This is an interesting question, not least because it highlights the fact that we have all become far too reliant on technology to cope with adverse road conditions.
What we ought to be developing and refining is our own driving skills. I don't want to be all preachy about this, but as clever as traction control is and however secure four-wheel drive will make us feel, there is no substitute for knowing what you are doing on the road.
The simplest way to get the skills is to join the Institute of Advanced Motorists (www.iam.org.uk).
For £85 you can get its "Skill for Life" package which includes associate membership of a local IAM group to help prepare you for the IAM test, the relevant manual, and your first year's membership after passing the test. Probably not as relevant in Sweden, but I would recommend that Duncan makes local enquiries.
The thing about the Swedes is that they get plenty of practice driving in the snow - which explained their constant supply of world-class rally drivers over the years. Indeed, if you asked the locals what cars they drive, you won't find many who rely on four-wheel drive or traction control, and they just buy what they can afford.
A CAR FOR THE HEAD
One of the safest cars that Duncan could buy is actually Swedish. I put more faith in real-world statistics rather than laboratory crash tests, and the best-known of these surveys is the Folksam survey, compiled by Folksam Fond, Sweden's largest insurer.
It collects data on every injury accident that occurs in Sweden. So www.folksam.se is the place to look. Not surprisingly the Saab 9-5 and 9-3 come out on top of Folksam's latest listing. The previous generation 9-3 is 30 per cent safer than the average car, while the 9-5 is a full 40 per cent safer, and is the only vehicle in the survey to be so highly rated.
The 9-5 is available as an estate car and the older 9-3 was a spacious hatchback, although Saab is just launching a compact 9-3 estate called the SportWagon. The boot is fairly wide, with a low lip, but it certainly isn't the largest estate you can buy. I see no reason why either of these vehicles should not be within Duncan's budget.
The 9-5 estate is very large, especially with the rear seats folded. In comfort terms, it could not be better. The dashboard is well laid out, and the seats are excellent.
A CAR FOR THE HEART
The classic safe estate is the Volvo, and maybe a secondhand XC70 might be the answer, at least because it has what Duncan clearly wants and that is four-wheel drive. Volvos can be a bit pricey and the most sought-after is the XC90 which is Volvo's serious entry into the off-road market.
On the road, the XC90 drives through the front wheels until the conditions dictate that the power should be directed through the other wheels. It was awarded five stars in the Euro NCAP crash test. The XC70 is equipped with anti-whiplash, side-impact protection and side curtains. Both cars are interesting, but there are more focused estates that Duncan and his wife could drive safely.
A widely available estate would be the Mondeo which is designed with practicality in mind. Most importantly, the load area is long and wide, and there are no intrusions from the wheels or suspension.
For a bit more style, though, the Honda Accord has an equally capacious rear, plus a lockable cubby below the boot floor.
Focusing simply on safety, there is the highly rated Renault Laguna which has every electrical aid known to science to keep it on the road, including a tyre pressure monitor.
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