Bring on the snow!

This week saw the first real signs of winter approaching with temperatures dropping below freezing at times and the first snowfall. In fact, this afternoon we had fairly heavy snowfall in Warsaw while we were enjoying the latest Harry Potter film.

We’ve been getting ready for the onset of tough driving conditions by tooling ourselves up with new vehicles that are a bit higher off the ground. This is not an entirely facetious argument for getting new cars because between our estate and the main road are a couple of small narrow roads that never get the snow cleared because they are too narrow for the snowploughs and none of the residents get out there with shovels. There were a few times last year where we both thought our low riding cars could be stuck. Not to mention the general benefit of having a better road clearance in Warsaw at any time of year and especially when snow is piled up.

I think I mentioned a few months back that we had traded in Marta’s 5yr old Toyota Corolla for a new Nissan Qashqai and I took delivery this week of my new company car, a Volvo XC60 D5 AWD. Here they are cuddling up in this morning’s frost.

Nissan Volvo

I think Marta is pleased with the Qashqai. It drives very well and I’m glad we didn’t skimp on the engine size as this 2.0L (140bhp) engine seems about right for the car. It has a good high driving position and very good ground clearance. The N-Connect “infotainment” system is great and handles all the usual radio and CD stuff as well as navigation, rear facing video for parking assistance, blue-tooth hands-free phone and you can also plug the MP3 in and use the menu to access the music. For what you get it is excellent value for money although the difference in quality of seats, plastic and the “thud factor” of the metalwork in the doors is noticeable compared to the Corolla. That’s not to say it is cheap and it will easily last as long as we need it to, but they have definitely pitched the level of finish according to the price, as you’d expect. At roughly 80,000 zlots, it cost only slightly more than the Corolla did 5 years ago and you definitely get more usability for your money.

With the nature of the car industry these days it is often hard to know where they come from. Marta’s car could still be labelled as “Japanese” because Nissan are still a Japanese company although the car was assembled at Europe’s most productive and the UK’s largest production facility in Sunderland. It is harder with my car as first impressions would suggest if it is a Volvo then it is Swedish but Volvo were sold to Ford in 1999 for $6.5 billion and then again to the Chinese company Geely earlier this year for only $1.8 billion. Looks like a good deal to me! My car was manufactured at Volvo’s award winning Ghent plant in Belgium, which is where they painted it this beautiful green colour – Lime Grass Green to be precise!

Volvo XC60

Don’t know why I bothered smudging the number plate. As far as I can tell, this is only one of two Lime Green Volvo’s in Warsaw so I won’t be hard to spot! Trust me, I’m ahead of the curve with this colour. I’m sick of the traditional black, grey, silver routine, 75% of cars in Warsaw are one of those colours. White is becoming popular as a backlash against the darkness but green, green is the future!

The price of the Volvo is more than double that of the Qashqai and so you’d expect a bit more for your money. This is the point where you can get all Luddite about spending money on cars. The Qashqai does, pretty much, everything the Volvo does in terms of moving up to 5 people from A-B so why spend double the money to achieve the same end result? A Porsche Cayenne II S does pretty much the same as the Volvo, so why spend double again on one of those? The Volvo is “better” than the Qashqai, but it really depends on your point of view as to whether it’s worth the extra money. In our case, the Volvo costs us nothing to buy, or to run aside from a little tax imposed by the government so the question is irrelevant. For anyone thinking of leasing a similar Volvo, the cost is about 3,500 zlots a month based on a 3yr lease and 20,000 km per annum.

I’ve only done about 100 km in the Volvo so hard to write a meaningful review yet as I’m old fashioned enough to run my cars in for a while before pushing them. First impressions are good. The engine has a nice growl that just makes it through to the very quiet cabin and will I’m sure be plenty powerful enough when I decide to see what it can do. For the diesel-heads:

The capacity is still 2.4 litres and there’s still a five-cylinder layout but that’s where the similarities to the old D5 engine end. This is a modern all-aluminium engine with twin sequential turbochargers, piezoelectric fuel injectors and an advanced Exhaust Gas Recirculation system. The power output of 205bhp is accompanied by a meaty 420Nm maximum torque that’s achieved from 2,900rpm right up to 5,000rpm. The twin turbos help deliver the engine’s broad spread of muscle. The smaller one boosts acceleration at lower engine speeds, giving the larger unit time to get into its stride and help out at higher revs. The aim is to eliminate the narrow power band and turbo lag that afflicts less advanced engines, providing a seamless flow of power through the gears.

The best news is that it has two exhaust pipes. I’ve always wanted two exhaust pipes (that serve a real purpose as opposed to decorative boy-racer ones) and now I have them! Looks much better from the rear than those with just one pipe. :)

The auto gearbox is much better than I expected after changing from the excellent DSG of the Passat and for 2010 they have added a sport mode as well as the ability to change gear manually. Inside it is well appointed, roomy and comfortable – mine has the middle spec called “Momentum” and gives you all you need. The main improvement in the highest spec is leather seats, not a big need of mine. The ride is very good indeed and even though it does not corner as easily as the low-down Passat it is also much better than I expected from a SUV. The ‘AWD’ stands for All Wheel Drive and means it is a 4×4 or 4 wheel drive car, which should be a big help in the snow and otherwise adverse conditions. Too early for me to say how this compares to the front wheel only drive of the Passat but we got home safe this evening in a fair sprinkling of slippery stuff. Unlike some 4×4 cars, Subaru for example, it adjusts the amount of power going to front and back based on the information it gets back from the road.

Engine power can be diverted to rear wheels through a transfer differential located adjacent to the transmission. Power can be split to either the front or rear wheels in varying amounts as road conditions dictate and without driver intervention. Further downstream in the driveline resides the main component that handles engine power transfer, the viscous clutch. In simple terms it is a type of turbine in which power that normally drives the front wheels is instantly transferred to the rear wheels to help maintain optimum vehicle traction. It is the key to Volvo ‘s AWD system. The viscous clutch normally allows 95 percent of the engine power to remain directed to the front wheels and five percent to the rear wheels under conventional driving conditions. But as soon as a wheel slip is detected, the viscous clutch adjusts torque distribution to all wheels and when necessary, can transfer up to 95 percent of the engine power to the rear wheels. This all takes place in milliseconds–well before a driver would be capable of making such a decision. No special technical or driving skills are required to operate the all-wheel drive mode. The entire action is completely transparent to the driver. In fact, the action is similar to what occurs in an automatic transmission.

The “infotainment” system does everything the Passat did and a lot that it didn’t do. The hands-free phone will be helpful and little things like the ability to play CDs with mp3 tracks will be great because many of the audiobooks in the library are in that format now. I can also plug in the iPhone and play the music library, which means no more storing music CDs in the car. I don’t have sat-nav. It was a nearly 10,000 zlot extra, even with the highest spec, and all reviews of it say it is terrible. What I can do though is sit my Garmin on the little shelf in front of where the sat-nav screen would be and it will be just as good if not better. The boot is shorter but higher than the Passat and will be plenty big enough for another Grand Tour. Nice feature is the electronic opening and closing of the door to the baggage compartment, even from a distance with the key.

I’ll write more after I’ve had a chance to play with it a bit longer.



14 thoughts on “Bring on the snow!

  1. I envy you, Ian. The XC60 is probably the car I’d buy if someone else was paying. My son has an XC90, which served us well last winter when his mother had a hospital appointment to get to and ice everywhere.

    I share your thoughts about black and silver, though not sure I’d go as far as pearlescent crème de menthe.

    White is, as you say, the new black. And Audi is the new BMW. That combination is all the rage among the company car set here. And they drive as nastily as the Beemer kids, with a Get-out-of-my way attitude for all the world as if they were actually rich. I know you won’t be like that.


  2. Lime green looks well, there were few cars released in that colour in Poland, Opel Astra Classic I in late 1990s / early 2000s, then Renault Scenic I after face-lifting in early 2000s. Do blur the number plates, privacy has to be protected.

    Good to know you’re runnng the car in. As my father says only this guarantees the engine and other parts will serve well for the years to come.

    Nice your company gave you it. They don’t seem too thrifty – leasing brand new cars every three years… I, even if I had damn lot of money, wouldn’t buy it, I simply don’t get excited about top-of-the-range cars, I’d make do with a dynamic, comfortable and reliable compact car that would serve me for around twenty years.

  3. Bartek: there is just one significant reason why they are leased for three years: because it’s a lot cheaper than buying a new car, especially here in Poland. Think about it: the roads are covered in salt and sand for several months out of the year and twelve months out of the year they’re covered in a combination of potholes and speed bumps. That sort of thing utterly punishes a car. You have to drive them very carefully (and slower) to avoid excessive wear/damage …and I’ve seen how Ian drives. :)

    Our (Paula’s and my) problem is that we’re a combination of demanding and niche. We’d like to get great fuel consumption (~5L/100km), have the car we drive to be VERY safe, have the car to be very stylish, have the car to be within our price range (80-120k PLN) and – here’s the fly in the ointment – have it with a semi-automatic transmission or, barring that, a regular automatic (CVT or whatever) that still manages, somehow, to get very good fuel consumption. Paula doesn’t like driving manual transmissions, though she can in a pinch.

    The problem with Volvo, then, is that while they tick some of the boxes, they don’t tick them all – and I’m an all or nothing guy when it comes to spending a lot of money. :P …In particular, their automatics all get terrible fuel consumption.

    With Subaru good-looking cars, safe, in our price range …but same deal as Volvos. At least they sell cars with diesel engines nowadays but their automatics are just as poor (or worse) in terms of fuel consumption as Volvo’s.

    Toyota’s Prius is reasonable (you’ll laugh, but let me finish!) but the problem is …it’s a Prius. The Auris hybrid wasn’t offered in 2008 but even if it was, it’s not exactly stylish. Still, a Prius is vaguely reasonable. We may consider this next time around but out budget was tighter back in 2008 and it wasn’t really an option then.

    Honda has their new-shape Civic but the only diesel is a 2.2 litre job… and I don’t believe they offer it with an automatic at all. The Civic hybrid is the old shape and I can’t bear it.

    So, that’s why we wen with Citroen. Excellent fuel consumption with the 1.6 litre diesel that’s paired with the semi-auto transmission and electronically controlled clutch, very safe (5-star EuroNCAP), very stylish and in our price range. We’ve been very happy with it.

    I keep hoping that maybe Volvo will offer the C30 with a decent automatic because it ticks all the rest of the boxes …but until they do they’re not an option for us.

    PS: sorry for the long comment but gettin’ nerdy about cars gets my motor revvin’ if you know what I mean. :)

  4. My company buys (or rather maybe used to buy) cars and sells them after six years. Given the huge depreciation in first years it might be cost-effective as well.

    I haven’t seen how Ian drives, but if he drives like a lunatic it’s maybe because he uses company cars. He would think twice if it was his own car and careless driving would bring down its resale value.

    Automatic gearbox – never driven a car with two pedals and I actually don’t even know how to operate it… A matter of habit. I heard a few Americans saying driving a car with automatic gearbox was too difficult for them.

  5. Brad,

    The consumption figures published by the manufacturers are very misleading. As has been proved time and again, the consumption has far more to do with how you drive and the way the engine is put together than on the gearbox.

    Glad you and the Citroen are a happy match.

  6. I don’t drive “like a lunatic” and I treat my company cars better than anyone I know.

    How can anyone find driving an automatic difficult? Unless they find driving generally difficult.

  7. I’ll take over my father’s eight-year-old megane next year and I’m going to use it for some ten years, so it will stay in a family for some eighteen years. Circumstances permitting I’ll have three more cars before I grow old enough not to sit behind the wheel. Unless I get a company car, then I’ll be sticking to company’s policy…

  8. From what Brad has written I inferred you may not be necessary a cautious driver ;)

    Frankly speaking I don’t understand why some people mistreat company cars they use. Bad maintenance alwyas impinges on car’s performance and comfort of driving.

    It is difficult if nobudy tells you how to use this funny gear lever and only two pedals. Then it might be indeed easier.

  9. This is Polish drivers we are talking about…..

    “No clutch, so I have a choice of the brake and the accelerator for when I go from Park to either Drive or Reverse, which should I pick?”.

    Not that some drivers in the UK are any good either, I see enough bad ones when I am on the motorbike, fortunately I can usually spot them a long way away although there have been times when I pull up to the lights next to them and tap on the window……

    I may be brave enough for Euro 2012 to come over on the bike although I’m not sure I will be.

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