Test driving the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine: the future is here

Over the course of last week, courtesy of Volvo Cars Spain, I tested a Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine in and around Madrid. This is a vehicle I have mentioned several times in previous entries in the context of Uber’s test driving its autonomous vehicles first in San Francisco and then, after its stand off with the California’s DMV, in Arizona.

First off, let me say that the vehicle I tested was not the same as those adapted in collaboration with Uber for autonomous driving, but it is the model used as the basis for the project. Even so, I welcomed the opportunity to test the development of Volvo’s assisted-driving technology. Obviously I’m not going to review the vehicle itself, because that’s not what I do. To tell the truth, I don’t even test technological gadgets (and to be honest, I’m not sure which category this vehicle falls into:-). Readers who want a well-written review could try this one from Martin Love in The Guardian.

I am used to driving small cars, so when I saw the XC90, I wondered if I would be able to drive it out the garage where I picked it up, but this three-ton monster turned out to be one of the smoothest rides I have ever experienced. After a brief tutorial and a short configuration session, I headed out on to the roads of the Spanish capital.

Initially, it did feel more like testing a gadget rather than a car. This was the first time I driven a vehicle with a head-up display, or HUD, projecting on to the bottom of the windshield my speed, lane, GPS instructions, calls received and other information, but device felt both comfortable and safe.

Similarly, I have never driven a car with four cameras (in the image, the front camera, hidden in the logo, while the other three are so discreet that they are even difficult to find), which provide a 360º view of the outside of the vehicle and that allowed me to squeeze the car into my tiny garage with just an inch to spare on either side and above!

The Pure option uses electric power alone, providing enviable performance, and also permitting me to use the carpooler lane, to park wherever I wanted, or move around the capital freely, despite the restrictions imposed on other vehicles in response to alarmingly high air pollution levels. At the end of the day, simply recharge the car in the garage using a normal plug overnight, with the possibility of opting for a faster or slower charging, if needed.

The vehicle is supposed to cover forty kilometers in Pure mode, but my experience was that by 22 kilometers it needed a recharge or I had to switch back to using gasoline.

That said, the pleasure of using the electric-powered engine is made all the greater when, after a week using the vehicle, I stopped at a gas station to fill the tank before returning what is a very large car with incredible performance and realized I had used barely €30 worth of gasoline. I can’t say for sure if the 1.76 liters per 100 km Volvo advertises is true or not, but it must be very close.

What impressed me the most were the driving aids. For the moment, and until I hopefully have the opportunity to try the new experimental autonomous Ford Fusion in Detroit, the experience of this XC90 T8 is the closest I’ve been to autonomous driving. The feeling of traveling with the speed control managing the safety distances, and therefore, braking or accelerating according to the maneuvers of other vehicles, or controlling the steering wheel to stay in lane were futuristic, but as said, I have not had the opportunity to test other systems.

Obviously, the next step is to test this vehicle in its experimental configuration, with the rest of its autonomous technology already loaded: LiDAR, radars, etc. After a few kilometers with the systems in use, I stopped worrying about cornering, letting the vehicle manage them. But until that moment arrives, one has to keep one’s hands on the wheel, or the Lane Keeping Aid will soon issue a sharp warning and threaten you with disconnection.

A week isn’t really long enough to get used to a vehicle with features like these, but the feeling of getting back behind the wheel of a “normal” vehicle is very strange: almost a different mode of transport. Imagining the feelings of a professional driver, such as those using the experimental XC90s in Arizona or the Swedish city of Goteborg, is interesting after this experience, giving me the impression that there really is nothing much to do when driving in autonomous mode. My feeling is that this is the future: with its sensors, the vehicle is making virtually all the decisions for you … and that, even if though I enjoy driving, I’m looking forward to that future.

(En español, aquí)