Volvo C70 2.4T GT £28,765
Acceleration: 0-62mph 8.5sec
Maximum speed: 137mph
Average fuel consumption: 28.5mpg
Insurance group: 17
Last summer I was careering down Highway 1, roof down, Irishman by my side, racing against a Harley on our way to Big Sur. This year, as he raced to the altar (with someone else), Volvo called. Would I like a convertible, the C70, for a road trip? The same car.
Thinking cathartic, therapeutic, Thelma-and-Louise-hit-the-A30, I called a girlfriend and swapped California for Cornwall, not entirely sure whether I felt more like Geena Davis or Jeremy Clarkson.
Actually neither. I'm (bottle) blonde (get that bit over before everyone realises how little I know about cars) and know very little about cars. So, cosmetics first. It was baby blue ("sky blue" in the blurb) with charcoal leather seats - and an unfortunate black toupee. "Make sure they show you know how to put the roof down," I panicked to the girlfriend from work before it was delivered. It couldn't have been easier - a flick of a switch and not even a broken nail to cry about.
And it was stick shift not automatic, another plus. I prefer the control that manual gears give, and I've always had a bit of a problem with phantom-clutch foot when driving an automatic.
I slipped behind the wheel again, feeling a reassuring familiarity; it was time to hit the open road. A bad time. A Friday night in August, heading west out of London while the Hammersmith Flyover was closed. But it was late, we opted for the A303 and had a miraculously clear run down.
The Volvo purred - well, it seemed very quiet, but then we were making full use of the nine-speaker sound system, if not the three-CD disc player; that required too much forward planning. The sculpted leather seats curved around us as we sped west, secure in the knowledge (we had read all the press information), that we had a ROPS (Rollover Protection System), WHIPS (anti-whiplash) seats, dual-stage airbags and rigid safety cage. Volvos might not be the sexiest cars on the road, but there's a lot to be said for safe and dependable, and the convertible, to me anyway, was pretty damn' gorgeous.
As for driving in Cornwall in August, it's not nearly as bad as you'd imagine - as long as you avoid two things: the A30 and parking in St Ives. We dipped on to the A30 near Bodmin on a baking Saturday afternoon and fried on the tarmac for an hour before we could screech off at the next exit. The other A roads were generally clear, or clear enough to test the acceleration and feel the wind in our hair. Note: there's a reason Grace Kelly wore those headscarves.
And B roads - I've got a lot of time for B roads. Despite the fact that tractors, hay bailers and far too many coaches have too. One of the highlights of the trip was wending our way across country hemmed in by head-high hedgerows after the escape from the A30. This was a tip from friendly locals: "You'll be avoiding the A30, then," they said with a knowledgeable wink. "Watch out for the wedding party in the horse-drawn carriage coming round the corner." And crawling behind a flock of sheep - very Thomas Hardy-esque.
The drive around the coast from St Ives to Penzance is a perfect B-road afternoon, taking you from wild coastal scenery to lush river valley. When you wind up from traffic-choked St Ives after the obligatory trawl round the Tate and Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, the B3306 opens out, and for a brief moment you feel like you're flying. As you breathe in deeply, the salty scent of the sea mingles with fragrant hedgerows. There's an exhilarating sense of space, the open landscape rolling out across fields to the cliffs.
A quick detour brings you to the picturesque village of Zennor. Tin mines litter the landscape as you speed on to St Just, with its old granite miners' cottages, turning off for a trek to rugged Cape Cornwall.
On the other side of Land's End down the B3315 is the stunning Minack open-air theatre, hewn from the cliff face near St Levan, followed further down the road by the tiny village of Mousehole, huddled round a harbour with a handful of cosy pubs.
But back to Land's End for that poignant clifftop moment, waves crashing far below, the day wild and blustery in spite of the sunshine. The Volvo was safe in the car park. The road stopped well before the edge, but it didn't need to worry. There was no way I was driving this baby over a cliff.
For further information: Cornwall Tourist Board (www.cornwalltouristboard.co.uk), Tate St Ives and Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden (www.tate.org.uk/stives), Minack Open-Air Theatre (www.minack.com).