A friend recently referred to me (tongue-in-cheek, one would assume, although I chose to take him literally) as the Most Interesting Man in the World attributing the following to yours truly: “I don’t always buy a new car. But when I do, I prefer to make the manufacturer fly me to Europe to pick it up.” And, well, I can’t argue with him. After all, Volvo did just fly me to Scandinavia to pick up my new car.
It all started last winter, with me haplessly hand shoveling snow out of the wheel well of my stuck sedan, dressed in a suit and oxfords (and, at this point, wet socks), trying desperately to reach a charity event across town. In that moment (the third of its kind that year), I vowed it would be my last Minnesota winter without all-wheel drive.
While retelling my harrowing tale to a friend — one also familiar with my dream of visiting Norway — he encouraged me to look into something called Volvo Overseas Delivery. He explained it as follows: I would build a Volvo to my exact liking (I am, after all, the only Minnesotan that doesn’t like heated seats), and a few months later, the automaker would put me and a guest on a plane to the European destination of our choosing en route to Volvo’s Swedish headquarters, where we would be wined, dined and introduced to my new car.
I agree with you, dear reader: It seems too good to be true. Why would Volvo fly me all the way to Europe plus give me a discount on the car to boot? Other than a free walking advertisement, it just didn’t make sense. But after a whole lot of research (and finding myriad positive reviews), I was sold, all without talking to a single salesperson.
The process was seamless. I arrived at Borton Volvo in Golden Valley, and my salesperson, Brenda, handed me a menu like you might find in a build-your-own-burger joint: pick your model, colors and features, and Volvo builds it. Having already built my car a dozen times online, it took all of five minutes to make my selections: a black XC40 R-Design (Volvo’s new crossover SUV) with a black interior, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise, IntelliSafe Surround system, a bike rack and, of course, all-wheel drive. Brenda sent me home with a packet and a promise that I’d hear more from Volvo soon.
A few days later, I got a phone call from a lovely woman named Alice. Following a hearty congratulations on my purchase, she helped me plan my trip with a few simple questions:
“Who will be joining you on your trip?”
“My girlfriend, Kelly, and neither of us have ever been to Scandinavia.”
“And where would you like to go?”
“Well, of course Sweden. And I’ve always wanted to see Norway. And Copenhagen is on my bucket list.”
“Great. How about all three?”
And, with that, we were set. Alice set up the flights, the ground transportation, the hotel and reservations at an elegant restaurant, all on Volvo’s tab. A couple months later, we found ourselves on a plane headed for Denmark, ready for our adventure.
Copenhagen has always been on my must-see list, and immediately upon landing, I knew my hunch was correct. The colorful buildings that dot the canals, the classically European sidewalk cafes, the strong beer and stronger coffee, and the old-mixed-with-new architecture make for a perfect patchwork experience. We crammed as much as humanly possible into 24 hours (from a 17th century castle to a modern amusement park), and while we would have loved to stay, the purpose of our trip beckoned.
From the first warm welcome to the authentic “Bon voyage!,” the Volvo experience is impeccably designed to make you feel like part of the family. The food was fantastic, the museum was fascinating and the factory tour was truly riveting.
The real heart of the experience, however, is the unveiling of your new vehicle. Bo, my Volvo representative, brought us coffee and hot chocolate, and asked us to wait patiently next to the largest, fanciest garage I’ve ever seen. Moments later, a door opened and out rolled my shiny new XC40. Maybe it was that I had designed it, right down to the floor mats, but something about it looked even better than the model I’d test driven. Bo was entirely unrushed in introducing us to every feature and detail, inciting “oohs” and “aahs” as we learned more. Once he was satisfied that we’d been thoroughly trained, he set us free on the European highways.
Once on the road, our vacation’s possibilities seemed limitless. We immediately headed north toward Norway, all the while playing with any gadget we could discover: the large-display navigation system, the Bluetooth and wireless charging systems, the individual climate settings, the adaptive cruise, and a fancy little button that allows you to take your foot off the brake while stopped at a light. Almost immediately after crossing into Norway, we found ourselves on a bridge high above the fjord waters below.
If you travel Norway, do it by car. The cities are amazing (Oslo is a true gem), but the real payoff is the countryside in between. The grassy roofs with the occasional grazing goat atop, countless waterfalls and the fjords that rise from nowhere — Norwegian landscapes defy logic. They simply don’t look like they belong on the planet I’ve known for 36 years.
We split our week in Norway between cities and countryside. In Oslo, we strolled the modern Aker Brygge canals and explored the nearly millennium-old Akershus Castle. In Ålesund, we climbed to the highest point to a panorama of a town that looked like it had dropped from the sky into the middle of a fjord. And in Bergen, we fell so in love with the city that we extended our stay to sightsee. In the country, we hiked a mountaintop farm, stayed in a modern treehouse and braved snowy mountain passes to reach our remote destinations — and, in the process, validated my all-wheel drive purchase.
My friend asked me about the highlight of the trip. There was a small brewery in Copenhagen with the most positive vibe and beers to match. There was a straight-up-a-fjord hike in Norway, riddled with death-defying cliffs and ending in breathtaking views. There was a leisurely stroll through the picturesque canals of Ålesund. But the list is of course incomplete without mentioning the Volvo experience. The people were so warm, the process was flawless, the factory was fascinating and we left feeling so well taken care of that we joked about our next Volvo purchase before we’d even left Sweden. (Although, if I’m being honest, I’m not entirely sure either of us was joking.)
Oh, and about that catch — I did find one. My car will arrive home soon, having seen 2,100 kilometers (that’s 1,300 miles to you imperial-system devotees) of the most awe-inspiring landscapes I’ve ever seen, which got me thinking: Is that as good as it gets? Has my infant car already seen its greatest adventure? I suppose, rather than lamenting that possibility, I had better find an equally thrilling excursion on this side of the Atlantic. Postmark all ideas to Jesse Atkins.