Volvo Concept Coupe hands-on, the new face of Sweden's finest

No more vanilla Volvos. That's the message from the Swedish company as it launches its concept coupe in Frankfurt.

What exactly does that mean? Well, for the past few years, Volvo's been chasing the Germans - think Audi, BMW, Mercedes - and not really succeeding. It's alternately tried to be more aggressive, more performance orientated and less old-school in image. Though it never forgot about the promise of being one of the safest cars on the road, its cars were ultimately a bit dull really - the "safe choice".

So what should Volvo really stand for? Why would you buy one over something else? That was the challenge presented to Thomas Ingenlath, Volvo's new senior vice-president of design, when he took the job in 2012. He's got a good previous record too - the Skoda Yeti, VW Phaeton and BlueSport concept were all his.

Ingenlath's first output is the Concept Coupe. It's the first of what will be three concepts that chart the future of Volvo. It sits on the company's new front-wheel drive, modular architecture platform and is all part of an explicit plan to move the brand up market.

The key idea here is of a strong Volvo-specific character - counter, perhaps, to some of the established premium brands' aggression, the "me too" approach of other competitors and the dull, vanilla qualities of previous Volvo.

That means it's a coupe for a start. It's a Volvo you might actually desire. Or even call sexy. And rather than being all German-aping, it is proudly Swedish. How so? Check out the little Swedish fashion-label flags on the dash. Or the fact it's stuffed full of Swedish materials, such as the grey wood used on the dash. Those massive, dashboard-deep air vents are a subtle message about the country's clean air and healthy lifestyle too. Driving a Volvo will make you healthier, it seems.

And before you go thinking it's all just concept car fluff, that face is what we're going to get on next year's new XC90 - the first new Volvo production car since this regime change. So you'll get those "throwing iron" daytime running lights that form a kind of "on their side" T-shape. And that new grille, with moustache handlebars running down from it into the lower area of the fascia. We like it.

Of course, a new design boss and a new direction means we're saying bye-bye to some traditional Volvo cues. Like the positive curve of the shoulder, which here makes way for a design that pays homage to the company's old P1800 coupe.

And there's no more floating panel console in the centre of the dash. Instead, there's a novel portrait-format screen - delivered in beautiful HD with super-rich blacks, no less - flanked by those massive airvents. Expect this to signal Volvo moving to become a touchscreen-interface firm. And that we'll get an entirely new vehicle electronics architecture and operating system to go with it.

We're still going to get recognisable Volvo rear lights - heck it does still actually look like a Volvo to us - so everyone should be happy. And of course, the company is never going to give up on its promise of safety. We loved the "since 1969" inscription on the seatbelt buckles - a nod to the fact that Volvo invented and has been fitting three-point restraints since then, and shared the technology for free with every other car maker.

All told, the Concept Coupe points to a very positive and exciting future for the Volvo brand, and we can't wait to see next year's XC90 or the next concept - which is rumoured to take a more traditional Volvo estate-like form. The safety bit is always going to remain key, it's just that there'll be a dash of personality and fun in the Volvo mix from now on, too. It's Swedish but even sexier.



>