Ready for the mean streets

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WELL done, Volvo’s press department for telling me, without beating about the bush (or trying to drive through it) that the XC60 ‘is not an off-roader’.

It might look like one, with its muscular stance and tall build, but this is a car designed more for the urban jungle than the foothills of Mount Everest.

And all the better for it. A pukka off-roader has to built like a tank to take all sorts of rough terrain clobberings.

That means it will be heavy and that means it’s going to like a drop to drink and will handle corners with all the aplomb of a bed sheet in a force nine gale.

Volvo tells me the XC60 is designed to be a home on the motorway or muddy country lanes and venture to places that normal vehicles can’t reach.

They’re right; after a week with the test car it was obvious this most popular current Volvo (easily outselling the smaller V50 estate in second place) has been perfectly pitched in its style-conscious, fairly affluent part of the market place.

Talking of style; looks are a purely personal matter but you won’t find many people who don’t think the XC60 is handsome and modern. It was designed by a man who arrived from Mercedes and has now left for pastures new, but to whom Volvo must be permanently indebted, thanks to the foreign currencies pouring into its coffers.

But being a Volvo you know there were more than looks on the agenda when the XC60 was conceived. Think Volvo and, for decades that has meant you’ll automatically think safety for driver and passengers.

The XC60 doesn’t disappoint on that score, with every one using something called City Safety that sees a potential accident ahead in low speed driving and puts the brakes on for you if it senses you’re day dreaming. It might not stop a collision, but you’ll hit the car in front at a lower speed – good for your health and bodyshop repair bills.

As well as looking after you in an accident, Volvos have long appealed to the greener among us, once boasting that the air from the exhaust was cleaner than the air being sucked into the engine some metres ahead.

The XC60’s bulk and comparative heaviness means it’s no eco champion but the large-ish diesel engine and automatic gears in the test car still combine to present fuel consumption and pollution figures that won’t frighten the horses. I recorded 39mpg on test, a decent figure for a car that will give some hot hatches a run for their money.

Not that the driver of an XC60 will ever do that, of cours e. Sitting high above the common herd in a seat of rare comfort, you’re much more inclined to slacken the pace a bit and enjoy the quietness of a cabin that looks austerely smart (it’s a Swedish car, remember).

Some of the serenity vanishes on poor British side roads, where the car rocks enough side to side to persuade you to lower the pace. The car is in its element on smoother roads and makes an imperious motorway mile muncher.

It also looks smart at the school gate of a morning, as you may have noticed.