Heaven 17

Commutable conundrums.

The author’s Volvo S90, aka Nimrod. Author’s image.

I used to enjoy driving. Manual gearboxes, open roads, the process of learning routes, freedom. These days most of my driving consists of commuting. This boils down to hoping the traffic light Gods remain green, that the pedestrian doesn’t ‘chance it’ or that we can make the next junction. Apex-carving or rewarding it’s not. Driving has become a chore but at least Nimrod, my Volvo S90 offers luxurious seats, excellent sound quality and the bonus of automatic everything. Steering involves the fingertips, the occasional furious (in more than one sense) braking manoeuvre and often futile attempts to reach applied speed limits. 

So, what’s the problem?

Temptation, pure and simple.

As regular readers of this parish already know, the S90 has been my steed for almost three years and life with it has so far been a life affirming experience. The quality and integrity of the car is second to none, and when released from the commuting leash onto the motorway, it feels right at home. Dreams of continuing across Europe often spring to mind…

So, what’s the problem?

Locally strong temptations.

I wrote this in early March when the new 23 plate vehicles hit the King’s highways, meaning that dealerships were awash with trade-ins — at sale prices! No, I’m not looking to change, the S90 stays. But…

The crushing banality of the daily drive often finds me in a state of wonder. As we grind our way home, glances at other charges lead to semi-heretical thoughts. Doesn’t Dusty Khaki suit that Dacia Duster? Is the driver of that just-from-the-showroom Range Rover aware of its staggering off-road capabilities? How many new Škoda drivers have even heard of Oliver Stefani? Goodness, you’re a committed soul driving that Giulia — where’s your nearest dealer? Gosh, that elderly Seven Series is shiny and that new-ish S-Class is clean as a whistle.

Image: autoevolution

Eventually home and despite my frazzled state, I put my (theoretical) money where my mouth is and spend ten minutes surfing what’s available in my milieu. I’ve never driven a BMW, nor considered myself a potential customer, so explaining why a 66-plate 730d M Sport appeals is difficult. It’s akin to a soloist’s output who was once in a favourite band. Their material is listenable, a couple of standout tracks but not a patch on their old-band days. This new stuff remains on the playlist, refusing to leave.

The Dingolfing produced, Nader Faghihzadeh-drawn design caught my eye due to its price, low mileage and at least screen-friendly beige leather. The exterior wears a Singapore Grey metallic, a dealership hit; sober but at least not black. 

Which is the exact hue of the 7’s perennial nemesis at another neighbourhood dealer — a 17-plate Sonderklasse. This particular W222 sports an outer jacket as dark as a ne’er do-well’s soul, and inside isn’t much brighter. This 350d of AMG Line persuasion does at least have silver alloys of fourteen spokes, along with the massive grille, DLO surround and gun-sight to break up its sombre, yet attractive ways.

Image: autoevolution

Dimensions, firstly:

S90; Length, 4,963mm (195.4”), Width 1,890 (74.4”) Height 1,444 (57”) on a 2,935 (115.6”) wheelbase. Engine; 2.0, in-line four for 235bhp.

G11; L 5,098mm (200”) W 1,902 (75”) H 1,467 (58”) on a 3,070mm wheelbase (121”). Engine; 3.0 in-line 6 for 265bhp.

W222; L 5,146mm (202.6”) W 1,899 (75”) H 1,496 on a 3,035mm wheelbase. Engine; 3-litre V6 for 254bhp.

Initial thoughts, regardless of power, is that one cannot get to one’s destination any faster when the way is choked. Can the vainglorious journalist’s favourite Germans be any better than the Sino-Swedish affair? Or merely different? This past winter has been relatively mild, yet S90 journeys were made congenial with heated seats and tunes drowning out most of the external nonsense. You may well ask why not just take a test drive? I would, but this involves time and effort not in my possession. Or what of the other rival from Ingolstadt, the A8? Aside from local examples costing twice that of the 7 or S, the nearest dealership is an awful commute away. 

Therein lies another part of the problem — availability. My interest has been piqued because of their proximity and their being ‘On Sale!’ Should they be over fifty miles away, not a second glance. But these doorstep dollies chip away at my feeble resistance and triturated spirt, more so when trying to avoid other chores.

Adding insult to injury, a brace of Range Rover Sports. One in Montalcino Red, t’uther in Kaikoura Stone, both with ebony and ivory interiors. Both 17-plate models are powered by the 3-litre SDV6 mill, trumping all aforementioned rivals with 306bhp. I grind past these on the morning route, their gelid stare felt from such elevated angles. 

Image: Motoring Research

My first (and probably only) line of defence is that of age. Having became a fully-paid up member upon choosing Nimrod, I would prefer not to lose the luxuries in automotive life. I’m sure some amongst you could rightly expound upon the benefits of an electric or possibly hybrid vehicle for my tedious journeys. My counterpoint being that few fall within budget and this dinosaur prefers owning opposed to shelling out monthly. Another reason for why road barges titillate — is bigger better?

Not always. Time and again Nimrod’s measurements has caused this driver gasps of incredulity. The S90’s length brooks parking spaces with no mercy. The creatures mentioned above exceed in almost every dimension. Such traffic congestion hardly warrants vehicles even longer and broader still. 

Recently I received an email from the nearby Volvo dealership, citing the benefits of a multimillion pound upgrade of the joint with an invitation to check out the latest stock. As this is on the route home (along with having excellent facilities) I trickled from the melee to the peaceful Swedish ambiance only to find electric C40Rs on show with no sign to these eyes of the implied wonderful new ways. 

Writing this has been therapeutic, easing those annoying tendencies towards ‘something better’. After all, every journey in Nimrod, however mundane, uplifts. Every glance reaffirms my choice, and endorses the craft of the design team. Happiness may be a warm six-cylinder but this heavenly throne wears a Volvo badge. 

Author: Andrew Miles

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

22 thoughts on “Heaven 17”

  1. Interesting thoughts, Andrew.
    Just yesterday I was talking to a friend whose daily driver is a ’94 940. Okay, like me he’s retired, but he’s never seen reason to change his car. As I typed that it brought me up with a jolt to realise that means Graeme’s car is almost thirty years old. But it still goes like a new one, and he keeps it immaculate. I’m half an hour from the nearest city, and he’s in the next village further out, so he gets to exercise his Volvo at speed, daily. Well, as close to “speed” as strict local policing permits. 🙂
    But from the sound of things, even that 100km/h would be a dream for you. And as you say “one cannot get to one’s destination any faster when the way is choked.” How true, and an uncommonly realistic appraisal. A new vehicle may have the potential for a better driving experience – may have – but when the surroundings you face daily don’t permit you to exercise that potential, I have to wonder whether the incremental improvement would be worth it.
    Volvos are comfy. I’d stick with Nimrod.

  2. The fourteen-spoke alloys on that Sonderklasse might take 40% longer to clean than the ten-spokes on your Volvo. Life’s too short….

    1. Good point, Mervyn, although the ‘how long to clean’ algorithm needs also to take into account more than just the number of spokes. In my personal experience, by far the worst alloy wheels to clean were these BBS items as fitted to my E30-generation BMW 325i convertible, identical to this example:

      All those small diamond-shaped openings with acute-angled internal corners were a nightmare!

  3. Maybe you should march in to one of those rival dealerships and boldly proclaim “You’ve got to make me an offer, that cannot be ignored”!

    I often look at the drivers of the various flavours of Range Rover I see and wonder what they do for a living and how they can afford such conveyances.

    Another vote for sticking with the Volvo. It’s clearly the thinking person’s choice.

  4. Good morning, Andrew. Another vote for Nimrod here.

    The BMW only looks good in comparison with its horrible successor, the current model. You would look like an executive private hire driver in the Mercedes. The Range Rover will break down, period.

    And yes, that green colour really suits the Duster:

    1. On a very tangential Dacia note: I see several Dacia Springs around where I live, which makes me quite happy as an appreciator of small and simple and these not being words regularly flung at modern cars in general and EVs in particular. Having driven for almost six hours yesterday on family duty, I can report to being amazed that even small Citroën Aygos or Toyota 107/8s (or Nissan Leafs) can be driven aggressively. Not so the Spring, I fancy. A rarity.

      Thanks for your thoughts Andrew: I cast another vote in favour of keeping Nimrod, certainly against the alternatives you mention. For the BMW and Mercedes the reason is simple: vastly superior design (and possibly quality/reliability). As Daniel notes: a Land Rover seems not to be very reliable. Also, they’re often driven like Audis where I live. Traffic over here is probably on a par with that in England (other parts of the UK seem more mildly affected?), but at least we in the Netherlands have the bonus of being relatively close to Germany where – apart from metropolitan areas – driving is more pleasurable.

  5. I had an S80 before moving to (my 2nd) C6. When I reflect on what I committed to sullen silence in an Irish barn (amazing seats in particular), I console myself with the quid pro quo, most salient of which is rarity. This is also a trump card of the S90, certainly in comparison to the G11/W222.

  6. Life gets better when you retire Andrew! I don’t envy you your daily commute and no change of conveyance will improve it. It brings back memories of my own daily slog between home just south of Chesterfield and Sheffield’s Charlotte Road, a distance of just over 12 miles which took at least an hour (and that was in the early ’80s).

    And then my office then moved to Macclesfield – 45 miles away across the open moorland of the White Peak. Journey time? Anything between 55 minutes on a summer morning and 70 minutes in winter when the the cloud base was low and darkness was all around. The contrast was stark – and I vowed never to go back to wasting my life sitting in traffic jams. Even in the company Cavalier the drive to and from work was pure pleasure.

    So, Mr Miles, you have my deepest sympathy, for what it’s worth. But don’t change Nimrod – it won’t help in the slightest.

  7. It seems that I’m not alone in rooting for Nimrod. Maybe because I really grew tired of the German offerings.

    Were I to replace an S90, I’d go slightly left of the centre (Skoda Superb L&K) or, even better, somewhere very left-field (Genesis G80 or G90, if available).

  8. Don’t do it, not for any of those mentioned. I was in a similarly daft dilemma many years ago now when the local Subaru dealer called me to say that he had a pre-registered, facelifted BL series Legacy Spec-B for sale at a knock down price against list. I gave in to temptation, chopping in my earlier, high mileage version of the same car in a nicer deep blue. I wanted the later version’s SI Drive and better steering/ handling and refinement. However, I look back now and think how foolish I was – the later car was a better drive, marginally, but the older car looked nicer and I wasted money on the PX.

    That said, I have been having terrible thoughts about the C6 and a KIA Stinger which has turned up on the local dealer’s forecourt … Will I never learn?

  9. On a side-note for those who might conceivably be in the market, I have it on unimpeachable authority that the present-generation Mercedes E-Class is a superior product in every metric (apart from sheer bulk and one presumes, road presence) to that of the W222 Sonderklasse. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, it would seem.

    You can’t say that DTW never provides consumer advice…

  10. Andrew – rather than getting a new car, is there any way you can work from home, sometimes? The ‘novelty value’ of my current car is quite high, as I haven’t driven it as much as previous cars that I’ve owned.

    As regards deals on cars, we’ve gone from a situation of over-supply to one of shortages, increasing prices. Demand has now dropped back, due to economic circumstances, so prices will be falling again. I expect that they will fall even further in a year or two as Chinese brands arrive on the market in greater volumes.

  11. Being now of an age where I might be fairly described as “hard of thinking” it has taken me most of the day, but I’ve finally spotted the logic behind the title of today’s piece. No, it’s not that all the cars tempting my esteemed colleague were 2017 examples, it’s this:

    Nice work, either Andrew or Eóin. 👍 😁

    1. Daniel, it may have taken you most of the day to understand the title. That’s not bad.

      It’s much worse when someone like me, who has all – “all” in the sense of “All” – Heaven 17 discs (incl. the works before that when they still worked under the name Human Leageue with Phil Oakey), is able to completely over-read the word “Temptation” in the text.
      (When I read it, I thought of a reference to the songs “Come Live With Me” or “Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry”).
      That’s “hard of thinking”.

  12. Good evening everyone – just in from a typical 45 minute journey…

    Many thanks for all your anecdotes and advice; very much appreciated and taken on board. You’ll be pleased to know Nimrod’s key remains firmly in my grubby paws. A recent drive up to the Lake District proved what a capable, refined, comfortable and eminently enjoyable machine this car is. The open road “freed” up any city bound tendencies and driving, in the main, became a joy.

    I have been checking the prices of the cars mentioned in today’s piece, however, if only to allay any fears and ponder over those mythical dealer margins. The 7 series sold within a week of seeing – to be replaced by something almost identical. The W222 was reduced by £400. The Rangie Sports had both £1,000 and £850, respectively taken off and these two remain staring but my gaze is that ahead – or the fuel gauge. Must fill up afore the Easter “getaway.”

    I know no-one who owns (or owned) any of the above, either. Range Rovers of every possible iteration are abundant. The Germans only so because of the closeness of the dealership to where i work.

    Here’s where plenty of inspiration arrived:

    The book of the 90 series design is a tactile delight, too. Printed on 150 gram Munken Kristall paper with the covers of 350gram Invercote G for a soft and smooth feel. It contains many excellent pictures along the design journey and some excellent drawings with commentary interspersed with anecdotes and commentary from the men and women involved. I like to pour over the book with a favourite drink and soak up the scene, every once in a while.

    I bought the book before the car and i love to reacquaint myself with the words and pictures from those involved which is a source of entertainment , encouragement and reminds me of the inspiration causing me to purchase the car. Once seen, I didn’t want to entertain any other vehicle. Love at first sight might be a bit strong but it didn’t take long for the feeling of knowing this is the car i wanted, to grow.

    For the mileage and type of grinding commute i now undertake, i do not need a diesel engined car. But should i wish to continue this Swedish love affair, to switch to a hybrid `S90 would be prohibitively expensive. Yet it’s tempting! You only live once versus cost and the other million little arguments one can play out in the imagination. Like a magpie, drawn to the shiny things…or being 21st century about matters, drawn to the higher end of production.

    Reading internet reports is not always good for the soul but it does appear many still appreciate the S90’s class, feel and drive but updates are not always necessarily a good idea.

    And well done Daniel with the musical reference; a fine Sheffield band along with a blend of vehicles on offer. Play it loud!

  13. Interesting thoughts, as always.

    I have recently given up on automotive life and purchased a new Dacia Jogger, reasoning that all garages within our local area struggle to work on “interesting” older cars, and I lack the willpower to keep taking back half done jobs.

    To my surprise, I really like it. Not just in a “well, it’s not too bad” kinda way, but in finding many thoughtful touches.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on testing the recent Dacia range.

    Is dirt cheap the new “prestige”?

    1. Good evening David. I suspect you haven’t quite “given up on automotive life” as you’re still here! Seriously, though, Dacia is a very interesting marque and one that to which DTW is favourably disposed. Its vehicles are practical, excellent value for money and have no silly ‘sporting’ pretensions. The Duster and Jogger in particular appear to be eminently sensible and useful things.

      You will find our previous pieces on Dacia, including the Jogger, in our archive or by following this link:


  14. I’ve recently bought a Jaguar XF Sportbrake, and feel similar to your comments on Volvo. It has re-ignited my desire to drive. I’ve not considered a Jaguar before, but was smitten after a brief test drive. It’s just such a lovely, calming, comfortable thing. It feels grown-up amongst a sea of adolescents. I know there are reasons enough not to buy a Jag, but for me there were more reasons not to want a BMW/Merc/Audi. Maybe add a Jaguar to your list?

    1. David/ Richard: Should either of you wish to document your ownership experience on these pages by writing an article on the subject, please contact me. We always welcome individual perspectives and I’m sure the readership would be most interested in your findings.

  15. Hello Daniel/ Eóin,

    Perhaps I was writing a little too negatively, as although the Dacia is my sensible “daily drive” I also have a Subaru MV pickup I am rapidly restoring!

    The Dacia was an interesting choice, technically as well as financially. The engine is genuinely special, producing over 100hp/litre and in the age of 2000kg cars becoming the norm, the 1200kg weight and close-ratio gearbox provide a lot of fun on the narrow and winding roads of Wales.

    I’ve written a thread on Pistonheads, and am keen to craft some words for you after a few months with the car have passed.



  16. Hanging on to Volvos is a funny mix of emotions. They are built to last. Every journey in our 20 year old V70 is a reminder of a calm aesthetic, logic and integrity (a great word – thank you for using it). Then it’s time to move a 1.80 meter table – seats fold for a flat surface from the loading end to the front seats. It’s funny how what was a fairly large car when we bought it some 16 years ago now feels compact (and it is a 7-seater) except for the terrible turning lock, which has to be “priced in” to every manoeuvre. The five-cylinder engine is a smooth joy, its sound just present enough to reassure, smooth and linear. It weighs 1,500 Kg empty – just less than a current BMW 320.

    It is very much a second car now after more than a decade of mainline family duty and certainly uses a lot of fuel on short local journeys – 20 MPG if we are honest. But when the mileage is just 2000 a year, I have a feeling that the overall carbon balance tilts in favour of keeping. The economics and heart also line up (for once). It would only make sense to replace it with something radically suitable for urban duties – a Toyota Iq or an Aygo/107/8 or an Up! – but these would cost twice or three times what the Volvo would fetch, for a lot less car and comfort. We had an e-Up and a 107 in the family; in the past few years each could have been retained to replace of the Volvo, but I backed down. The e-Up! was worth a vast amount (for its age and range) so went as PX towards an electric Kona (now primary car). I do have some regrets about the 107 – a car fabulously designed and fit for purpose – until a 1.80 meter table shows up requiring locomotion.

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