No place to hide

It didn’t look like much at first, just a wispy cloud of snow particles, blown across the M25 from the top of an articulated trailer. It was only like driving through a mild snowstorm… until the next truck, also passing in the opposite direction, shed a gigantic slab of packed ice that had settled atop its load. In an instant, the carriageway was being bombarded by glacial bricks. There was a flurry of brake lights amidst the explosion of frozen waste, but for the most part the torpedoed traffic just pressed on and hoped for the best.

The fragment which blasted the windscreen of our long-term Volvo Estate looked pretty substantial from where I was sitting. It hit with some force, too, before atomising on impact. A flick of the wipers and the screen was immediately clear and, apparently, intact.

Bitterly ironic, therefore, that a small stone should ricochet off the screen not two minutes later, leaving a tiny hole in the outer surface of the glass. It feels smooth to the touch, but a scar is nonetheless visible. Perhaps the icy bomb had weakened the glass. Perhaps it was just the extraordinary velocity of the pebble. Whatever, it was the first time anything out of the ordinary had happened to the 850 T-5 in its first 5000 miles of our stewardship.

And the first in a series of minor incidents. There was the bad-tempered road traffic cone, for instance, the base of which was clipped in the bump and grind of London traffic one evening. The rubbery triangle performed a graceful arc… and its base connected firmly with the Volvo’s nearside mirror, which shattered on impact. Contrarily, the offside mirror survived what looked to be a far harder brush with a van that attempted a pass through a gap that was at least a good two inches too narrow.

And then there was the failed headlight bulb. Volvo is more thoughtful than most. If a bulb goes, an orange light glows menacingly, and unmissably, on the dash. If you don’t do something about the problem pronto, the warning light will likely become a major irritant. So you pull promptly into the nearest service station, close to Macclesfield. There’s a gale force hailstorm going on, but it only takes a matter of seconds to release a headlamp bulb, doesn’t it?

Not, apparently, in a Volvo. Some 25 minutes and a couple of pairs of badly scratched hands later, the duff bulb was finally released once the spring-loaded retaining clip had finally been persuaded to part with its charge. And then, of course, the service station doesn’t stock bulbs of that type, sir. A suitable replacement was finally located 12 miles up the road, and this gave 10 days faithful service before it, too, expired. Fortunately, the replacement procedure really was only a matter of seconds this time, and bulb number three has lasted rather longer than did its predecessor.

At the time of writing, the 850 has covered the best part of 7000 miles, and the aforementioned trifles have hardly been enough to cause serious concern. A more pressing problem is what I’ll want to do six weeks hence, when Volvo UK arrives to reclaim its property. Is there anything else on the road that has the T-5’s blend of performance, practicality and discretion? People keep nodding appreciatively when you harp on about its good points, before they raise an eyebrow and enquire, ‘Yes, but how many sets of front tyres have you gone through?’

You know why they are asking, but the fact remains that the T-5 only acts like a rabid dog when you allow it to. The modern fascination with technological acronyms which remove many of a driver’s responsibilities is all very well, but the fact remains that the majority of cars still require the driver to do more thinking than the engine management system. The T-5 is one such. And its deep reserves of torque mean that you really never have to resort to extreme firstor second-gear acceleration.

Last year, Volvo was struggling to keep up with customer demand for the T-5. After four months at the wheel, I can fully understand why. The biggest drawback is that it’s a bit too big to hide when they come to ask for it back…