The Moon Under Water

A year with a Norse God. 

All images by the author.

If George Orwell wasn’t volunteering to fight in the Spanish civil war, he might just have been found causing literary chaos whilst craving a pint of stout in his perfect pub. A turbulent life ended aged just 46, Orwell spent many years inventing (and searching for) the Moon Under Water – his perfect, Londinium watering hole. 

In his (final) Saturday essay published in the Evening Standard, 9th February 1946, Orwell set out ten significant bullet points, eight of which he eventually found in one unnamed hostelry. In turn, this led to me thinking can similar attributes be used to review a car after twelve months ownership? 

In that time, Nimrod has safely carried me just over 7,000 miles. Fortunate enough to have a position of employment I travel to daily, the enforced restrictions of the past year naturally limited other journeys out. One always attempts to take the longer route, if only to savour the time spent in such a wonderful car. 

Orwell’s first point was that his pub’s architecture and fittings should be Victorian. Known for their longevity, Volvo aren’t quite that old but the wood used for the dash, door surrounds and console covers remains a tactile and visual joy. Orwell searched for “solid and comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century.” 21st century Scandinavian ideas work for me.

His second point concerns a good roaring fire. The S90’s heating would be infinitely better for a physical point of control rather than a touch screen finger jab. Some journeys, the temperature is left as was, regardless in order not to upset the drive. However, the power alongside speed of the heating is superb. Same goes for summer cooling. The ten day long heatwave the UK endured this past summer saw external temperatures reach 33 Celsius. Within half a mile, one can be chilled to the bone in such rarefied luxury, the Lo setting perhaps requires re-naming Guinness extra-cold?

George wished for games only to be played in the public bar so as to avoid the worry of flying darts. The daily sojourns into public life are enough for anyone who drives. Idiots abound.

Silence. Orwell wanted his pub sans radio or piano. Well, the 2-litre diesel resonates on start up, especially when cold but evaporates swiftly enough. One could never call the car silent (only the Recharge Volvo’s offer that) but intrusive is too strong a call. Background atmospherics in a comforting manner. And should the slurring gearbox upset the Lark Ascending, the volume of the excellent audio system cancels most things out.

Barmaids; not exactly. But the woman in my life believes the car too big and cumbersome yet basks in the glorious space of the passenger seat. Her role of navigator almost redundant now with the easy enough to fathom for a dinosaur such as myself, sat-nav, not that we’ve used it much.

The pub Orwell invented sold tobacco, aspirins and stamps, none of which can be found in the not exactly cavernous but perfectly acceptably sized glovebox. In fact, there’s not much in there at all – spare reading glasses, biro, notepad. One doesn’t even need to carry the bible thickness handbook as everything is online. Another Orwellian stipulation being the pub’s “obliging use of the telephone.” The car and mobile connect the instant the ignition is on. One now utilises this display in order to charge the phone, an easy task with a USB point confined within the storage area where the left arm lounges.

Back to Orwell’s enjoyment of stout (of a sort) being Nimrod’s own drinking habit. £75 of frothy diesel fill ups allow for around 475 miles of range with my (non-motorway) commute. The brief forays onto the motorway network (where he is far more at home) sees that range extend. One often plays the game of “how few miles left in the tank” afore filing up – my lowest being but 20 and the orange idiot light twinkling.

On matters food and repair, my commute is mercifully short but one wouldn’t eat or drink in the car, regardless. Not being one for takeaway anything, the cup holders as a rule carry little. Now, on the repair front, the car has returned to the dealership for the following; one service and the MOT. The service was a the annual affair, fluids, check over and cost £250, plus one unlucky moment where a joiners No. 6, 3” screw lodged perfectly in the centre tread – a repair costing £10; new tyres significantly more.

Orwell also thought his beloved stout tasted better from a pewter pot. My automotive take on this personal description being that once washed and polished, the Luminous Sand positively sparkles. And when the sky turns pewter with il pleut arriving, the concurrent beading effect emphasises the S90’s sleek attributes. Under certain weather and lighting conditions, the metallic gold paint proffers a more (under water) argent hue which is impossible to capture by camera but delights me. Therein lies more than mere depth to the paintwork.

At certain angles, the Chinese made saloon appears smaller than he actually is. I’d love to compare Nimrod with a Jaguar XJ of any series or a saloon from Crewe. And, in fantasy land, a mid-1960’s Buick Riviera. Don’t laugh, dissimilar dimensionally they are not. The Riv is 600mm longer, 160mm wider. The S90 sits just 1,443mm high – Buick at 1,372mm. Both share vast bonnets. A Swedish Riviera, then? The colour fits.

The car, like Orwell’s hostelry search, ain’t perfect (are any?) – his length and girth make for some interesting manoeuvres on my routes to and from work. That front end has a propensity to bottom out, causing the driver to emit a grawlix or ten whilst the underside graunches. Sometimes the front sensors inform me I’m too close to absolutely nothing in front of the car, making my wife (and myself, to be honest) jump on hearing the noise.

And I’ve barely got to grips with the multi-layered menus, settings and memory features as I’m far too happy enjoying the trappings of a large and luxurious saloon that not only looks the business but assuages most of my desires.

Mr Orwell never did find his perfect pub. My perfect car search is called off, too. Guinness, anyone?

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

24 thoughts on “The Moon Under Water”

  1. That’s a very handsome car and seems a pleasure to drive. It has always struck me as counter-intuitive though that a Volvo, normally a safety-first brand, ditched physical HVAC controls. The car would be improved at a stroke and become much closer to Orwellian perfection.

  2. Good morning Andrew. Thank you for a most enjoyable report on your S90. I’m delighted to read that it has been just as good and satisfying to own as expected. The S90 really is a handsome design and puts current overwrought BMW and bland Mercedes-Benz styling in the shade.

    One thing surprised me though: is the (European market) S90 really made in China?

  3. Nice motor….. and I’m impressed by the variety of registration plates it manages to display. I’m fairly sure know where you took the photos – but don’t worry, my lips are sealed!

  4. One of very few handsome saloons left. Glad to hear it is working well for you in the long term.

  5. Very good – has the HVAC got voice control? That could be one solution.

    I really wanted to read your clay model piece -I haven’t had time, yet

    1. Though the E-Type roadster I saw on the M3 this morning was rather nice.

  6. I’ve owned a few Volvos. These, and the V90, are beautiful cars with absolutely enormous showroom appeal but when I looked to buy one to replace our old XC60 I just couldn’t bring myself to spend £40k+ for a car with such a prosaic powerplant; with their “four cylinders or nothing” strategy Volvo are dead to be until I can buy a full EV from them. The engines lost them two brand new car sales to me, and a colleague bought an X5 almost entirely because of the inappropriateness of a 2.0 220bhp diesel in a £60k SUV.

    For decades Volvo had a range of superb powerplants; compact V8, twin turbo sixes, low and high pressure turbo fives, each and every one of them brilliant and yet all installed in cars of real dynamic mediocrity. For the first time they smash it out of the park on styling, interior design, showroom appeal, give it a proper double wishbone/multilink chassis, and then fit such ordinary engines is almost ironic.

    1. But Mercedes-AMG SLs are going down the four cylinder route too, so it’s hardly as if Volvo are alone.

      And to choose a BMW…?

    2. David,
      In a way, the Volvo-designed “Drive-E” motors are powerplants that an engineer will love: more powerful than the old V8, more economical than any prior Volvo (and other similar-sized cars, at least according to North-American figures). They allow Volvo to design lighter, space-efficient cars that are not compromised for larger V engines.
      I understand why people want a straight 6 or a V8, in a weekend hobby car. Do they make sense in a luxury car where you can barely hear the engine? As long as you get your 5-second 0-100 and never-to-be-tested top speed, what’s the difference? Any engine sound you hear probably comes from the on-board entertainment system.

      I do have a huge bias, of course. I came of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Back then, any car with a V8 was slow, heavy, unwieldy, thirsty, fundamentally obsolete. They were huge anchors that kept you from escaping the suburban subdivisions where they lived.
      On the other hand, cars with small modern engines could be fast and interesting. I’m sure that perceptions were different in Europe, where 4 cylinder engines were ordinary, and V8s were exotic (although a drive in one would have quickly dispelled that myth…).

  7. Hallo everyone and thank you for the comments and questions.

    Yes, the first couple of years or so of S90 production was made in Sweden. The change came in 2017, where my car falls. Were it not for us poor detail freaks, you’d never know where the car was made. There’s even a tiny Swedish flag sown into the drivers seat side cushion. Which makes me wonder what the “Geely-ans” think.

    As to voice control, I’m never sure if it’s my accent of turn of phrase but you can change the temperature – sometimes. I’ve spoken things like “temperature twenty” and the computer started looking for an address in America. Next time, it’ll work fine. Same with phone calls. Ask for a certain name and again, the sat nav found me a perfect route to a Birmingham curry house. Trying again and we were phoning someone different. Thus I tend not to trouble “Our Johnny.” For thats who the voice control icon is based upon – Johnny Depp. When the team of interior designers were investigating the best lookin’ folk to give the icon a “face” that’s where they landed. No tattoos or piercings, mind. I admire the ideas but get frustrated at their user-unfriendly leanings.

    Engines; well, like styling I suppose it’s all subjective. Did you test one one at all, David? I’m no longer a racing driver wannabe and the sheer size of the S90 argues against such practices anyway. But the car can shift when I want it to.

    On the central console lies a small knurled wheel to initiate the three different driving modes; Eco, Comfort and Dynamic or, as I prefer, “Lively”. With Eco, you can certainly feel the car loosen in regards to freewheeling. Ideal for traffic conditions when it suggests there’s no way of overtaking and wafting along. The Comfort mode is probably an ideal balance. Flick to Lively though and you not only get a change of dashboard gauge, you feel things tighten; the revs rise, the gearbox will hold those revs and the chassis does appear to feel far stiffer than the other two settings. Pick your gap, floor the throttle and I’ve seen licence loosing speeds appear in a heartbeat – and the line of trucks disappears rapidly. Quite intoxicating but the chances of using the 235bhp to its full are few and far between. There are sub-menus for alterations of these which includes steering feel and suspension travel. It’s one menu I’ve barely troubled.

    Is the S90 more sporting than a BMW? Having never tried the Bavarian I couldn’t say. Are the differences in software set up more responsible for such traits than ‘just’ suspension? I’m hardly qualified to pontificate either but I know the pliant ride works for me. And should the mood prevail, there’s more than enough get up and go available. I’m not about to take Nimrod on the racetrack. One questions do many funfers or seibens take to the Nurburgring unless living local?

    I have to agree on the showroom appeal levels. Whilst waiting for the recent MOT to clear, my nose was pointed toward a brown S90 Recharge which had no price tag and looked exactly like mine barring moderate changes to external lights, wheels and seat patterns. Under those spotlights, the colour oozed in a liquorice toffee manner. I’m sure that hue will, like most look horrendous when dirty. Luminous Sand itself is a pig to keep clean – the car’s left hand flanks come in for a particularly hard grubbing – vice versa for left hand drives, no doubt. The wheels, too take an age to clean.

    Locally I’ve now seen five or six S90 saloons, usually new, and shades white, black and blue. The estate version does seem more popular but not by much; maybe two dozen. In my environs, the S or V90 are still pretty rare.

    Did Orwell drive? If he did I like to think he’d favour the Volvo. But he would also probably want a much more powerful engine contained under that huge bonnet, maybe even poking through.

    And JTC – should you wish to know the location of the S90’s photo shoot, ask the editor for my email address. You maybe surprised!

  8. In my opinion, the V90 looks better, in fact I find it nearly faultless as far as looks is concerned. The problem with the S90 in my view is the rear panel, wich I find strangely clumsy.

    1. Andrew, delighted that you are delighted with your Norse god. I’ve just completed 10,000 miles with our Norse cherubim, an XC40 and while very different in stature from Nimrod there are many similarities. I was also surprised that it might have originated in China rather than the cool rationality that is Sweden; in fact more prosaically it came from Belgium. The Belgians obviously know how to build cars as the first year has been faultless but not without a steep learning curve. The interior is, in my opinion, superbly minimalistic with a properly integrated touch screen and therein lie the problems. Too many functions have to be accessed via multiple screens and I have been known to pull in to the side of the road to get the radio station or Spotify stream I want. There is also a little too much nannying about changing lanes or when I should stop for coffee and I too have been alarmed by clanging to warn of invisible hazards I have been able to get the HVAC to respond to voice commands but my Norn Ireland accent obviously confuses the entertainment side of things .
      Those are the demerits. Economy is good at 35+mpg for a boxy 4wd vehicle and I like the selective drive modes, almost always Eco or Comfort. Seats and ride are first class and wind noise remarkably subdued. Definitely the most aesthetically satisfying car since my Audi B4 Avant. Lets hope our Volvos keep rolling.

  9. Thanks for your update Andrew, I’m following with a keen interest. There’s one near where I live, in silver, much prefer your colour tbh.

  10. Don’t want to spoil the party, or upset anyone, but I ceased to be a Volvo fan when the Amazon died.
    I remember a Volvo claim that they upholstered in “man made leather” which suggests to me that they clad seats in human skin instead of cowhide….

  11. 235 bhp from a 2 litre diesel!

    In the changed order of things we’re going to miss these engines far more than the pumped-up end-of-days petrol motors. Electric powertrains can give us acceleration and speed previously beyond the reach of the masses, but how long will it be until they can cross the length or breadth of old mainland Europe on two easily replenished tankfuls?

  12. Inspired by Andrew’s report, I was in Volvo-spotting mode on this afternoon’s neighbourhood constitutional. Lots of suvs – no surprise. XC60s outnumber ’90s, the XC40, which never looked like value against the next size up. Two S90s, only one wagon. One current V60, no third generations S60s at all. For all its worthy qualities, the South Carolina-built sedan seems to be the forgotten Volvo.

    Three of these Polecat 2 things spotted – it can’t decide whether it’s a Volvo or not. It looks awfully like Volvo to me.

  13. Good to hear you’re enjoying the S90, Andrew. I like it overall, but there are a few things that bother me. As far as the exterior is concerned, I don’t like the grill, the treatment of the C-pillar and the rear of the car, especially the taillights. Also there’s too much chrome for my liking.

    I like Volvo seats. Personally I’d like them even more if they were a bit firmer. The dashboard is good, but there’s too much of it. It probably is there too feel the occupants safely cocooned, but it would be more elegant if it was a little less bulky. I don’t like the center screen either, but I can’t really think of a center screen I do like.

    It sounds like there are a lot of things I don’t like, but compared to all of its competitors, this might be the smallest list. I wonder if I’m nostalgic for older cars, if todays offerings are just worse than older cars or if I’m too spoiled. I reckon all three do apply, not necessarily in equal measures.

  14. Hi Freerk, how wonderful that we differ. I like a chrome flourish and the S90 hits the exact spot for me. This being the Inscription model , the lower spec models look plain without the chromed areas, again, to me.

    The seats are without doubt the most comfy I’ve had. Be it returning from a walk, a day at the office or a longer drive, they remain a delight to sink into and rarely require any change other than which level of heating element to choose on a colder morning.

    Parking at home on the drive allows me views of the C-pillar and rear lights aplenty which has become a favourite view. I honestly don’t see the front grille much, only when washing the car but the grille doesn’t offend.

    To “Polecat’s” (an excellent phrase), these not-Volvo’s seem to be hewn from a similar vein of granite with minimal overall differences over their current ICE compatriots. Again, I like them but certainly not enough to ditch what I have. And with brand new Volvo’s only being the recharge variety, what is the point of Polestar? Perhaps some research is in order.

    1. However good their cars, Volvo have some TERRIBLE equipment level designations. “Inscription”, conjures the image of gravestones, and “Momentum” puts me in mind of Jeremy Corbyn.

  15. Sorry I didn´t get around to commenting on this one before. A few years ago I had the pleasure of reading Orwell´s non-fiction essays. They´re gathered in one one volume by Penguin. The pleasant aspect of Orwell is his approachability; although he is a professional writer and writes professionally, one gets more the impression you´ve been invited into his world as a friend rather than an abstract reader. Like Leigh-Fermor, Orwell can paint vivid images with little effort. It would have been fascinating if Orwell had done more travel writing but his social travels more than make up for. Try Down And Out In Paris And London for a bleak and arresting impression of poverty. I almost prefer Orwell´s non-fiction to the admittedly excellent fiction.
    And yes, the Volvo is very much the epitome of the thinking man´s big car. It hits the mark for me too. Can we presume that since Ford, Opel, Renault and many others have fled the big saloon market that Volvo is reaping the rewards of being the last man standing?

  16. Perhaps, though I would suggest that the Volvo’s price rather excludes it: Auto Express lists have it as £56k, Volvo’s website shows only the Recharge version, which adds another £2k. It’s smaller, but perhaps the Mazda6 is the last of the larger non-premium saloons in the UK, with the Passat and Camry being alternatives. Mazda has chosen to use comparatively over-sized and under-powered engines, which is something that marks it apart from the crowd.

    Wikipedia suggests that the next Mazda6 will be longitudinally-engined, rear-drive and use a 3.0 and/or 3.3 litre 6-cylinder 48V hybrid version of their Skyactiv-X non-turbo engine. Depending on the price, that may well really be the last of the breed?

  17. Lovely car and and a really interesting report on your ownership too. Like Tim I am awaiting the date when you decide to change…

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