Years ago I attended a bus rodeo in the north end of the city, where I learned to drive an actual city bus – not only forward, but backwards, and through an obstacle course. There’s something about navigating a big and bulky vehicle, especially around corners, that gives you incredible insight into the laws of physics, and new respect for bus drivers everywhere.
So when I picked up a very large and very white 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Drive E Momentum, I was just a little cowed. Could little old me – all of 5 foot 4 and 121 pounds – be be capable of helming Volvo’s largest SUV? Would it even fit in my parking spot? Then I remembered, hey, I conquered a circuit of vicious traffic cones in a city bus! And felt invincible.
Inside, the Volvo was like my own personal five-star hotel room. Plush black leather cushioned my derriere, with multiple seat settings to ensure I was not just comfortable, but downright rapturous. Brightwork and elegrant woodgrain adorned the dashboard, which also sported a touchscreen the size of an iPad. Actually, it worked much like an iPad, with swipes up and down and left to right bringing up various menus and screens. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was a whole nicer and definitely more fun than my iPad.
No doubt about it, a person could live very luxuriously in the XC90. In fact, a family of four could have lived in that car. Friends of mine pronounced it the perfect road trip car, with its ample back seat and storage capacity. There was seating for seven! Back seat passengers could even set their own seat heater temperatures on a touchscreen.
To put the Volvo into motion, there was a slightly retro “start” switch switch on the console next to me. It reminded me of the rectangular stop/start button on old Steenbeck film editing machines. You never know where those Volvo engineers find their inspiration! And as soon as the Volvo leapt to life, I skimmed the five driving modes available, and opted for the “eco.” I guess I was a little nervous about how much fuel the 320 horsepower motor would consume. (It was actually quite reasonable, getting about 11L/100 K, or 21 miles per gallon.) Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system proved ridiculously easy to use, and I was able to handily set up my favourite Sirius radio stations. It even previewed what was on all the different stations, so I could see if, say, Jackie DeShannon was on some other station, tap and make the change. The drive was even more refreshing with the Volvo interior air quality system, which monitors incoming air, removing pollen and pollutants.
So as I moved forward, ensconced in sumptuous yet supportive black leather several feet above the asphalt, I felt rather regal. Like a queen, moving among her villagers. This, I thought, is how Beyonce must feel, and wondered if she too had a Volvo XC90? Far removed from the street, bumps and road noise were alien concepts, banned from my luxurious cabin. I glided around the city, oblivious to the riffraff and detritus faced by more common vehicles. Could there have been a smoother ride? Doubt it.
And yet, for all its pomp and circumstance, the XC90 was surprisingly limber. After all, even though I could barely feel the potholes and jagged patches of my neighbourhood’s 24-7 road construction, I still had to maneuver through lanes reduced to half their width, stopping and starting at the whim of the local workers. We tore through the snarls and jams, shedding barely a bead of sweat. I even managed to pull a U-turn during rush hour, and, even more impressive, parallel parked in the frenzied Market area.
Hands down, the XC-90’s most appreciated feature was its ability to toggle back and forth from rear view camera to 360 degree view. This was a godsend not only when parking on the street, but when parking in a crowded shopping mall lot where pedestrians, blinded by visions of bargains, completely lose their concept of safety and sanity. In fact, the 360 degree camera even worked underground! Backing up was a treat, as the suite of Volvo safety alerts burst out in a chorus of trills, whistles and chirps that sounded like a Disney soundtrack.
One morning, I came down to my tiny parking spot, ready to take my big fancy ride out on the road, when I saw that there was an even huger vehicle parked next to me. A brand spanking new Chevy Silverado had somehow been lovingly wedged into parking spot #7, and it came this close to making my XC90 look small. Just the headlight from the Silverado was the width of a Mazda MX-5, I was sure. The whole beast was at least twenty feet long and easily stole my hard-won title of “big bad truck” right from under me!
Not being one to dwell on such things, I hopped in the XC90 and pulled out. Under a clear blue autumn sky, we headed out to the highway, and out to the country, where the leaves were just starting to turn. I peeled back the enormous panoramic sunroof, and let the fresh air into the car, allergies be damned.
Inside, all was bliss as I watched the pastoral scenery unfold before me, around me, and above me.
A girl could get used to this.
Funny how getting outside of my comfort zone was so, well, comfortable.