Long-term tests

Volvo XC90

How much trouble can it be to get hold of four new tyres? Quite a lot if you're the owner of a Volvo XC90. The trouble is that the 235/60 R18 items aren't used by any other car - they're unique to the XC90. On top of that, only Continental makes these tyres - and they're in short supply. In fact, we head rumours of XC90s sitting in service centres for weeks before new rubber turned up.

  • Improving fuel economy, effect new tyres have on ride, adaptable cabin, giant boot, residual value
  • Cost and scarcity of tyres, clumsy handbrake release, throttle response, saying goodbye

How much trouble can it be to get hold of four new tyres? Quite a lot if you're the owner of a Volvo XC90. The trouble is that the 235/60 R18 items aren't used by any other car - they're unique to the XC90. On top of that, only Continental makes these tyres - and they're in short supply. In fact, we head rumours of XC90s sitting in service centres for weeks before new rubber turned up.

We've long been paying attention to tyre wear on our car - its hefty 2,100kg kerbweight, combined with the use of snowchains and occasional mud-plugging, meant we'd kept a close eye on the tread depth. So when we got to within a couple of millimetres of the legal minimum at about 19,000 miles, we began ringing tyre centres.

Our first shock was the cost. Kwik-Fit quoted £212 per corner, and the local Volvo dealer £224. After a few more calls, ATS Euromaster came out top at £174 each, or all four for £650 including fitting and balancing - roughly equivalent to two major services. However, no one could tell us when the next delivery of Continental Premium Contact tyres was due. So for two weeks we nursed the XC90 around even more gently than usual.

Luckily for us, a batch of 800 tyres came into the UK in the nick of time - and what a transformation the new rubber made. For starters, the ride improved dramatically, the extra tread depth taking the edge off rough tarmac and making the big 4x4 feel more composed on all surfaces. Noise levels also dropped noticeably, while there were also benefits for the handling - the steering became more responsive and cornering more predictable.

We certainly weren't lacking faith in the XC90 in any other area. It has stood up brilliantly to life on the Auto Express fleet, and after 20,000 miles, there's barely a trace of wear on the interior. In fact, the vast 615-litre boot has been almost constantly employed, usually with baby gear and mountain bikes. It also coped with 14 cases of cham- pagne on one occasion, while the lower tailgate has often doubled up as a picnic table.

It was on one of those occasions that my nine-month-old daughter managed to drop a small plastic animal through the latch aperture. With a special key required to remove the trim, the toy has been rattling around in there ever since. However, at least the squeaky boot hinges we mentioned in past reports have cured themselves. In fact, all our gripes are very minor - the blue paint has scratched off the keyfob, the compact discs take time to load and unload from the dash-mounted CD changer and I've never got used to the foot-operated handbrake. When you pull the release lever, it sounds as if the cable's snapped. That said, our only serious criticism is the delayed step off when you hit the throttle - unnerving when pulling out of junctions or on to roundabouts. Otherwise, life with the Volvo has been a dream - we've got used to the sluggish performance and imperfect automatic gearbox, and as the miles pile up, fuel economy has improved. Over the last 3,000 miles, we've averaged 30.1mpg and managed to extract more than 500 miles from one tankful, achieving 32.2mpg - our best figure ever.

We're going to be sorry to see the XC90 go - it has been a phenomenally capable car. It's a wise investment, too, as demand remains strong on the used market. Despite the mileage, ours has only lost about £3,000 in value. Now that's what we call a safe second-hand bet - if I had the money I'd be down the dealership like a shot!

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