Volvo's XC60 offers a rather more measured and mature proposition than the typical premium compact 4x4. It's one of the latest generation of products from the Swedish brand that feature both genuinely smart design and an industrial measure of inbuilt desirability as standard.
Why do marketeers of this type of car always insist on calling them 'sporty'? As with virtually every contender in this sector, there's nothing very 'sporty' about an XC60 to drive, especially when fitted with the slightly noisy five cylinder 2.4D and D5 diesel engines that the overwhelming majority of buyers will choose. There's also a minority interest 304PS T6 3.0-litre turbo petrol model at the top of the range. These are all mated to 4x4 drivetrains, but if you don't want that, then you might want to consider one of the entry-level 2WD variants that feature less potent but more frugal 2.0-litre 163PS diesel power.
Whichever variant you decide upon, you should find it to be an accomplished thing in day-to-day tarmac use. This indeed is what marks out the premium end of the compact all-wheel drive market. Cheaper small 4x4s offer the old lumbering SUV experience in bite-sized form: whereas drop into one of these premium-badged alternatives after owning an executive saloon and you'll notice very little difference, save the pleasure of that higher-set driving position.
Of course, this Volvo isn't really intended to go off road, though you wouldn't really know that from the pages devoted to its supposed mud-plugging prowess in the instruction manual. This reminds you that its 230mm ground clearance is superior to that of the larger XC90, that there's a 22 degree gradient approach angle (plus Hill Descent Control to get you down the other side) and that the car's wading depth is 350mm.
Torque is automatically distributed between all four wheels by an Intelligent Traction 4x4 system, which is certainly useful on those muddy fields the road-going tyres will allow you to cross but has really been developed with traction on wet tarmac in mind.
The suspension of disbelief is made easier by the way the XC60's exterior styling disguises its bulk.
Imagine an XC90 that's been on a hot wash cycle for a couple of hours and that's what the XC60 resembles; shrunken slightly, a little chamfered in its edging but recognisably a Volvo product and one that the company claim has turned up the visual volume.
The grille is a little bolder, the car's 'shoulders' more distinctive, especially when viewed from the rear.
Volvo knew that they needed to do something special to wrestle buyers' attention away from the usual suspects in the premium compact 4x4 sector and against the odds, they look to have delivered. Even IKEA-haters will admire the restrained Swedish design, plus the XC60 is polished on-road and very versatile as long as you only need five seats.
Best of all, this is one of the safest cars you can buy full stop. Of course, the opposition is very good – but it will certainly need to be to keep this Viking challenger in its place.