Sunday, 17 October 2010

Fiona makes her first 10,000 miles in less than five months

I picked Fiona up brand-new at the end of May, and it's now only mid-October, but yesterday she clocked up her first 10,000 miles. Well done, Fiona!

Apart from a glitch with the airbag warning light in the first weeks, which was put right and has stayed fixed, nothing has gone wrong. She's still in showroom condition. I've got most of the controls as I like them, though some are not yet used, such as the catches to let down the back seats for a long load. The oil level (you check this electronically) is still at 'full'. I've had to top-up the screen wash at intervals, and I've checked the tyre pressures before every major trip. And of course I've brushed her out and washed her bodywork and wheels a few times. That's about it. The most chore-free car I've ever owned. Highly suitable classy transport for a girl who likes to get about.

And the significance of 2,000 miles a month shouldn't be missed. I'm no timid stay-at-home. I go out and meet people and do stuff. Fiona lends herself to a certain kind of highly mobile, long-distance, go-anywhere existence that fits in nicely with my photography, my liking for eating out, seeing friends, cultural events, and visiting beautiful places. And also, let it be said, for the routine transition-related visits to London or Kent. I just press the button, fire her up, and take off.
Cars are expensive to own, and best used as much as possible so that the cost-per-mile figure stays reasonable. I think I'm doing well there. In 2009, running the old petrol-powered 2.0 litre Honda CR-V, my all-in cash costs (I will ignore depreciation) totalled £4,465 of which £2,918 was fuel; spread over the 17,000 miles driven, that was £0.26 per mile. In 2010, using the Honda for the first five months and the 2.4 litre diesel-powered Volvo XC60 for the remaining seven, my all-in cash costs are likely to be about £5,400 of which fuel will be £4,300; spread over 25,000 miles, that works out at £0.21 per mile. Despite higher fuel costs, a significant reduction of £0.05 per mile - that saving mounts up. If I keep up the mileage, it should be even better in 2011; but I suspect that surgery and convalescence will mean a lower mileage, and by 2012 the comparison will have lost its point.

Of course, £5,400 is a lot of money, whichever way you look at it. Some might call it a financial pain they'd rather not have. But then the other side of the coin is that I get to drive a fast, powerful, luxurious, well-built, safe, very practical motor car that hauls the caravan as if it's nothing at all, and looks right at any classy venue. Fiona is in many ways my passport to a nice kind of life, and she feels like some sort of compensation for the downsides of transitioning. I threw an awful lot of my capital into her purchase. But I haven't been disappointed. One friend, R---, has said we were made for each other. Well, Fiona certainly does what I want from her and does it well.

But the 'safe' aspect  is almost the most important thing. I don't just mean Fiona's ability to protect me in an accident. I mean the secure feeling I have, in or out of town, when driving about in her. I can't be got at. I've got enough power and speed and acceleration and traction on all four wheels to get me out of any likely trouble, and the sheer size and look of the car means that I am high on the 'who goes first' pecking order at road junctions and roundabouts - a fact that I've exploited shamelessly at times. I am quite an adroit, quick-thinking driver and if need be would certainly barge my way through without compunction if I had to get somewhere very quickly, or escape some road-rage maniac. Naturally I'd smile dazzlingly and gush soundless apologies as I did so. But normally I just serenely enjoy the ride and the view from my high-up, climate-controlled travel capsule. The climate control means of course you can show off your shapely girly arms and low neckline even if it's desperately cold outside. Roll on the winter frosts!

Fiona handles very well on scenic country roads, but is absolutely in her element on fast motorways. It's curious how hushed and smooth things are at 2,500 rpm at a steady 80mph, and amusing to note that even at that speed the average mpg will creep up (I can get a continuous electronic readout). Incidentally, modern diesels have a particle filter that traps the naughty black soot associated with them, and recycles the stuff if you get the engine hot enough to reburn it, as you do at motorway speeds. So it's actually green to take Fiona out onto the highway and let her rip. What an excuse for a nice, fast drive somewhere!
One thing I've noticed, is that more women than men drive Volvos, and that the XC60 and XC90 models seem especially popular among the fair sex. The reasons must be complex, but most definitely the XC60 in particular (i.e. a Fiona) is the choice of elegant but cheerful forty-something ladies who give you a conspiratorial smile, as if we both know a good thing when we see it. No question, the XC60 is a ladies' car. Mmmm. I made the right choice! Men, watch out.


  1. You're one very satisfied customer.

  2. Your instruments still show miles per hour and total mileage? I thought you'd gone metric by now! I thought only the US and Burma were back in the dark ages. :)

    I've never driven a Volvo, but I bet I would like your car. I love strong, safe, reliable, but still classy and speedy cars. Well engineered, which Volvos have always been.

    Our car is a Subaru Legacy wagon. It says "lesbian couple." :) Seriously, for some reason, a lot of lesbians drive Subarus.

    We should probably belong to the Car Co-op or a similar borrowing service. Very often, I'm out only once a week to do the grocery shopping. Even with the occasional road trip, we've logged an average of only about 8,000 kilometres per year. I'm sure our cost of ownership (insurance is expensive here) doesn't make sense, but oh well. I love my little all-wheel-drive beastie!

  3. I think all UK governments since 1970 have realised that the cost of switching from miles to kilometres is unaffordable. There is a linked issue: switching to driving on the right-hand side of the road. We have a very dense road network, comprehensively signed to high standards. The expense of not only altering or replacing a million signs but repositioning them on the other side of the road, ready for right-hand driving, would be astronomical. Plus, of course, the related cost of changing all the painted road markings, traffic lights, overhead lane warning gantries, toll booths and other infrastructures. Plus the expense of realigning motorway slip roads, and allocating fresh one-way routes through cities - not all roads and streets will work safely in reverse. Quite apart from the current lack of gold doubloons in the government's kitty. And of course public resistence to change - abandoning miles would be like doing away with pints in pubs or the pound sterling. Unthinkable!

    All this said, you do buy petrol and diesel in litres, and SOME local signs are in metres - e.g. a low overbridge 150 metres ahead, that sort of thing. So to a minor extent, as in general life here, we have for years been used to two measurement systems at the same time. And so it is likely to stay.

    But then this is nothing compared to the ancient way of having a multiplicity of different measurements for different things: rods, poles, perches, chains, fathoms, leagues and the rest! At least that's all gone.


  4. Lucy,

    Glad to hear you are so happy with your Volvo, dare I call her an SUV.

    Equally glad that I am not the only girl posting about cars!

    I have been working on my 76 Lincoln Continental Mark IV which I had in storage for a number of reconnecting with an old friend.



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