Volvo, the Scandinavian company that has transformed itself from boring to ballsy, thanks to some serious Chinese investment, enjoyed a successful first six months of the year with a 10.5 per cent global growth, compared to the same time last year, thanks mainly to the revamped XC90 SUV.
Yes, other Volvos like the excellent V60 Polestar might have played an important role in the company’s growing reputation but it is the XC90 that turned heads. It took on serious opposition like Range Rover, BMW, Mercedes and high-end Japanese brands and set refreshing new standards, thanks to its refined Scandinavian styling and comfort, not to mention its awesome four-cylinder engines.
The XC90 T6 was already pushing the envelope in the world of automotive development but now there is a new, more powerful version of this lovely vehicle, in the shape of the cool XC90 T8. It’s a plug-in hybrid but Volvo prefer to call it ‘twin engined’ which is exactly what it is. It has a two litre four-cyclinder supercharged turbo engine and an electric motor which drives the rear wheels.
Combined you get a wopping 397bhp and hefty supply of torque at 639nm which is enough to propel this machine from 0-100kmh in 5.6 seconds which considering it weighs about two-and-a-half tons is pretty impressive.
The power is put down to the four-wheel-drive system on this vehicle via an excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox with paddleshifts offering a manual option. To get the most out of the hybrid technology you really need to plug this vehicle in either at home or at a proper charging station – if you know where there is one here in the UAE – but the battery which feeds the electric motor is charged by the engine when you lift off or brake.
One of the things I really like about this vehicle is that it oozes refined prestige. Our test drive car was the R-Design model which gives you a black front grille, deep air intakes and front spoiler, bigger wheels and a much more aggressive stance, but in an understated fashion to emphasise that this SUV is all about unflustered, comfortable and versatile motoring.
The only slight grumble I have is those rear lights. I know they are signature Volvo but compared to the rest of the design I think they just look a little bit old fashioned.
The interior is where you really immerse yourself in what makes the XC90 stand out – exceptional build quality and uncompromising comfort. The leather seats are possibly the most comfortable in the business, the digital instrument cluster is cutting edge, the iPad like infotainment touch-screen, or more accurately ‘slide screen’ dominates the centre dash and the trims are spectacularly lovely.
The gear-lever is carved out of crystal glass and although it is tiny, it epitomises the refined prestige of this Volvo. The Sensus infotainment screen operates just like an iPad and you definitely have to get used to it before it becomes intuitive but it delivers excellent connectivity with everything you need from the magnificent Bowers & Wilkins sound system, absolutely brilliant sat-nav, 360 degree overview parking camera, and a whole raft of apps and driver assists, talking of which there is one which is really interesting to use.
Volvo call it Pilot Assist which is essentially a system that ensures you stay in your lane. A number of car manufacturers are now using this technology and it is a small step towards cars that will eventually drive themselves.
On the Volvo you simply activate Pilot Assist via a button on the steering wheel and it will steer itself for about 15 seconds when you get an alert telling you that human input is again required. Apart from offering high-end luxury the cabin is extremely spacious and there is genuinely enough room for seven passengers which tells you that this is a large vehicle.
To drive, it is really relaxing with its air suspension providing an extremely smooth ride. There was a little body-roll going through corners at reasonable speed but that is sort of inevitable with a car this big.
Driven in hybrid mode you can travel on electric power only for a relatively short distance but of a large selection of modes I preferred Dynamic where you get the best performance from the combination of combustion and electric power. The XC90 T8 is a class act that offers the perfect combination of decent performance, seamless hybrid technology and ultimate comfort.
As with all hybrids in the UAE I am not entirely convinced there is a public appetite for them at the moment but, for sure, they will become more and more popular as time goes by and if I had to buy one now I would go for this exceptional Volvo. It’s way ahead of the game.
It seems ludicrous that anyone could turn their nose up at any modern-day Ferrari, one of the most desirable cars on the planet, but that is exactly what happened when the California model was first introduced in 2008 as the Italian marque’s first mid-front engined GT car with retractable hard-top.
Aficionados didn’t like the placement of the engine, or the shape of the car and dismissed it as ‘not a proper Ferrari.” They may have had a point with the design of the original car which looked a bit soft but it was revamped in 2014 in the form of the California T, the first Ferrari to be powered by a twin turbo engine since the F40. The 488 GTB followed.
This latest California is sharper, more agile and sophisticated and although its predecessor did prove to be extremely popular, this car is a significant improvement, is more desirable and has really established itself as an extraordinarily good piece of kit from Maranello and set new standards when it comes to GT performance cars.
The stunning new shape wasn’t quite enough to silence those pedantic Prancing Horse experts who jumped on the fact that a turbo charged engine just doesn’t sound like a traditional Ferrari. Again, they have a point but a twin-turbo is never going to sound the same as a naturally aspirated engine. However, Ferrari, who have a history of steering away from turbos but have been forced to embrace them by emission laws, did succeed in giving the California T its own distinctive engine note.
That’s the good news…the even better news is that there is now a California T HS which stands for Handling Speciale and it dismisses once and for all any suggestion that this is not a fully fledged member of the Ferrari family.
The California is not, and was never intended to be, a sports car like its stablemates the 488 GTB, which also has a twin turbo engine, or the magnificent 458. It is an extremely potent GT car but lacked a sharp sporting edge that some drivers demand…until now.
The California T HS is not a stand alone model – it’s a normal California T hard-top convertible with the same 3.9-litre V8 twin turbo with 552 bhp and a large helping of torque at 755nm. The HS option ups the ante in the way the car handles and sounds when driven enthusiastically and it makes a marked difference.
Basically, it incorporates new damper settings and modified springs that make the car more taut. The front springs are 16 per cent stiffer, rising to 19 per cent at the back. The system also increases the speed of response from the dampers, making them more efficient. HS also comes with an improved engine note so you now get more of a Ferrari snarl when you start it up and at high-revs it makes a glorious noise. You also get a much sportier seven-speed automatic gearbox with lightening quick changes.
Aesthetically, the California T HS gets a new front grille in matte Grigio Ferro Met (dark gray), rear diffuser in the same colour and black exhaust pipes. There is also a plaque in the cockpit which tells you the car is packing the HS option. So what you have now is a brilliant GT car which has the ability to behave like a sports car so you get the best of both worlds although it still lacks the mind-blowing performance of its faster stablemates.
Apart from that plaque the interior of the California T HS is typical Ferrari – all high grade heavy-stitched leather and carbon-fibre with superb sports seats, a stunning instrument cluster dominated by the rev counter and steering wheel with the signature manettino where you select the drive modes.
It also comes with the kind of emotional driving experience that no other manufacturer can match and the HS option simply adds to the experience. It is a two plus two but the rear seats are only suitable for small children and luggage.
Put it in Sport mode and you will find yourself immersed in the glorious world of the Prancing Horse as you blast through the gears, reach- ing 100kmh from a standing start in around 3.5 seconds. Throw it into corners and you will immediately feel the benefit of the HS system which provides tremendous feedback on the car’s stiffness and agility which breeds confidence as you put pedal to metal and accelerate out of those bends. There is no detectable turbo lag from what is a superb engine but push too hard and you can feel the car nudging the edge of its comfort zone but you really have to be gunning it before it starts to feel nervous and generally it behaves impeccably.
With the roof up or down the California T HS looks great, sounds great and handles magnificently and if you can afford to buy one, and it’s not cheap, then I would urge you to take the HS option because, amazingly, it won’t cost you anything extra here in the UAE which makes it an absolute no brainer.
Okay, I admit it, I was a little bit scared. Having driven most modern supercars it might seem a little strange to be slightly intimidated but I was sitting behind the wheel of the Dodge Viper SRT – an absolute beast of a car.
It looks super-aggressive and let’s face it you wouldn’t treat a Viper with anything other than ultimate respect and, make no mistake, this machine more than lives up to the reputation of the venomous snake it is named after.
So, not really knowing what I was letting myself in for my finger hovered a little nervously over the red start button as I prepared to awaken this monster from its slumber. What happened next can be best described as an earth shaking clap of thunder as the 8.4 litre V10 exploded into life.
All the hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention and adrenalin started to pump through my veins as I put the car into first gear and slowly, oh, so very slowly, depressed the accelerator (don’t even think about pedal to metal unless you have a deathwish) and moved off in this red aerodynamic missile on wheels. About five minutes later all trepidation had disappeared to be replaced by growing confidence as this epic American supercar left me in total awe of its brutal power, and astonishing ability to terrify and charm you with its charisma at the same time. It is insanely brilliant.
The Viper is a machine that anyone with a love of automobiles just has to experience. It demands your respect and if you mess with this thing and its 645bhp and 800nm of torque it will leave you with a pretty painful snake bite. Respect it and you will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience.
To start with the Viper looks terrific with its long carbon-fibre clamshell bonnet featuring the big air intake and gill-like cooling vents. From the side it is sleek and athletic with those race-inspired exhausts which protrude from the sills and from the back the power theme continues with the huge rear tyres completing the picture.
To say the interior is cosy is an understatement but it is surprisingly comfortable and quite luxurious with a leather wrapped dash, really supportive sports seat and an 8.4-inch touch-screen. The digital instrument panel is impressive and the infotainment system is really good, although the radio is a little redundant as the best audio comes from the engine and exhausts which also makes any conversation with your passenger pretty pointless, although they are likely to be speechless with fear if you really open up this car.
There is also a complete lack of any decent storage space although what little there is useful. You can adjust the seat and the pedals as it is absolutely vital that you are comfortable and are not stretching to reach the accelerator and brakes when you are driving such a powerful machine. It’s not difficult to drive but you do need to respect the amount of grunt this Viper spits out and to be honest you won’t get anywhere near pushing this beast to its limits on the road.
It has an excellent six-speed manual gearbox featuring short-shifts and it was a pleasure to use but I rarely got above third gear because I want to keep my licence so if you want to really test its capability then you need to take it to a track.
The gearbox puts the power down to the rear wheels and the car will get your from 0-100kmh in around 3.5 seconds and you won’t be able to hear yourself screaming because of the crescendo of noise that accompanies what is a very exciting and fully engaging experience.
The handling is also good as the car is fitted with high-performance suspension so everything is sure-footed although it takes time to get used to the way it behaves before pushing too hard. Everything about this Viper is raw and brutal and even when you are stationary, at traffic lights for example, the burble of the engine really does sound quite intimidating and this car got more thumbs up and smiles than most I have driven.
And now for the bad news – this is almost certainly the last of a breed with production ceasing next year. There is a rumour that one final special edition will be built before the Viper is consigned to history which is a shame. Okay, it is a bit of a throwback with a massive engine that makes so much noise you can hear it coming from several miles away and is almost certainly been written off as prehistoric by the emissions police who have already succeeded in killing off most of our beloved V8s, but it deserves to survive. It needs a group of entrepreneurs to invest in the Viper, put an automatic gearbox in it, if that is possible with the amount of torque this car produces, and save it from extinction.
Alternatively, you could treat yourself and just buy one of your own while you can.