Volvo V60 a sports holdall

It used to be so simple. There was the saloon and there was the estate. You bought the former if you did not need the space and you bought the latter if you did.

These days it's more complicated. There are saloons that look like coupes such as the Mercedes CLS. Then there are coupes that act like saloons, such as the four-door Mazda RX-8. You can take your pick of compact sport utility vehicles that mimic family hatchbacks… and then there's the sport wagon.

Gone are the boxy five-door interpretations of the boxy four-door saloon staples. In are flowing, boldly-styled and curvaceous five-door models that try to emulate the sport driving characteristics of the saloons; themselves emulating the driving experience of sports coupes.

Having introduced the highly-attractive new S60 saloon, complete with coupe-inspired bodywork, Volvo has followed it up in typical fashion with an estate version.

Only it hasn't. The Swedish manufacturer is keen to point out that the new V60 is not an estate – it's a sport wagon. For the company that blueprinted the traditional family estate car this is a real change of direction.

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Although, again, it isn't. Volvo points out that drivers who need labrador-shifting, washing machine-hauling capability can still opt for the V70. They can even have marginally less load-carrying ability from a considerably smaller platform in the shape of the V50. The V60 is there to provide something different; a sleeker, more stylish and better handling five-door executive option.

Given Volvo's reputation as a manufacturer of solid, safe and hugely practical cars, there's likely to be a considerable number of traditional Volvo drivers scratching their heads at the concept of an estate that's deliberately not as practical as it could be but, despite Volvo's protestations that the V60 is not an estate, that rear end looks suspiciously capable of dealing with a suitcase-laden run to the airport.

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In fact, the V60's interior is more adaptable than many unabashed estates, with a handy 40/20/40 split rear seat that combines with a front passenger seat that can fold completely flat to offer a convenient array of load and people-carrying combinations.

Its overall volume is not the greatest in its sector but few owners are likely to routinely find themselves cursing its lack of accommodation. Unlike a Volvo V70, or any of the leviathan estates that preceded it, the V60 will not take care of a house-move single-handed – but it won't be left wanting when it's time to shift one of the offspring to campus either.

So that's the wagon element explained, but traditional Volvo estate drivers may find it harder to swallow the sports aspect. Perhaps not as much if they've driven the S60, a saloon designed to compete with the premium four-door contenders in terms of the driving experience as much contemporary styling.

The V60 is intended to deliver the same characteristics on road, and it succeeds with a responsive chassis that feels tightly-controlled and is well damped. The un-estate-like poise is most noticeable when cornering, where body roll is successfully limited and grip remains constant, making the V60 an assured and responsive car to drive quickly, certainly more so than previous similarly-sized Volvo's.

Attempts have been made to inject some enthusiasm into the steering as well with weighting that can be adjusted – although not on the move in a traditionally safe Volvo manner. The effect of the system is noticeable, although the steering lacks the feedback of the key rear-wheel drive competitors.

Also worthy of note is the arrival of new engine technology, including a 1.6-litre turbocharged direct engine unit that will be available in two power outputs badged T3 and T4.

With 177bhp, the T4 is the more powerful of the two, and is also available with the sharp Powershift transmission. Designed to offer a petrol-engine experience with the economy and emissions of a diesel, the unit certainly punches above its capacity in terms of performance. It works well with the automated gearbox and its linear torque delivery makes for smooth progress, with only a little gruffness taking the edge off of a refined performance.

It looks confusing on paper, but the sport wagon ethos makes a great deal more sense in the flesh. The V60 is a far cry from Volvo estates of old, but the slick delivery makes it seem as though the Swedish manufacturer has does this many times before.

Volvo V60

Model: Volvo V60 T4 from �28,675 (range from �23,145)

Engine: 1.6-litre petrol unit developing 177bhp and 177lb/ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic transmission, driving the front wheels

Performance: 0-60mph 8.0 seconds; top speed 137mph

MPG: 42.2 combined

CO2 Rating: 156g/km

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