Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid pictures and hands-on

The world is increasingly focusing on hybrid technology, and why not? After all it's a pretty good way to help reduce emissions and hopefully save money. However you feel about the tech though, hybrid cars often divide opinion. The Prius is certainly an economical car, but it looks like Homer Simpson designed it and isn't especially inspiring to drive.

With that in mind, Volvo wanted to produce something that looked as good as its other cars but still offered excellent fuel economy with the luxury and performance of a high-spec traditional car. Enter the V60, which it is hoped will change hybrid cars for the better.

Volvo has taken some interesting decisions with its pursuit of hybrid technology. For example, the V60 is a full plug-in car. So when you get home, you hook it up to your mains and it tops up the battery, giving you a range of about 30 miles at speeds up to 70mph. It charges in around seven-and-a-half hours, at the worst case, but on a 16 amp socket it can be ready in as little as three-and-a-half hours. 

The company describes it as three cars in one, which is overselling it slightly, but the different modes on offer are very clever. First, you can "switch to pure" - which is Volvo's marketing term for the car. What it means is that the electric motor drives the car, with no intervention from the diesel engine. Volvo says Europeans have an average daily drive of less than 30 miles, which means many will be able to drive only on electric power.

Then there's the hybrid mode. No surprises here really: the car does low speed and low rev stuff on the battery, but the diesel engine kicks in if you require more than the 70hp electric motor can deliver. As with most hybrids, braking can create electricity but the car's engine will also charge the power pack to 40 per cent of its maximum. We asked if this put a strain on diesel economy, and were assured that it didn't.

The final mode, power, is designed to make the car go as fast as possible. We like this feature, because it means that this car is still fun to drive and on those occasions where you want to enjoy performance, it's just a button press away. The diesel engine has plenty of grunt too, it's Volvo's powerful 2.4 litre 215hp effort. The company says it will get you to 60mph in a shade under 7 seconds, and in our test we certainly managed to haul ourselves to that speed in little or no time. We weren't allowed to push it harder though, because the car we drove was still bedding in.

The cabin, it has to be said, is a lovely place and the electrically adjustable leather seats are brilliant for long journeys. The dashboard is the company's new TFT screen model. Although the really clever bit about this is that it looks analogue, but has loads more information to offer. You'll see when the diesel motor is going to kick in, for example, and you can change the colour theme too.

There is safety equipment ALL over this car. It's got Volvo's brilliant SIPS, which moves passengers around in a side impact, collapses the centre column and inflates airbags to a volume that shields but doesn't damage your bones.

And then there's the stuff to stop you crashing in the first place. Cameras monitor the centre line on the road, and warn you if you stray over it - and the same with the inside lane markers. There's blindspot monitoring, which watches the bit of the road you can't easily see, and illuminates a light if there's anything there. And it registers how close you are to the car in front and will warn you if you're too close. But that's only the start, because once you engage cruise control the car will maintain your chosen speed, but also break when you close on another car. When that car pulls off, the Volvo follows it. It makes for a pretty safe and relaxing journey.

And so too does driving on the electric motor only. The lack of sound means that the only thing you'll hear is the noise of the road. It makes being stuck in traffic enormously peaceful too, and local driving around your residential area is cleaner and more relaxed than in a normal car. Volvo is also proud that its car can use the electric motor from a cold start, so all local driving can be done on electricity instead of petrol.

Volvo has also got a smartphone app that allows you to monitor the car while it's charging, as well as let you turn on the air conditioning or heater. What that means is that you'll get in to a cabin that's the right temperature, so you can conserve the battery power of the car for the actual driving. More importantly, it makes going to work on a cold winter morning a lot more pleasant.

The only major downside we could argue is that the gearbox is a little less snappy than we've come to expect. It's not a double-clutch model - although Volvo does this tech in other cars - so don't expect that sort of response. It's still very good, though, even with the traditional automatic. Even so, there's plenty of speed here, and most people buying this car will find it enjoyable to drive, but snappy when it's needed.

The V60 hybrid costs £47,000, which we think is a little bit too much. However, it's worth mentioning that with the government's grant for such vehicles, the price comes down to £42,000, which is a little more palatable. And this is a luxury car. It's comfortable and as stuffed full of technology as it's possible to be. Plus, it's one of the safest cars on the planet. And to illustrate that, Volvo told us, of the 250,000 fatal road accidents in the UK only 19 of those were in Volvos. If you've got a family, that's incredibly appealing.

Could this be the hybrid that makes you switch?