The modern person seeking to keep a low profile has traditionally had three options: the caves of Afghanistan; membership of the actuarial profession; becoming a spokesperson for the Lib Dems. Now there's another: the Volvo S80 D5.
I had one over Christmas, and driving it was like wearing Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. I'd be leaving a party, someone would offer me a lift home. I'd say, no thanks, I'm test-driving a brand-new Volvo S80 D5. There would be a short pause, and then they'd repeat the offer.
You can't blame people: the S80 is a truly unnoticeable car. You know those Ford 'kinetic design' ads that claim the cars look as though they're moving, even when they're not? Well, Volvo makes similar claims for the S80: 'The tapered shape with the gently rounded front, sloping glass, almost invisible transfer from rear window to boot panel and the abruptly vertical tail, all create a sensation of speed.' But it's not true. This oblong car looks stationary at 70 mph.
Not that it matters, because when you're going at 70 mph, you'll be having a fabulous time. You see - and I'm surprised to be saying this - the S80 is the best handling, most agile saloon I've driven for some time. In normal driving conditions, it's at least as good as its German competitors, and in the wintry conditions we had over the festive period, it was sublime - thanks to technological gimmickry such as 'Instant Traction', the Volvo-patented system that switches power instantly from front to rear (or vice versa) to help start from slippery or loose surfaces.
As those around me pirouetted on black ice and veered into snow-lined ditches, I remained firmly on the road. I can't think of another vehicle, short of a JCB, that would have coped with the icy conditions better. It's so good that I don't know why Volvo even bothers with safety systems such as BLIS (Blind Spot Information System), IDIS (Intelligent Driver Information System), SIPS (Side Impact Protection System) and WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System), because the S80 is impossible to CRASH.
Moreover, it's incredibly comfortable. I could never really get my flat comfortable during the cold blast: it was either too cold or too hot. But the Volvo cabin was always perfect within two minutes of starting the engine. I looked forward to getting into the heated leather seats more than my own bed. And the ease with which you can connect your phone and iPod to the car's electronics is a lesson to manufacturers everywhere.
All in all, a stunning car, albeit in an incredibly low-profile way.
I'LL TAKE ONE ...
As good as any BMW or Merc.
THANKS BUT NO THANKS ...
Volvo S80 D5: £31,245
Engine: 2.4 litre diesel
Combined power: 205 PS
Torque: 420 Nm at 1,500 rpm to 3,250 rpm
Fuel: 42.2 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2: 178 g/km
0-62 mph: 8 secs
Top speed: 143 mph