It's not cheap when you think what goes into it, ran the old Volvo copy line with a picture of a Cub Scout pack climbing in the back. What simple times they were.
Volvos were motorised boxes built by dour Swedes and equipped to sustain forward progression in the face of the most formidable of pre-global warming winters. What do you mean, you want handling and style as well? Well, someone did. If you find them, please give them a stiff dressing down. My family has owned examples of every Volvo dog carrier since the 240 and while they had many admirable qualities, sheer driving pleasure was neither present nor required.
The introduction to the new V60 estate starts in familiar vein. "You can carry loads in it if you want to," says Hans Nilsson, project manager for the S and V60 range, filling my mind with comforting thoughts of trips to Ikea and the smell of wet Labradors. But then he gestured towards a machine with not one right angle present. Surely this wasn't a Volvo?
Alas it was, albeit without as much luggage room as its German rivals, but enough, Volvo thinks, to attract new Euro stylish types who consider driving an estate to be evidence of an interesting lifestyle rather than ownership of a wheelie bin full of rug rats. Volvo went as far as to suggest the V60 is really a coupé, a laughable proposition, but it is a very good-looking estate.
Under the skin is the recently launched S60 saloon, which is actually a slightly shorter S80/V70. Volvos these days are like matryoshka dolls; you open up the outside one and hordes of tiny Volvos come whizzing out. So that's industry-standard Macpherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, but tuned to go around corners rather than cosset the orthopaedic work of upper middle-class professionals.
In the cabin you get the made-over plastics of the S60 model, with a twin-dial instrument binnacle and smoothly curved centre console complete with a rather confusing array of switches. There's lots of spiffy surface changes, as is the current motor industry mien, and the seats are comfy and supportive when you chose to throw the Labs around in the back. Rear seats are spacious enough for a couple of six-footers and the load area is bigger than it looks. There's 430 litres of seats-up space and the rear seats split and fold in a 40/20/40 ratio.
As for safety, it's all there of course. Volvo's City Safety auto-braking system is standard, but a new radar-and-camera-based collision warning and pedestrian detection system comes with the optional adaptive cruise control. The front camera recognises people from their movement profile and silhouette, and warns and eventually brakes if it thinks you're not going to. It's effective, but seems a little over the top for environments where you should be looking out for hazards at all times anyway. More impressive is the optional 180-degree front camera, which can "see" into an obscured T-junction before the driver.
Engine choice is like that of the S60, with five petrol units ranging from the 150bhp, 1.6-litre T3 to the 304bhp T6 3.0-litre unit. Diesels include the 115bhp, 1.6-litre in maximum economy DRIVe configuration, the popular 163bhp 2.0-litre D3 engine and the unit tested here, a 205bhp, 2.4-litre D5 twin-turbocharged, five-cylinder diesel with six-speed automatic transmission and, in this case, all-wheel drive. It's a charismatic and powerful engine, with a gruff, offbeat note. There's so much torque that fluttering around the six ratios is largely superfluous.
Not that the auto gearbox is anything less than smooth and refined, with a sports mode that holds the ratios and an overdriven top for relaxed and economical motorway cruising. However, the extra control and economy of the six-speed manual makes it a better option, even if you can't combine it with four-wheel drive. With optional 18in wheels and tyres, the handling is sharp and fluid. Turn-in is precise and the balance is adjustable on the throttle without disastrous consequences if you get it wrong. The steering is positive, if not quite sharp enough, but the brakes are well judged with a firm and progressive pedal action.
The S60 saloon isn't quite a match for its German rivals, but with the same suspension settings the estate makes a better fast-road machine, being refined, quick and rewarding to drive.