Forget the Ferrari: this Volvo was the perfect car for my first mini-break with my new boyfriend

Sophia Money-Coutts took a Volvo XC90 to the Cotswolds for a mini-break with her boyfriend Paul
Sophia Money-Coutts took a Volvo XC90 to the Cotswolds for a mini-break with her boyfriend Paul - John Lawrence

What car would you drive on your first romantic weekend away with someone? Your own car, probably. Times are hard, and if you have a Skoda Fabia, then a Skoda Fabia it will be. Jolly solid little cars they are too. I’ve made firm friends with my mother’s Skoda Fabia recently – sturdy, economical, and only the faintest whiff of terrier.

But if you had to pick your ideal car to impress someone on a first romantic minibreak, what would that be? Something sexy, cool, fast. Something with low bucket seats and the tang of real leather. Something that means you can prowl through lanes on the stationary A40 like a panther, suggesting you have an attractively devil-may-care attitude to pedestrian matters such as rush hour.

In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Hugh Grant picks up Bridget in a vintage, soft-top Merc. Not bad. What about a Ferrari? No, a bit clichéd – and I’m not a Qatari playboy. I would suggest a McLaren but I once took one of those on a weekend away with my ex and we earned ourselves a speeding ticket on the drive back from the New Forest, which prompted a row about who was driving at that precise moment (he was).

So maybe not something too sleek and obvious. Maybe something bigger? More impressive? Maybe something with an enormous boot so that I can fit in the 93 pairs of shoes I’ve decided need to accompany me for this first romantic weekend away?

I know! A Volvo. Alright, alright, simmer down at the back. If you had the choice of all the cars in the world for such a weekend, a Volvo might not be the first car that springs to mind.

For her mini-break, Money-Coutts wanted 'something not too sleek and obvious'
For her mini-break, Money-Coutts wanted 'something not too sleek and obvious'

But did you know (sensitive readers should look away) that the Volvo has been voted the best car to, ahem, do it in? According to this highly scientific survey carried out by an insurance brand, Volvos are the most popular car for passionate drivers because they’re so “roomy”, whereas Smart cars are the least popular because they’re so small. And that’s quite enough about that.

The Volvo XC90 has been favoured for its 'roominess'
The Volvo XC90 can turn into a seven seater

So, here’s my Volvo XC90, a huge beast that is currently configured as a five-seater with a whopping boot; but you can hoik up the third row of seats in the back to make it a seven-seater if you become so entranced with your capacious car that you end up having more children than planned.

In goes my bag, Paul’s bag, four coats, 93 pairs of shoes and boots, and Paul’s large backgammon board. Paul has been in my life for a few months now, but I believe it was when he arrived at my house on an early date clutching his backgammon board that I began falling for him. We’ve played dozens (hundreds?) of times since and unfortunately he nearly always beats me, but this weekend we’re going to play non-stop, and I’m determined to level out the scores.

Money-Coutts: the Volvo XC90 is 'a huge beast'
Money-Coutts: the Volvo XC90 is 'a huge beast' with a 'whopping boot' - Money-Coutts: the Volvo XC90 is 'a huge beast'

Off we set for the Cotswolds. It’s huge and heavy this car – not far off three tonnes, which is close to some of the biggest Rolls Royces – but it’s also nimble, a water buffalo in ballet shoes. It turns out I can still slide in and out of lanes on the A40 in a pathetic effort to impress Paul.

And it’s a hybrid, which means I get almost halfway to Charlbury on electric power, or 40 miles, having charged it the previous night (£6 to charge it fully from a cable dangling through my hallway window). Clearly, 42 miles isn’t much good if your commute is longer, but it’s not bad for darting to Waitrose when you need more milk and bread for all those children.

It feels a bit obvious to go to the chi-chi bit of the Cotswolds for a romantic weekend away. That golden patch around Chipping Norton has become so moneyed that we might as well drive to Notting Hill. But still, it’s pretty, has decent pubs and you might see a Beckham or two, if that’s your thing.

Money-Coutts: 'It feels a bit obvious to go to the chi-chi bit of the Cotswolds...but still, it's pretty'
Money-Coutts: 'It feels a bit obvious to go to the chi-chi bit of the Cotswolds... but still, it's pretty' - Stuart Black / Alamy Stock Photo

Paul and I are staying at The Bull, an immensely fashionable new pub albeit with a very small car park, which takes me a few turns to squeeze the Volvo into. Eventually, we stagger in with our bags and the backgammon board. There’s a handsome British actor on one table. A princess on another. Also, lots of trendy 20-somethings in beanies who look like they’ve ventured here from east London. Do they have our reservation? They do not. Ah, this is embarrassing. I sorted out everything in advance to impress Paul and now we have to sit at a corner table while they try to sort out their mistake. This isn’t the kind of service I expect from a posh pub.

A few minutes later, the manager crouches down beside us. “Are you perhaps booked into The Bull in Burford?” Whoops. My mistake. We’re at the wrong Bull. The Cotswolds is now so silly they have several excellent pubs called the same thing within a Scotch egg’s throw of one another. Don’t get me started on The Bell, owned by Daylesford empress Carole Bamford, which has recently opened opposite The Bull.

We slink away with our bags and the backgammon board, inch the Volvo out and drive 10 minutes to The Bull in Burford. Heaven. A parking space right outside, a vast room, Negroni mix on the drinks trolley and a splendid pantry area where guests can help themselves to cheeses, salamis, crisps and crackers. We settle in for a long night at the board.

The following day, we slink around the honeystone villages, go for a two-hour walk and drive to yet another fashionable pub for a cider and a packet of Scampi Fries. I spy a few fellow Volvo drivers in these parts. Plenty of black Range Rovers, yes, but Volvos have definitely become more of a status symbol than they were when I was a child and used to go to swimming lessons in the boot of my friend Emily’s Volvo, which looked like a hearse.

Burford High Street, Oxfordshire
Burford High Street, Oxfordshire - Alamy

It’s no surprise, really. We like Scandi minimalism in our homes, so why not in our cars? The XC90 has a clean interior with a big touch screen, which is simple to navigate and offers a nifty bird’s-eye view of the car for parking in tight spots. If you want to spec it up a bit you can go for the heated massage seats.

But otherwise it’s terrifically straightforward – no complicated, fiddly dashboard here. And it’s very safe. Volvos consistently win awards for their safety. Perhaps almost too safe, I think at one stage, as I reverse into yet another pub car park only for the automatic safety brake to kick in.

It’s a feature designed to stop bumps under 10mph, which means the Volvo suddenly judders and freezes as I reverse and, ironically, I worry that I’ve smacked into the Audi behind me. I’m still confused about this as I had several feet to go, but better to be safe than sorry I suppose. And you can turn this setting off if it really drives you mad, as I do with the “lane assist” setting in my VW every time I turn it on because I’m perfectly capable of driving in the middle of a lane without my car bossily trying to tell me I’m too close to the white lines, or too close to the car in front. Must we have such nannying features in all modern cars?

Apart from that, top marks. The XC90 is comfortable, simple and, like that scientific survey said, extremely roomy. Roomy enough for pairs of muddy boots, overnight bags, multiple coats and several shopping bags from the Burford Garden Centre (don’t say I don’t know how to organise a romantic weekend away).

Roomy enough for me to change discreetly out of muddy leggings and into jeans in the back seats between our walk and the pub. Certainly roomy enough for a spot of more licentious behaviour if that’s what you’re into, although I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about that because we had a busy backgammon schedule to stick to. I didn’t level the score much, possibly because of all those Negronis, but we had a lovely time, anyway, and The Bull was magnificent. Just check which one you’re staying at before setting the sat-nav.

The facts

On test: Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 AWD Ultimate

Price: from £83,130 (£83,925 as tested with optional metallic paint)

Powertrain: petrol-electric plug-in hybrid; 310bhp (petrol) plus 145bhp (electric)

Top speed: 112mph (limited)

Acceleration: 0-62mph in 5.4sec

Fuel economy: 188.1-235.1mpg (WLTP)

Electric-only range: up to 44 miles

0-100% charging time: from 5 hours at 37kW

CO2 emissions: 28-34g/km (WLTP)