CLIMBING into the passenger seat of the latest Volvo XC90, my neighbour's instant reaction would have made the designers back in Sweden very happy - 'this is smart... very smart'.
Better still, said neighbour is the proud owner of a new Range Rover Sport. So he knows that cars that cost comfortably more than fifty grand have to make a strong first impression.
The biggest Volvo certainly does that, and not only because it is.... well, big. It is also very Swedish in its rather cool, Scandi-like approach to design.
Lots of nicely applied leather, slim fillets of deliberately dulled alloy and a minimalist application of wood that might have come from an upmarket furniture store in a trendy part of Stockholm... or London.
Anywhere cutting edge metropolitan, really, where you want to make an impression with your mode of transport, but one where the onlooker wants more than mere glitz.
Heaven forefend that this expensive SUV should ever even hint at vulgarity. From its chiselled prow to electric tailgate - with coolly elegant seven seat cabin in between - the XC90 shows how you don't have to head for Germany (or Solihull, now) for a properly upmarket people mover.
So, we've established, I hope, that the XC90 can hold its elegant head high on any car catwalk you choose.
But look under the bonnet and you may be surprised. For where the opposition thinks nothing of popping in a power unit with six cylinders and three litres of capacity, this chunky Swede makes do with just four (cylinders) and two (litres).
Of course, there's turbocharger to push more air and diesel into the engine, so capacity matters much less than it once might, but that is still a small-sounding engine doing the work.
Volvo, now Chinese owned and obviously the recipient of huge investment, has decided it will never make an engine bigger or more cylindered than this, so it has got to work.
It does, with a snappy step-off through the eight speed automatic gearbox and enough pulling power when you need to overtake to banish fears that a mere 2.0 litres won't do. It's 235 horses are never found wanting, even if the gears sometimes engage with more enthusiasm than expected.
Don't though expect the economy you might have hoped for with that few cc's doing the work. Over a mixed bag of roads, including significant stretches of motorway, which flatters diesels, the test car showed 36.5mpg on the (typically clear) trip computer. Not bad, but far from outstanding.
Better was an imperious ride that smothered the worst a British road could throw at it (and without the mild jiggling experienced in... a Range Rover Sport) and an eagerness to answer the driver's commands from the wheel that belies the car's significant bulk - it weighs a not inconsiderable 2,038kgs.
There are five properly adult-sized seats in rows one and two, with a smaller but still useable pair that fold flat into the huge boot's floor. This is a very practical car as well as a stylish one.