4.28am. That’s the time the alarm was set to go off. But it didn’t get a chance to, because at 4.24 I awoke and by 4.25 I was out of bed and getting dressed. Even my alarm clock gets a day off on a Sunday.
Funny how during the week, the alarm is greeted with a swift smack on the snooze button as I savour every second in bed. But with the thought of a Dawn Raid ahead of me, things are different. By 5am, I was in the car and heading for the Shell garage at Sourton Down. As the highest point on the A30, I thought it would make a suitable point for the start of my pre-breakfast challenge.
The brief was straightforward enough – visit the three moors of the west country before most sensible people have had breakfast. I could have cheated, living as I do within the western fringes of Dartmoor. But to class the starting point as part of the challenge just wouldn’t be cricket. So instead, I headed west down the A30 towards Bodmin. Following a brief circle around Collyford Lake, the plan was to head north east to Exmoor, before dropping down to Dartmoor to end the drive.
I often say that a good test of a drivers’ car ability is the ‘pint of milk’ test. If a car has the ability to make a quick nip to the shops enjoyable, then it has the hallmarks of a great car. Ironically, the night before the test, I discovered that we were actually down to our last trickle of milk, so this would be a genuine trip to the shops.
Ordinarily, you’d associate a Dawn Raid with a hot hatch or a two-seater sports car. Something small, lightweight and nimble. But not this time. The choice of transport was a Volvo estate. Though not just any old Volvo estate but in fact the ever so slightly bonkers V60 T6 Polestar. It’s no stranger to PetrolBlog, featuring as it did last year. With a top speed of 155mph and 329bhp on tap, it’s the quickest ever production Volvo. But unlike last year’s brief encounter, this time it would get a proper workout. Step forward, the PetrolBlog Three Moors Challenge.
The first leg of the trip was a reasonably relaxed affair, consisting entirely of darkness and the A30 dual carriageway. As you’d expect at silly o’clock on Easter Sunday, traffic was light, but there were enough cars on the road for me to have a play with the brilliant adaptive cruise control. Set the desired speed and the Volvo monitors the pace of the traffic in front and automatically adjusts the speed to maintain a safe distance behing the car in front. At this hour, I was merely playing, but on Britain’s congested motorways, it helps to make cruise control genuinely usable, when so often it’s not.
As I sipped my coffee, I was also enjoying the crystal clear sound of the V60’s DAB radio. It’s the first time I’ve listened to an in-car DAB system, so hearing BBC 5 live without the constant crackle and dips in and out of reception made for a pleasant change. Barely 30 minutes into the journey and I was beginning to relax. Volvo on cruise control, temperature set to 20ºC, radio on and coffee on the go, it would have been all too easy to stay on the A30 and head for Land’s End.
But at the precise point I started to relax, the junction for Collyford Lake emerged into view. So at 5.48, I turned left and crossed the cattle grid on to Bodmin Moor. First moor achieved within the hour. The radio was muted and the automatic box was switched to manual. Let it be said here and now, in automatic mode, the V60 is about as sporty as Russell Grant in a leotard. The up and down changes are far too relaxed and it often misinterprets just what you want from it. Sport mode is marginally better, but in my experience, it just makes more noise and is even quicker to misinterpret your demands. Truth is, there’s only one way to enjoy the V60 T6 and that’s in sequential mode. Sadly there are no optional paddle shifters, but worse still, you can’t spec your T6 with a manual ‘box. It would be a travesty, were it not for the fact that the sequential shifts are actually rather good. In fact, they’re very good.
Up shifts happen in an instant, with even multiple downshifts handled quickly and efficiently. The fact that I stayed in sequential mode for the majority of the trip says it all.
The entire Bodmin Moor section, or should I say stage, was completed in a little over ten minutes. The road that hugs the shoreline of Collyford Lake is narrow, twisty and has the potential to throw up one or two surprises. It reminds me of a rallying special stage, a complex little road that can test the best of cars. On this particular morning it was as atmospheric as it was eerie, with a low mist hovering just above the road surface. The fact that it was completed under the cover of darkness was a help, with oncoming headlights giving warning of cars coming in the opposite direction. But on this drive, there were no other cars, with only nesting birds, rabbits and cattle grids keeping me alert. Fortunately, the V60’s adaptive xenon lights did a good job of lighting the way. Every little helps at this time of the morning.
Surprisingly, the V60 excelled on this tight little road. It tackled the entire stretch in either second, third or fourth gear and was accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack from the 3.0 litre straight-six engine. Unsurprisingly, the radio stayed off from this point onwards.
The combination of rapid downshifting and the V60’s excellent brakes allowed for late braking going into each tight corner, with the 4WD system digging deep to enable quick exits from the bends. The road may be short, but it’s wonderfully fulfilling.
I was beginning to have fun, and my confidence in the V60 was growing.
Sadly the haunting sight of the Jamaica Inn looming into view meant that my fun was short lived. It was time to leave Bodmin Moor and head east towards Exmoor. As I made my way back along the A30, a new dawn was rising and I’d already completed my first moor. One down, two to go.
It’s obviously a white Volvo thing, but I’m pretty certain some drivers mistook me for an unmarked police car on the A30. I’d often see cars looming into view behind me, only for them to pull up behind while they contemplated overtaking. After a while, they would pluck up the courage to crawl past, only to floor it again once they knew they were safe to do so. There was a similar story for cars in front too. Throughout the morning, I’d witness drivers in front applying the brakes once they clocked eyes on the white Volvo. The various safety devices mounted on the windscreen and grille don’t help matters. It’s probably best to avoid wearing a yellow jacket when driving a V60 then?
But back to the drive and at 6.16 I exited the A30 and headed through a sleepy Launceston. A few locals were up and going about their business, but it was otherwise a trouble-free trip through town and on to the A388 towards Holsworthy. I’ve driven sections of this road before, but never in its entirety and certainly not at this early hour. Well what can I say? What a truly epic road. The way the road twists, turns and undulates is delightful. The surface is smooth, visibility is great and some of the stretches are as good as I’ve experienced in Devon. One lone Nissan Micra was despatched with ease and even the mildly moist conditions did nothing to dampen my enjoyment levels. For a big car, the V60 is surprisingly nimble and as I discovered on the way to Holsworthy, the steering is nicely weighted. I was having fun and yet I was still an hour away from Exmoor.
From Holsworthy to Bideford, the A388 seemed to get even better. Despite its A-road classification, it mixes in a number of distinctly narrow sections that are peppered with blind corners and junctions. It keeps you on your toes, which is much needed when the effects of the forecourt coffee are beginning to wear off.
Something else wearing off was the novelty factor of some of Volvo’s various safety gubbins. Whilst we need to applaud anything that helps keep us safe on the road, we also need to have confidence in them. For example, take BLIS, Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System. Courtesy of little camera beneath the door mirrors, the car senses when there’s a car in your blind spot and helpfully displays an orange light. It works fine most of the time, but when it starts alerting you to non-existent cars on mini-roundabouts or country lanes, you begin to lose faith in it. Then there’s Volvo’s Lane Departure Warning System. Again, an admirable development. But it’s still downright annoying when it keeps going off when you’re enjoying a good B-road blast. So it got switched off.
But back to the drive and at 6.58 I entered Bideford, a town that was just beginning to wake up. There’s something quite evocative about seeing a town waking up. Negotiating the street sweepers and dog walkers gave the Volvo a chance to wind down after its rude awakening. Sequential was exchanged for auto and the DAB was turned back on. The V60 effortlessly switches back to wafting mode, presenting itself as a relaxed and supremely comfortable car. For a car that only five minutes ago was tackling B-road corners with aplomb, the ride is smooth and comfortable.
Exiting Bideford on the A39, I ended up following a series of Car booters, Doggies and Tippers. This was tedium personified, made worse by a slow crawl through Barnstaple. I’d had enough of seeing towns waking up, I needed to be back on the good roads.
I didn’t have to wait long. Exiting Barnstaple, the A39 picks up where the A388 left off. A series of bends and stunning views topped off with the most wonderful zig-zag section at Shoe Wood. An unexpected gem on a completely deserted road. This is why fools like me get out of bed at silly o’clock on Easter Sunday. An empty road, a tank full of fuel and a 329bhp wagon. Good times.
By 7.30, I’d crossed into Exmoor National Park. Two moors down, one to go. At Blackmoor Gate, it would have been easy to turn right on to the A399 and head down to South Molton for the sprint to Dartmoor. But where’s the achievement in merely crossing the boundary? So instead, I took the road to Lynton and headed for the coast. By now, the weather was doing its best to ruin the drive. If it wasn’t raining, it was misty. And if it wasn’t misty, it was dense fog. After stopping on the outskirts of Lynton for a quick photo, I turned right towards Simonsbath and crossed the moor. By now, the fog was so thick, the visibility was barely more than the end of the bonnet. Sheep seemed to appear from nowhere, as did the sheep poo. Let me tell you now, sheep poo is rather slippery at the best of times, but when it’s coated in a layer of Exmoor fog, it’s damn near lethal.
I was relieved to get off the moor. Fog and sheep poo do not make the best of bedfellows when you’re on a Dawn Raid. After two or three unsuccessful attempts to programme South Molton into the sat nav, I eventually succeeded by using the voice commands. It was now 8am and as I crossed from Somerset back into Devon, I suddenly realised that I’d be pushing the boundaries of breakfast time by the time I reached Dartmoor.
So I made it to South Molton, turned off the sat nav and headed for Great Torrington on the B3227. By now I was getting tired and the car was doing most of the work. The excellent brakes and four-wheel drive system rescued me on a couple of occasions. I took the warning onboard and eased off. Volvos may be safe, but even they can’t account for tired and erratic driving.
Besides, the rest of Devon was beginning to wake up now. After managing to overtake a slow moving Zafira, it wasn’t long before I was stuck behind another car. Not that this was a problem, as it just happened to be a beautiful Volvo P1800S. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s a pleasure to be stuck behind a car and this was one of them. It got me thinking about the number of beautiful and dramatic cars Volvo has produced over the years, surely none better than the P1800? In fifty years time, will we be rejoicing in the beauty and elegance of the V60? Somehow I doubt it. But for a company who’s image is so wrapped up in safe estate cars, Volvo has truly produced some wonderfully memorable cars.
The P1800 turned off at Hatherleigh, leaving me to enjoy one last rapid blast in the V60 before I reached Okehampton. This thing is quick – really quick. The top speed is limited to 155mph and you can bet that the Polestar upgrade takes the 0-60 time below six seconds. To be honest, it’s arguably too quick. Plant your right foot and glance down at the speedo and you’ll discover that not only are you breaking the speed limit, but you’re in danger of losing your licence. It’s that quick.
It was now after nine and the Dawn Raid window was firmly shut. Following a quick stop off on Dartmoor for a photo, I headed back to the Shell garage to refill a nearly empty tank. I’d completed 190 miles before breakfast and I still hadn’t bought the milk. At 16mpg, it was probably the most expensive and inspiring bottle of milk I’ve ever bought.
It had been an epic drive. A Volvo estate may not be many people’s first choice of transport for a Dawn Raid, but the T6 Polestar’s outright pace, soundtrack and handling make for an exhilarating companion. It’s not perfect of course. You never quite manage to shake off the knowledge that you’re carrying a big weight behind you and in keeping with other Volvos, the steering wheel seems overly big. Purists will reflect negatively on the four-wheel drive system and it really could do with a manual gearbox.
But on this morning and on these roads, the V60 T6 was every bit the performance hero it claims to be. And being a Volvo means you can behave like a hooligan for an hour and nobody will suspect a thing. One minute you’re tackling your favourite B-road, the next minute you’ve loaded the golden retriever into the boot and are off for a family outing.
For me, it makes for slightly left-field and more interesting alternative to the BMW 335i M Sport Touring, Audi S4 Avant and Mercedes C350. Just don’t run away with the idea that this is the most practical of the bunch. The sleek good looks come at the expense of space, with a disappointing 430 litres of room in the boot. It just can’t compete with its rivals in this department, which seems a strange thing to say for a Volvo.
But on the plus side, the interior is wonderfully put together and so very Swedish in its design and layout. At first glance it can appear dull and uninspiring, but you soon realise that it’s just well thought out and free of fuss. You also get the full joy of the floating centre console, something you certainly won’t find on the more anodyne interiors of the V60’s rivals. The R-Design seats are nicely supportive too.
At £36,585 plus £645 for the Polestar upgrade, it’s hardly cheap. And that’s before you start adding a few options.
But consider this. In four years time, the V60 T6 could be yours for £10,000. A performance car bargain in waiting? You betcha. Just don’t leave the milk that long.
Volvo V60 T6 R-Design AWD Polestar
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