Trailblazing green car: Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid

Swede dreams are made of these. You won't disagree

Price: £43,775 (after £5,000 government Plug-In car grant)
Engine capacity: 2.4l turbo diesel, plus electric motor
Power output (bhp @ rpm): 212 @ 4,000, plus 69bhp electric
Top speed (mph): 143
0-60mph (seconds): 5.8
Fuel economy (mpg): 155.2
CO2 emissions (g/km): 48

The marketing blurb for the new Volvo V60 estate reads "Switch to pure Volvo". My Volvo-loving mate James won't be impressed, though. He had a second-hand 1990s Volvo 740 estate with two rear-facing seats (remember the fun you used to have in those?) back when we were at university. He was the drummer in a band that played progressive metal in fancy dress and he used his chunky wagon to cart his drums around. It was, he claimed, the perfect car for a university band.

James will undoubtedly hope that its new slogan means the Swedish firm (now Chinese-owned) is to return to its roots of making boxy estates that carry lots of stuff. James, you see, is a Volvo purist who thinks the firm lost its way under Ford (the previous owner) by producing dubiously sized estates. That's why he likes to accidentally on purpose confuse modern Volvos with tiny Korean city cars – the sort of car that is unsuitable for carrying drum kits.

Sadly for James, the firm isn't going backwards but has instead embraced electric power. It shouldn't be a massive surprise; Volvo has always blazed a technological trail. It introduced the first easy-fit seatbelt in 1959 and the world's first airbag in 1994, while last year it demonstrated the world's first pedestrian airbag.

Enter the new V60 Plug-In Hybrid. It's a standard V60 estate – think pretty coupe-like styling but, by old Volvo standards, a limited boot – with the nifty addition of a 69bhp electric motor and battery to drive the rear wheels. My drummer friend might not agree with its proportions, but it's a triumph of engineering.

Unlike most hybrids it can be plugged in to the mains to receive a full charge and can travel up to 31 miles in electric mode. It will run electrically up to 78 mph and only call the diesel engine into play when your right foot demands more power. It means if you subscribe to a renewable energy tariff and mostly make short trips, you can go long periods of time without visiting the pumps or emitting tailpipe nasties.

It's one of the greenest cars of the year and I managed 50mpg without too much trouble over a mixture of roads. But it's cruising around town where it comes into its own, running smoothly on electric power. A pleasant side effect of all this greenery is that with the diesel engine and motor combined in Power mode this is a very fast Volvo.

Is this a car for all occasions then? Not quite. It only really makes financial sense if you do lots of short journeys and only need the diesel power for the rare long trip. And there are other downsides – the hybrid gubbins add 250kg to the car and this has cut the boot space by 160l from the standard model (barely room for a base drum let alone a set of cymbals). All the extra weight means the V60 bumps over the smallest imperfections on the road, is less efficient at motorway speed and can feel heavy in fast bends.

The biggest drawback is still the price though. The top-spec diesel version without the hybrid technology is nearly a full £6k cheaper. Hence why Volvo won't sell hundreds of these things, but those who do buy one will have a trailblazing green car on their driveways. And one that's entirely conventional to drive and live with. For those few early adopters, that's something they will happily pay for, unless they are drummers that is.

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