School runs have returned to the Grant family routine, following a hiatus that seems a lot longer than three months. In turn, our XC90 has re-gained cabin clutter, climate control presets, and faces the unfiltered opinions of the household’s toughest critics; Jenson (7), Ewan (4), and Eve (2).
Staggered, socially distanced drop-offs have made driving to school an unavoidable element of the return to normality, and these are routes that play perfectly to a plug-in hybrid’s strengths. No tailpipe emissions or gear changes while shuffling through traffic, and almost no noise – at least until we get to the school gates. The trouble is, we’re not the only family giving walking a miss, and the drop-off area is a free-for-all; a stumbling mass of excited kids, adults awkwardly trying to stay two metres apart and the fevered exchange of tight parking spaces. It’s a combination that provokes the XC90 into a mild panic, its myriad safety systems giving off a cacophony of bleeps and buzzes as they try to make sense of the surrounding chaos.
“Ugh, there’s nowhere to park,” I sigh, realising that no amount of edging closer to the car in front will stop me from blocking the adjacent driveway. “Or maybe the Volvo is too big,” replies Jenson. At five metres long and certainly too wide to fit onto the aforementioned driveway, maybe he does have a point.
Of course, the upshot of the XC90’s heftiness is space. Good weather and the ability to travel for exercise means we’ve made use of the boot as a parking bay for the kids’ scooters, and there’s still room for a buggy, charging cable and shopping, too. Fold the handlebars and the scooters fit in behind the third row – though, with no household mixing, we haven’t needed to do so.
In the meantime, two of my biggest concerns haven’t shaped up to be a problem. Those glorious, tactile wool seats are doing an admirable job of resisting dropped food and muddy shoes. When it’s parked up, the air suspension also lowers the cabin enough for the boys to get in unassisted, and there are switches inside the tailgate so they can grab the scooters themselves. An extra, useful layer of family-friendliness. “What’s that noise?” asks Ewan every time we stop. “It’s the air pump,” I reply. You can only hear it while parked.
But of all the interactions, it’s the Sensus system that fascinates me most. Having grown up with touchscreens, the boys can both navigate the various menus, which says a lot about how intuitive it is. Without help, they can locate the graphic showing which ‘engine’ it’s using, tweak the climate control settings, and switch between audio functions, including rendering the soundtrack of Jenson’s howling YouTubers as if they’re recording in a Gothenburg Concert Hall. “It makes them sound echoey,” he says, brow furrowed. “Why would you want to do that?” To be fair, I’ve only reset those settings once. As is often the case, the logic of the household’s toughest critics is pretty hard to argue with.
Date arrived 8th December 2020
Economy (WLTP combined) 83.1 to 100.9mpg
Economy (On test) 64.9mpg