more socially acceptable than some of those really big lumps of metal patrolling our streets.
Prices start from £31,205 and the model we tested with driver support pack, metallic paint, winter illumination pack and other optional extras was £42,910.
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