This is Part 4, the final part in our series exploring the Norwegian fjords in a Volvo V90 Cross Country. Check out Part 1: Stockholm to Preikestolen here, Part 2: Stavanger and Bergen here and Part 3: the heart of Fjordland here. We kept the best for last: Geirangerfjord is arguably the most famous fjord in Norway, and it’s well deserved as it is also the most spectacular. Remember to click on any pictures to enlarge them.
But first we take the detour to the Dalsnibba lookout, whose tariff has increased sharply from Nkr85 according to the Lonely Planet published in 2016 to Nkr 130 in September 2017. This lookout, at an altitude of 1.481m, is supposed to give you the most stunning views of Geirangerfjord, unfortunately clouds were in the way when I reached it, but the trip was well worth it as it gave me the opportunity to take some of the most spectacular shots of the car during this trip (as featured at the top of this article) on the way down to the Djupvatnet lake.
Arriving in the tiny village of Geiranger (population 250), we are greeted by an army of Renault Twizy, apparently used for tourist to roam the streets of this familiar-looking town. After a search on IMDB I figure out why I seem to recognise this place from somewhere: it featured in the Norwegian disaster movie “The Wave” where a landslide triggers a fatal tsunami that engulfs the town. Hopefully not today Geiranger. Unfortunately the town has lost much of its authenticity, a victim of extreme tourism: in the space of a couple of months during the summer season, up to 600,000 visitors and 150 cruise ships “honour” Geiranger of their presence.
Taking a few snaps of the fjord from the town’s harbour, I believe I’ve seen it all and decide to follow my plan which was to take the Ørnesvingen (Eagle’s Way) north of town to reach the Trollstigen Route. After 11 hairpin bends and 7km of spectacularly scenic views, I stop at the lookout and discover that Geirangerfjord is much longer than I thought, and I can see over the bend sun-soaked green cliffs. The last ferry of the day departs in 10 mins from Geiranger harbour: what better way to test the Volvo V90’s Polestar power-boost through winding mountain roads? And this would end up being the most adrenaline-inducing bit of driving of the entire trip: the car sticks to the road amazingly well, surges with fury and brakes with discipline. I can’t fault it even though there were multiple opportunities for skidding. I reach the ferry just as the staff was about to close the door, and can enjoy for a full hour the twisting 20km-long emerald-green waters and towering cliffs of Geirangerfjord on the way to Hellesylt. Awkwardly, Lars had its alarm ring four times during the ride, perhaps because the ferry was rocking a bit.
Ålesund car park: Suzuki Ignis, Tesla Model S, Hyundai Ioniq, Tesla Model X, Toyota Yaris.
The second and last ferry of the day departs in Sykkylven, offering me the best sunset of the entire trip, and I reach the Ålesund peninsula at night. Norway’s cod-fishing capital, Ålesund was rebuilt in Jugendstil (Art nouveau) style after a devastating fire in 1904 and was one of my anticipated highlights of the trip. I take a couple of hours the next morning to visit the town, even hitting the lookout for a panoramic view, but can’t help but being a little disappointed: the building are all very consistent but it somehow turns into a rather bland combination in my view. I wasn’t wow’ed. The car park is very similar to the one I saw in Stavanger: Tesla is here in force with both the Model S and X and the BMW i3 and Hyundai Ioniq have already conquered many buyers. I also spotted in Ålesund the third Opel Ampera-e of the trip. Suzuki is very strong in this part of the country with the new Ignis and Swift already established and the S-Cross and Vitara popular.
Driving east towards the Trollstigen Route, I pass the sumptuous village of Stordal with its stunning church and many a house with grass roofs. Torvtak, or sod roof, is a Scandinavian tradition that dates back hundreds of years. The weight means the walls of the traditional log houses are compressed (less leaks), the thickness and composition gives an insulating roof (less heat escapes in winter, the house isn’t turned into a sauna in summer) that is wind and waterproof. Usually short grasses and low flowers are used. Sometimes longer grasses are used or wildseed themselves and then a schyte can come in handy (or a couple of goats)…
Finally it’s the towering bare mountains of Innfjorden jutting towards the sky and piling up around deep, dark and quiet lakes.
One day late, I finally reach the Trollstigen Route (aka the Troll’s Ladder) for a steep descent. It was completed in 1936 after eight years of work and received 700,000 visitors annually. The road slices through surprisingly dark rock cliffs and clouds were adding to the moody atmosphere when I drove down the single lame through 11 steep hairpin bends on a 1:12 gradient. Photo opportunities must be snatched quickly while there are no other cars nearby on the road. Numerous waterfalls, including the thundering 180m-high Stigfossen, echo throughout the amphitheater shaped by the cliff, giving off a sinister, troll crying-like ambiance.
We are now headed north towards the Atlantic Coast, and on the way I spot a rather large car dealership specialised in U.S. imports (Nerland Autosalg in Malmefjorden): I count 15 Chevrolet Silverado and 5 Ram Pickups displayed outside, all from the latest generation. The And I’ll take this opportunity to confirm the sales surge of pickup trucks in 2017 in Norway, especially by the Toyota Hilux (+141.6% over the first eight months of the year) and Ford Ranger (+67.67% 0in August). The VW Amarok is also up a market-beating 32% in 2017. Other heroes, as confirmed by the car Oslo car park, are the new Toyota Proace (+220.7% year-to-date at the time of visit), Peugeot Expert (+183.4%) and Citroen Jumpy (+180.5%).
The Atlanterhavsveien, or Atlantic Ocean Road, is a succession of eight bridges connecting 17 islets between Vevang and the island of Averøya. The UK’s Guardian newspaper crowned it the “world’s best road trip” which was one of the reasons why I travelled all the way to here. Well. Don’t rush to your cars just yet, because for starters it’s not much of a road trip: it’s only 8 km long. And it’s not that impressive either. Granted, the weather was very calm when I was there and it probably would be a lot more spectacular during storms. One cool element though is the fact that some of the bridges are angled in a way that looks like they are shooting towards the sky. But that’s about it. I guess it’s the price to pay for having ventured through such spectacular fjord landscape during the past week…
Then it’s the two-day drive back to Sweden and Stockholm. Before then, I realise that Norway is a country of roundabouts, with little to no red lights. It’s a slow country too: the highest speed limit is 90 km/h but only for short times and sanctioned by a toll every time. The general limit is an excruciating 80 km/h. I am told it’s because of the snowy and icy conditions in winter. Then how about different speed limits for summer and winter? In France, the highway speed limit is 130 km/h in sunny weather and 110 km/h in rain… The return to Sweden features a lot more neons and billboards along the highway, a lot more Volvo V90 twins on the road including a Police vehicle, the speed limit rises to 120 km/h after Vasteras!
It’s also the opportunity to notice that local best-selling car magazine Auto Motor & Sport has got into the habit of quoting BestSellingCarsBlog figures! A very unexpected surprise that follows-on on last year’s discovery. As I return Lars to the Volvo dealership in the suburbs of Stockholm, its odo has almost doubled, from 3.881 km at the start of this adventure to 7.551 for a total of 3.670 km for this trip and a very reasonable average fuel consumption of 6.5l/km. So. What did Lars do well, and what could he improve?
- Outstanding road handling at high speed in fjord cliffs’ hairpin bends (the whole point of this drive, right?)
- Aggressive yet pure and sober exterior design, feels a lot more dynamic than the XC90
- Luxurious cockpit and incredible sound system by Bowen & Wilkins
- Very intuitive and practical touch-screen console (the same as the XC90 tested last year), able to monitor all elements at once while zooming on a particular one, pinch and zoom function great to use.
- More oomph than the XC90 I drove last year: when starting the car, but also when passing at high speed
- Very comfortable sport seats that stick close to your body at every angle: my usually sensitive back recorded absolutely no pain, whereas the massage function had to be used extensively last year on the XC90
- Line assist and safety features second to none on the market: as per the XC90 (see last year’s review for more details) this is one of Volvo’s greatest assets and a strong point of difference, and it shows.
- Headlights are so strong there is no need for high beams most of the time
- All-in-all the GPS is very reliable with only one road not recognised during the entire trip
- “Km to refill” indicator is unreliable: it varied greatly and illogically throughout the drive.
- Cockpit liveability and practicality not as functional as the XC90: big bottles wouldn’t fit on the side doors for example.
- Adaptative cruise control loses track of the car in front of you in roundabouts and sharp bends, making you dangerously accelerate towards it.
- Windscreen wipers aren’t always triggered by rain automatically.
- Each and every time you start the car it invariably and unnecessarily says out loud “Route being calculated”. Gets a little irritating after a while.
- No sunnies holder above your head.
Stay tuned for our next test drive: a Tesla Model X along the Australian eastern Coast…