Peak Curation Powered by Volvo XC60

Photography by
James Pearson-Howes

Words by
Mark Thompson

Car on loan from
Volvo Car UK

There’s an art to curating a road trip, and it starts with the people. And so it goes, just before we set off Rupert tells me he isn’t coming. He was the ‘funny one’, the glue. This now leaves James, Mads and myself, a perfectly respectable collection of humans more than capable of entertaining ourselves without him; but I do wonder: Is the balance now irrevocably off? Thankfully, James makes a joke. We all laugh maniacally. I put my foot to the floor and Rupert is quickly forgotten. I’m taking three friends to the Peak District in the new Volvo XC60 T8.

Any notion that Volvo is a sensible man’s trophy disappeared the moment the 407hp, electric blue starship was delivered to my door. With more than a million units sold globally, it’s an important vehicle for the manufacturer, making up nearly 30 percent of Volvo’s total global sales. We’ve opted for the hybrid T8 because it feels like the moral choice, but when confronted with the close to 3kg of cable that reside in the boot, the reality of the effort to plug it in dampens any ambition I had to save the planet. It’s also raining.

If you don’t have off-street parking, you have to work bloody hard to charge a car, especially in London. Yes, there are charging points available, two right outside my house in fact, but that demands registering online and then reserving an allotted time and right now I’m panic-curating a road-trip for two thirty (something) year old men. I’ve had to rule-out listening to the self help podcasts and audiobooks that normally soundtrack my drives: I’m not sure how long my intrepid team will sit through Esther Parel’s life and relationship coaching. Instead, this trip requires a playlist so precisely composed that it evokes just enough irony in the classics, mixed-in with the right amount of taste affirming new stuff. I’ve also acquired a new car fragrance specifically for the trip — a swinging oblong of fresh Pacific from Neighborhood. Even though it bounces relentlessly from the rear view mirror, the boys don’t comment on it nearly as much as I’d like them to.

I’m introducing Mads and James to the Peak District, to the winding roads and village pubs I know so well but rarely visit nowadays. I grew up in the Peak District. I went to school in Bakewell, and my folks still live there. Yes; the home of the tart. The Peak District is a jaw-dropping example of British country driving. Lolloping hills stamped with beautiful stone villages, a pub to every resident and the opportunity to drive inches past an oncoming farmyard shit spreader at a combined speed of 120 miles an hour.

Like some morbid Hollywood Hills tour guide, I talk the team through the gruesome legends of the surrounding area. ‘There’s Snakes Pass and the Cat & Fiddle, voted most dangerous road in Britain. And then you have the A57 just outside of Sheffield, where Def Leppard’s one armed drummer Rik Allen lost his arm in his corvette in 1984’.

This is our testing ground for the XC60 and the vehicle’s practically perfect safety record, specifically because, as I’m writing this, no one has ever died in an XC60 in its seventeen years of production, which makes Volvo well on their way to be the manufacturer of ‘death proof’ cars by 2020. Which is nice, because death kind of scares people.

We drive down Winnats Pass, a narrow road that snakes down through a limestone gorge. We see only glimpses of its scale through the fog and so we park-up and step out to get a better look. It’s a spectacular reminder of what the British Isles once looked like. Little agriculture to carve up the land, no dry stone walls, no fences, barely any signs of life, save for the shop at the bottom of the pass. It sells coloured rocks, mood rings and doubles-up as the entrance to the Speedwell Cavern, sister cave to the Devil’s Arse Hole. We grab a coffee from the machine in the corner and in true city slicker fashion, start a cavalier near vertical climb to the peak; coffees in hand. Mads is the only one smart enough to bring reasonable footwear and so twenty minutes later we climb back into the Volvo — satisfied we’ve communed sufficiently with nature.

As you’d expect from Volvo, the inside of the XC60 is a peaceful space. It seems ridiculous to say but it simply feels designed; or designed simply. The exercise in reduction gives the driver space to breathe and, well, drive. For all of the XC60’s complexities, the centre console does a great job of delivering a very intuitive experience. On the whole, this car is all so soft, cozy and hygge. It’s a testament to how Volvo stands-out as a manufacturer and offers a motoring experience all of its own. A headturner without being a showoff, sporty without being angry. As Thomas Ingenlath, Senior Vice President, Design at Volvo says ‘The XC60 is an SUV not designed to look down on others but to drive’. This kind of language is truly refreshing, It speaks to a shift in how people engage with motoring now, a softer more inclusive and less testosterone fueled world.

Driving the thoughtful XC60 through the damply beautiful haze of the Peak District, it’s easy to become carried away with automobile sentiment. But even so, it strikes me that Volvo has somehow managed to be a positive, and life-affirming brand that serves to project a universal approach to life over mechanical aptitude. Where some manufacturers just want to sell cars, I get the impression that Volvo simply love making cars for people.