Black Betty quickly makes her presence felt.
First published in the February 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.
THE first instalment of a long-term test is often a bit light-on for detail, as author and vehicle are still in that difficult ‘getting to know you’ phase. So the update, inevitably, takes the form of a first-drive review by another name, or a well-crafted regurgitation of the specifications sheet.
We’ll get to the specs at a later date, but for now we have a story to tell, as the statuesque Volvo XC90 we’ve nick-named Black Betty threw up enough small dramas in the first few weeks on fleet to fill several columns.
It all started innocently enough with a standard-issue systems-failure alert popping up in the Volvo’s handsomely designed digital dash display. You know the kind, a disco-strength array of multi-coloured lights and warnings to ‘Act now or lose your seat warmers forever’, or some such dire prediction.
Call me cynical or overly casual, but I’ve become a bit immune to such alerts, due to the frequency with which they tend to pop up on various test cars. Seriously, with test cars these days it’s rare there’s not at least one tyre-pressure warning, passenger-airbag alert or assorted other dashboard advisories urging one to make haste to the nearest dealership.
So, unless it has to do with oil pressure, engine temperature or perhaps transmission status, I tend to take them with a grain of salt, in the hope they’ll go away next time I shut the car down. More often than not they do, but not this time.
The first I knew of our near-new XC90 having some sort of internal drama was when the reversing camera went out to lunch. I presumed I’d inadvertently deactivated it playing with the various menus in the XC90’s iPad Mini-sized touchscreen, but soon after came warnings about ABS and City Safe not working. Despite repeated Ctrl-Alt-Delete efforts, the alerts stayed resolutely prominent, so I figured I’d better do something about it… eventually.
In the meantime, however, I slipped away in another test car, forgetting to mention to the Good Wife that all was not well with the Big Swede. How was I to know that the system failure had also taken out the fuel warning light? Or that my vertically challenged wife couldn’t actually see the fuel gauge? And that this was the day Mrs Bulmer planned to collect a friend from the airport – travelling via a busy ring road, with a full brood of kids sampling the Volvo’s spacious rear pews.
After the mobile had rung for the 11th time in as many seconds, in the middle of my specially convened meet-and-greet with the MD of a Seriously Important Car Brand, I had an inkling something wasn’t quite right. That was confirmed when I finally answered the phone, only to confront a gale force assault from a severely annoyed wife. The conversation went roughly along these lines: “I’m stuck on the edge of the #@%&#%@ ring road, with an empty fuel tank, a car full of kids, and my best friend from interstate quivering in the front seat as semis fly past inches from the car. What the #@%&!”
Angry? More like incendiary, but I immediately leapt into action… and called Volvo’s customer assist line. I’m pleased to report they are friendly, helpful and apparently there to save the bacon of galoots like me who ignore system warnings.
A flat-bed truck and 70-odd litres of dead dinosaur droppings later, we were underway again, with the subsequent dealership visit resulting in a flash of the ECU and Black Betty surging back to her former glory.
Not sure if Volvo also offers ECU flashes for inept husbands, but if so I’m sure the wife will soon be signing me up.
Volvo’s designers missed the mark when they decided to reinvent the key fob. Instead of placing the buttons in the tried and proven location on top of the fob, they mischievously squeezed the lock, unlock and tailgate switches onto its narrow edge, siting the emergency button on the opposite edge. That may be fine for concert pianists and neurosurgeons, but for sausage-fingered bricklayers like Yours Truly it’s a recipe for horn-blaring wake-up calls for family and neighbours at unseemly hours. Not cool, Sven.
What a knob!
Having dispensed with redesigning the key fob, Volvo’s designers turned their attention to the ignition switch and, we’re pleased to report, they’ve had more success in this endeavour. Sven and his friends eschewed the allure of the now-ubiquitous starter button for something more tactile and, dare we say it, intuitive. The breakthrough in question takes the form of a small protruding knob that you turn right to start the engine, or left to switch it off. Go figure!
Price as tested: $93,085
Part 1: 1484km @ 9.4L/100km
Overall: 1484km @ 9.4L/100km
Date acquired: November 2015