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Crafting Postcards In Auckland, NZ, With Volvo

​New Zealand is a magnificently beautiful country. You could pose by a drain and your pictures would still be postcard worthy. Ok, perhaps that's a bit over the top, but believe me, it's a country that deserves to be on your top 10 wanderlust lists just to witness the wonder of God's artistry. The best part about my first visit to New Zealand though, was driving around its flat and even roads aimlessly in a pack of assertive Volvos. ​Auckland especially, is a charming place and because it sits just next to the magnificent Pacific Ocean, it's very breeze and tide are unlike anything I've taken in before. It could just be down to the fact that it was my first foray into Kiwi Land back in March 2018 but even then, it was difficult not to be hypnotized by its natural splendour. 

The feeling you get when you coast down a sloping bend only to be awed by the sight of some mighty Kiwi countryside is absolutely euphoric and heavenly. All this unfolded right before my eyes from the cockpit of one of the best compact SUVs I've driven in recent times.

However, what made this New Zealand expedition even more awesome was the fact that this wasn't just about a driving exercise to uncover the impressions of Volvo's XC60 SUV. In fact, the driving was kept to just one day out of the total four days we were in New Zealand. The reason for this was down to the fact that a bunch of us media were flown in to The City Of Sails to witness and be a part of the Auckland leg of the absolutely, extreme, Volvo Ocean Race.  

Volvo Group became the official owner and sponsor in 2001, and with that, the Swedish marque have since used their stellar R&D to design the very sail yachts used by each team in this regatta-styled world race.

As the regatta-styled race is decided on a rather quirky points system, in-port races, such as the one we witnessed in Auckland, are used to break race-ties that might take place at the end of each season's ocean race. This year's starting point began at Alicante, Costa Blanca, Spain and ends later this year when the first of seven teams reaches The Hague, Netherlands. More importantly though, this was a chance for us media to see a more inclusive side of the Swedish brand, and how it has expanded its brand's reach not just to the seas, but to how it has created a vibrant community that relates very well to Volvo's new-found brand appeal.

One of the many spectator yachts that sailed out of the Auckland Marina to witness the in-port ocean race.

We were indulged in a string of workshops and conferences at the Volvo Ocean Race Pavilion, all to discover more of what Volvo Cars has been up to. We got a sneak preview of the upcoming Volvo XC40, whilst also perusing the other commercial avenues of Volvo Group as a whole. And to be frank, the four days travelling to-and-fro from the Pavilion was somewhat a field trip that truly opened my eyes at least, on how Volvo as a brand, is actually very youthful and vibrant going forward from its now distant doldrums.  

The string of open sail yachts all docked, just before the in-port ocean race kicked-off in Auckland. Each of these carbon-fibre boats are designed by Volvo.

 It was through these few days at the Ocean Race that I realised how lucky I was to be present at this momentous event (Thanks Volvo Cars Malaysia!!). Why was it a big deal? The Volvo Ocean Race is held in high-esteem, next to the America's Cup, which happens to be the oldest sporting trophy in the whole world. Though vastly different in sailing mechanics, these two competitions are a big deal, especially for a city like Auckland which has brought home both trophies on separate occasions. It was only after learning these few truths that it made sense to me as to why Auckland is called, "The City of Sails".

Held every three years and formerly known as the 'Whitbread Round the World Race', the Volvo Ocean Race in itself, is an extraordinary sail yacht race that takes teams around the globe, traversing through treacherous sea routes that most seasoned sailors try and avoid, like Cape Horne and Cape Town.

 I for one couldn't recall the last time I had been so excited to see so many boats and yachts, all of which converged upon Auckland's harbour-line to witness the in-port race. The icing on the cake was the experience of visiting these sail yachts and listening first-hand from skippers and crewman on their struggles and challenges during this year-long race, the details of which are absolutely unbelievable. For example, participants of this Volvo Ocean Race have strict dietary regimes (they can only consume a calculated amount of freeze-dried food) and it doesn't get easier, seeing as they also will experience vastly different climates throughout the race, with temperatures ranging from as low as -5 to +40 degrees Celsius. The climax of the Ocean Race for me however, was being out at sea to watch the in-port race unfold, something I will remember for life, besides driving across New Zealand in Volvo's new XC60. Ah yes, the X60 review! (read on please!)

It's an awe inspiring feeling, to roam around Auckland's coastal line and soak in the glorious seaside scenery. Here's our party taking a breather as we were passing through Kawakawa Bay.

Jumping into our designated XC60s on day one, we set out from our hotel onward to a short jog around Auckland City Centre, passing key landmarks such as the Sky Tower and the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Tucked in comfortably into the XC60's properly made leather seats, it was a familiar sight to be re-acquainted with Volvo's new interior lingo, a Swedish symphony of modern tech and conventionality. It was a real joy to fiddle around with Volvo's Sensus Connect once more. It's an infotainment cum command centre that really replenishes your perspective on in-car features in general. Where in the past, Volvos were famous for their strict analog button clusters, it is truly remarkable to see how far the Iron Mark have come in this respect, with its clean but large main screen concept that does away with messy buttons and knobs. It was pleasing to experience this again.  

It's an awe inspiring feeling, to roam around Auckland's coastal line and soak in the glorious seaside scenery. Here's our party taking a breather as we were passing through Kawakawa Bay.

Quite similar to the system in its other cars, Volvo's XC60's Sensus Connect is the brain of the SUV. It controls everything, from climate control to cross-road monitors, via a tastefully-fitted touchscreen that is easy to use. You can pinch-pull, swipe and slide across it to customise the home screen with your most-used features and functions. By default, when you swipe the Sensus' homepage to the right, you'll find the entire suite of all of Volvo's 'IntelliSafe' safety features displayed and when you swipe left, all of the in-car entertainment functions will be listed. When I spent some time on this Sensus Connect system, I realised how thoughtful and carefully designed this system is, as it helps the driver organise all of Volvo's in-car features quite neatly to be accessed easily for future use. Yes, it does take some time to do this, but it's something worth the few minutes doing.

Like the rest of Volvo's models, the Sensus Connect is the focal point of the XC60's interior

Elsewhere in the XC60's cabin, the suave and new Volvo design lingo is stylishly appointed across its dashboard right down to its door panels. I've become a fan of this new lease of life Volvo Cars has been expressing across its entire range and it's very apparent in the XC60 as well. But it's no longer an unknown thing; Volvo Cars is well and truly back in the premium automotive game with a big leap, and what's great about it, is that they're not at all trumpeting their new found love for making some really beautiful cars. Take the Swedish marque's V90 for example, a surprisingly raunchy estate and Volvo's flagship, the XC90 a titan of class, features and style. To me, flying all the way to Auckland to have a short day's drive with the XC60 (both the T6 and T8) was something of a pleasurable business trip. ​And what of the XC60's driving character?Enter your text here ...

An overview of our drive route across New Zealand

There's something inspirational about how Volvo have tuned their crossover, which by the way, if you didn't know, was voted second in this year's World Car Of The Year awards, losing out to the remarkable Range Rover Velar. The fact that it took something like the Velar to throw the XC60 off the top of the podium in itself, says how well this model has been received from looks to its crossover-SUV functions. On New Zealand roads at least, the XC60 feels simply fantastic. One doesn't need to look for the XC60's limits to find out why.  

 We were given the opportunity to discover New Zealand in three different variants of the XC60- the R-Design T8 and T6 and also the AWD T5 Inscription. Except for the T6, the other variants are all offered here in Malaysia- XC60 T8 Inscription Plus (RM343,888), XC60 T8 Inscription (RM333,888) and XC60 T5 (RM298,888). It goes without saying that the T8 is the big bruiser of the lot in terms of power output levels and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in it. Saunting across the northern part of New Zealand, I began to see how the full potential of Volvo's stellar T8 platform is almost fully expressed in the XC60.

If you didn't know, the T8 engine platform uses a winning-combo of both a turbocharged and supercharged petrol mill in tandem with an electric motor at the SUV's rear axle to push out a total of 407 hp (320 hp from the combustion engine and 87 hp from the electric motor) and 640 Nm of torque (400 Nm from the combustion engine and 240 Nm from the electric motor). The chassis is rigid but it has its own well-balanced mannerisms when you push the XC60 T8 through some bends.  

 As more of New Zealand's mesmerising country side and coast lines began emerging, I couldnt help but enjoy it all even more from the comfortable cockpit of the XC60. To note, spec sheet data reveals that the XC60 only needs 5.3 seconds to hit 100 km/h. That's quite quick for an SUV mind you and it also has a 2.1-litre per 100 km/h fuel consumption reading as well. As mentioned, for Malaysia, the T8 variants will be specced in Volvo's Inscription and Inscription Plus trims, with the latter coming with a top-notch 15-speaker sound system from Bowers & Wilkins, making it a wholesome package should one opt for it.

As you might have guessed, the XC60 comes fully-stocked with Volvo's industry-leading safety features as part of its IntelliSafe suite of safety systems. So, I got to sample all of this system's active and preventive features like its autonomous braking and blind spot monitors. My personal favorite of the lot is definitely Volvo's Pilot Assist, a semi-autonomous driver assistance system which takes charge of steering, acceleration and braking all the way up to 130 km/h. The system is not totally flawless, having to use properly positioned road markers to chart its course.  

It was quite amazing to sample this Volvo treat again, but New Zealand roads, as scenic and as beautiful as they are, did not allow the Pilot Assist feature to work to its full capacity because of the lack of proper road markers. I did not cringe at this simply because the roads and scenery looked amazing still. It is nonetheless a remarkable feature to have in a car like this, considering how well it will operate in a busy city like Kuala Lumpur. Personally though, there's a long way to go with these semi-autonomous/autonomous platforms and I echo the sentiment of many industry experts- this platform SHOULD NOT be rushed and I believe Volvo is leading the way in this respect, carefully filtering through the stages of autonomous systems deployment. Where lives are at risk, caution and proper measures need to be in place. 

As the drive came to an end back at the M Social Hotel where we were putting up, I could only surmise that this XC60 is a huge achievement for Volvo Cars. True, the XC90 already solidified Volvo's return to the fold and to add, the brand's new V90 and S90 are pound-for-pound heavyweights in the premium segment. This new breed of XC60 however, will go on to record new milestones for the Swedish marque. This is no surprise though really. Even the previous XC60 was already a big hit on the premium market, with almost a million units sold globally since its launch in 2008. As a model on its own, it has its loyal fan base and given Volvo's heavy focus on in-car tech features currently, the XC60 will properly pick up a whole new audience, someone like me for example. 

Yours truly striking a pose with one of the Volvo Ocean 65 sail yachts used in the Volvo Ocean Race this year.

I wasn't a true fan of Volvo and I'm still far from being one. That however, puts me in a really good place to applaud the Swedish brand for the huge achievements it has made over the last decade. This XC60 to me is proof that you don't have to dish out huge marketing budgets to sell your brand. All a brand has to do is to create a solid environment to create a good product and this XC60 is a good example. It now joins Volvo's gritty, new sedan lineup as well as its magnificent XC90 to complete a thoroughbred portfolio that is starting to make its German competition (BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi) look like novices. Even so, it's actually like crafting and sending postcards; you let the scenery do all the talking and for Volvo, particularly in the XC60's case, their scenery is one that is blossoming and full of life. Thank you for the memories Volvo Cars Malaysia, this one's up there.