Plug and play . . .

Volvo has opened its doors for a sneak preview of its V60 plug-in hybrid prototype, and if everything goes to plan, the car will be all things to all men - well, all men (and women) with a lot of spare cash, anyway.

Going by actual tests under the current official EU system, the plug-in V60 will return an average of 148mpg, put out just 49g/km of CO2, and yet sprint to 62mph in 6.9 seconds.

The incredible figures come as a result of much of the test being able to be completed using electric power only, but in theory the results do translate to certain kinds of real-world use.

The combination of a powerful five-cylinder diesel engine at the front and a large electric motor at the back, with the ability to run on either or both, makes the V60 incredibly versatile.

At the exclusive event at Volvo’s headquarters in Gothenburg, as the company also announced its plans to produce only four-cylinder engines in the future, the two working V60 plug-in hybrids were made available for test drives.

This project was started before the company made the decision to drop a cylinder from its top-end diesels, so for the moment the older design is staying put.

The hybrid system layout is fascinating. By putting the row of batteries under the boot floor, which does cut down on luggage space but only by 6cm of height, the hybrid’s weight distribution is much more neutral than the standard V60’s. It’s about 300kg heavier than a diesel V60, but it feels better balanced.

Then the front wheels are driven by the engine, while the back ones are left to the motor. The car can be front-, rear- or, at low speeds, four-wheel-drive, offering the best of all worlds at the appropriate time.

Best of all, even at this early stage the systems work together seamlessly. There are one or two engineering hiccups to overcome, but the core functions are there.

Three driving modes offer a choice of fully electric running, standard hybrid propulsion and a ‘power’ setting, where the system puts fast, first.

From a standing start it’s really very rapid, with relentless acceleration and no wheelspin, even in the wet.

Using the three system modes optimises the car for a specific kind of driving. Effectively it’s three cars in one, and while fully electric mode is engaged, the car does everything it can to maintain battery-only running. Only a dedicated stab of the throttle will cause the engine to cut in, so you can hang on to exhaust emission-free driving for as long as possible.

Despite the combined 472lb.ft of torque - that’s 74lb.ft more than a Ferrari 458 supercar - drivers will be able to travel up to 31 miles at up to 62mph purely on electricity; the equivalent of going from central Cambridge to Stansted Airport with charge to spare.

Volvo’s research has shown that in Europe, where the car will go on sale, around 80% of drivers travel less than that distance in a day.

Recharging the battery can be done from a standard plug socket using the cable provided with the car, and with a UK-typical 10-amp flow of current, it takes around 4.5 hours to completely recharge, although thanks to the hybrid system the battery will never actually get flat, or discharge more than it should.

Still, even combining a late night with an early morning, owners will see the plug-in V60 recharged and ready to go. The target battery life is 10 years or at least 100,000 miles.

There’s little or nothing to fault with the concept. If it works, and it certainly looks like it will, then it’ll be one of, if not the best all-round car on the market.

There is a catch, though, and it’s financial. Volvo refused to be drawn on price; not even to offer a rough estimate. That means it’s likely to be expensive, and given that similar, but less advanced designs are hitting the showrooms at around the £30,000 mark, the V60 plug-in hybrid might be closer to £35,000 or £40,000 by the time it’s finished. A price worth paying? You decide.