Jeremy Clarkson on: Volvos

Posted by Jeremy Clarkson at 11:43 am on Friday December 12, 2014

James May is thinking about buying a Volvo. He says it's like going to the dentist, something you have to do at some point, so you may as well get it over with. Happily, I have been to the dentist regularly over the years. I'm now on my third - or is it fourth? - XC90, so as the years advance and my knees begin to ache, I can be a bit more adventurous with my choice of car.

Not that long ago, I'd have bought a Jaguar. It would have suited me with my ear hair and my bald patch and my well-known habit of turning up everywhere with no cash. I would have admired its graceful lines and its pepperpot wheels and I would've looked forward, at the end of a hard day, to climbing into that soft, gentle, leather-lined cocoon for a stealthily quiet and deceptively fast, slushmatic drive home.

Sadly though, Jaguar has pretty much completely abandoned this market now. Its cars are noisy and hard and are therefore of no use at all to anyone over the age of seven. Which leaves me in a pickle. I've done the Volvo thing. Jaaag don't want me as a customer and consequently...

Yes, I agree, the BMW 5-Series meets all of my needs, especially the 530d estate, but I dunno. I look sometimes at the people driving them and I find myself wondering: "Would I like you to come for dinner at my house this evening?" And usually, the answer is: "No. Because you don't look like you'd be very interesting." They all appear to work in the cement industry.

At this point, I could rabbit on for hours about Audis and Mercs, but they tend to be driven these days by men in cheap suits and have Geri Halliwell in the back. And there's no point, because the simple fact of the matter is this. As I turned 54 last month, I decided I wanted a Bentley.

My grandfather always used to drive Bentleys. Big R Types and S Types. He used to let me sit on his knee and steer. And he would send his driver - a chap called Stancliffe - to meet me at the bus stop when I came home from school.

In Doncaster, the local boys used to love that, watching the snotty-nosed kid from the private school, getting off the bus and into a chauffeur-driven Bentley. They used to love it nearly as much as my Chelsea scarf.

But once the door of this vast machine was closed, I could no longer hear their taunts, and as I settled into that sumptuous rear seat, relaxing behind the vast C-pillar, I could no longer see their hand gestures.

For many, Bentleys are all about Le Mans and twits in boaters and W.O., but for me, a Bentley was an island of peace and quiet in a troubled world. Certainly, it was a lot better than my dad's Cortina. Or my mum's hateful VW Beetle.

Today, I'm not interested in the saloons particularly. I'm not an arms dealer and I'm pretty sure that the Rolls-Royce Ghost is a better car. No, I'm interested in the Continental, and that's odd because this is a car I used to dislike very much. It came with an ugly rear end, ho-hum handling and a whiff of Cheshire. It felt like it would only really be happy parked outside a mock Tudor house with pillars and a hallway like the lobby at an airport hotel. And there was always the nagging doubt that beneath the wooden dashboard beat the heart of a Volkswagen.

When I saw someone driving a Continental, I would sneer at them and then huffily turn away.

And then one day, I decided that I liked the Continental a lot. So far as I can tell, there is no discernible reason for this. It was the same shape. It was still a Volkswagen. It was still blessed with ho-hum handling. And yet...

I suppose it's a bit like the cardigan. For all of my life, I have seen these garments in shop windows and on old people in the street and I have mocked and sneered and vowed that I would never ever wear such a thing, even if I had been shipwrecked on Svalbard.

And yet, last year, I bought one, and I'm now sad that the summer is here because I can't wear it any more. I love my cardigan and am thinking of buying some more in different colours. Maroon perhaps.

It appeared to me, then, that the Bentley Continental had stayed the same and that I had simply grown into it. But, in fact, behind the scenes, the car had changed, just a little bit. The new V8 engine may have started out in life in an Audi, but in the Bentley it growled and snarled. And new wheels and lights had done a marvellous job of disguising the fact that it's a long way from the prettiest car in the world. The radiator grille, meanwhile, had become a thing of great menace, and I loved that.

There have been more changes under the skin as well, because let's be in no doubt, the V8 comes out of the traps like double cream comes out of the carton. Smoothly, and with much control. It's not like milk, sploshing about all over the place, or ketchup which never goes where you want it at all. It is big and robust and you can place it perfectly.

I've driven a Continental V8 on a frozen lake in Scandinavia and along the French Riviera, and it's a dream car. Fun. Fast. Growly. And tenacious in the bends, despite its great weight. But despite all this, it comes with squidgy seats and glidematic suspension. It's not even that expensive. Yes, I know £123,000 is a huge amount ‘for a car', but for a car with a prestige badge it's just not. Not when you look at what Ferrari and Aston Martin and Lamborghini are charging these days.

The Bentley, then, would be perfect. I would buy one in memory of my grandfather. And it would make me happy.

But wait. What's this? Apparently, Volkswagen is saying that the next-generation Bentley Continental must share a platform with the Porsche Panamera. The word is that it will be an altogether sportier machine and that to ready the market for this, the run-out of the current model will be fitted with fixed rear spoilers and granite suspension and seats made from spikes. Versions of this new car - to be badged RS - have been spotted testing at the bloody Nürburgring. They've gone back to their roots. They've built a sporty lorry, and I'm well enough versed in that area to be able to say... It. Doesn't. Work. Sports lorries hurt.

Why have they done this? I'm not alone out here. I'm not the only middle-aged chap who wants 500 horsepower but doesn't want to have my teeth rearranged every time I go over a cat's eye. But that, it seems, is what I'm going to get.

So, James May. Next week. The Volvo showroom it is.

TAGS// volvo, jeremy clarkson

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