The seas have been a little choppy for the sport of sailing in recent months, what with a spot of rough weather and some high-profile courtroom battles. Not that those negative vibes have remotely damaged the sport. In fact, the nation's marinas are currently creaking under the strain of high-class boats, such is the popularity of this most refined of past-times. Back on dry land, Volvo has long been associated with sailing. The Swedish car maker backs the local sailing cup and is the title sponsor for the Volvo Ocean Yacht Race, considered the pinnacle of offshore sailing.
So it also shouldn't come as a great surprise for Volvo to release an "Ocean Race" special edition of its XC90. The new model finally links up all that marketing cash with a car for all those sailing fans, although the Ocean Race is simply a mid-range XC90 with some added extras to set it apart in the showroom and give weekend sailors an excuse to buy a new land barge. Externally, the new model gets a unique set of two-tone alloys. It also gets some extra brightwork, including chrome roof rails for any of that luggage you can't squeeze into the huge boot on the XC90. You also get "Ocean Race" badges on the front wings in case the guys at the yacht club didn't notice your new purchase.
Inside, Volvo gives you some natty bits of trim and two seriously comfortable seats with special stitching. The seats appear to have been designed to resemble the stitching on a boat's sail, which looks great. But regardless of the needlework, the seats in the Ocean Race are soft, yet supportive. Oddly, they seem more comfortable than in other XC90s, despite only having a different pattern on them.
Volvo also gives you a special monogrammed load cover in the boot, although it's difficult to spot unless you've actually got your head buried in the luggage area. Apart from that, the interior is very much the same as the other XC90s in the range. Mind you, I've always liked the spartan interiors that Volvo tends to turn out. In this age of airline style consoles in cars, sometimes it's nice to see an uncluttered and smooth dash that at first appearance seems controllable without a degree in computing.
Under the bonnet, there's the standard 4.4L V8 and, with the same gearbox and running gear, the Ocean Race has the same great ride as the rest of the XC90 range. Regardless of which model you choose, the big Volvo SUV gives you a huge interior, simple and neat design and very flexible seating. Volvo does understated luxury so well, and with a keen price point when compared to its rivals, the big car is a great buy for almost anyone.
In fact, the Ocean Race is hardly any different to the other models in the range, but it neatly dovetails the top-of-the-range off-roader to the company's international sailing links. Buyers love special editions and this is the ideal model for attaching yourself to the highbrow sport of sailing. But it's not all plain sailing. The XC90 has the potential to be one of the very best luxury SUVs on the market, but its lack of off-road ability leaves it off my wish list.
That's a real shame, as it ticks every other box and then some. But with only the Middle East region really in need of full off-road capability, I don't see the Swedes making a tough dune-capable version any time soon. I've driven the XC90 in snowdrifts higher than the roof of the car and can happily testify it'll go wherever you point it on other terrains. You could argue that BMW's X5 is no different, being equally unable to head off into the dunes. But unlike the X5, Volvos tend to be bought by slightly more adventurous people than the usual Corniche-cruising BMW owner.
The Bavarians can get away with building an SUV that can't actually SUV. But in Volvo's case I really think it would help push that outdoor image. But what may be a missed opportunity for us is probably a very good business move. With Volvo currently riding high with the excellent C30 and the surprisingly good XC60, they don't seem to be making bad manufacturing decisions at the moment. So if you want a Volvo for the desert, you may have a long wait. If you want one for everything else, you'd be hard pushed to justify not buying one tomorrow. * The National