Hot on the heels of the excellent XC90 update, Volvo's new compact 4x4 may prove to be the Swedish marque's most adventurous creation to date. Adventurous is not a word synonymous with the Ford-owned Swedish carmaker, but the new XC60 is in one of the market's most hotly contested sectors. As family buyers increasingly look to smaller, more affordable 4x4s in these cost-conscious times, carmakers have been quick to fill the niche with the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Land Rover Freelander. But critics might wonder whether Volvo's pocket off-roader really cuts the mustard against the big three. The XC60 at least looks the part. It's freshly styled, and Volvo seems to have taken on board the latest styling cues from the likes of the Qashqai and Q5, moving away from the more traditional 4x4 looks of the Freelander and avoiding the messy lines of the new Subaru Forester. With an enlarged front grille moulded around a creased, low-riding (and, the marque says, more pedestrian-safe) bonnet, the XC60's nose gives rise to a well-proportioned, sculpted wedge that creates a sharp, contemporary look. The compact 4x4 fits within the footprint of a standard XC70 wagon, yet offers enough SUV space for five adults with luggage to travel in comfort. It boasts more front and rear legroom than a BMW X3, and has more cargo capacity (495 litres, as opposed to 480 litres) with the rear seats upright. The marque's ergonomic design ethos is as apparent on the inside, too. A simple, clean dash sits well with the trademark floating central console, and smart aluminium and wood highlights lend a crisp - some might say Nordic - touch to the interior. Hard-wearing plastics are complemented by supportive leather power front seats, and a range of funky two-tone options for the interior trim. The SUV is as practical as its rival as the back seats fold flat to give 1,455 litres of rear space for luggage (only marginally less than the X3s) and a handy lockable under-floor compartment lets you store valuables when you're shopping. The front central armrest houses a storage space underneath and doubles as a rear table when folded back. You'll also find a jack for your MP3 player and there's an excellent 40-watt, 8-speaker audio system (complete with rear seat headphone sockets) to provide a soundtrack in what can only be described as an exceptionally quiet cabin. The XC60 has all the essentials: keyless go, electronic climate control, speed-sensitive power steering and power windows are all standard, as are an electric parking brake, auto-dimming interior mirror and retractable external mirrors. But you'll have to fork out for a sunroof (HK$20,000), third year's warranty (HK$14,880) and rear parking sensors (HK$9,600) - and these will push the price of your XC60 over the half-million-dollar mark. If the XC60 isn't the coolest Volvo to come out of Scandinavia, then it's surely the most safety conscious. The biggest drawcard in the car's arsenal of active safety features is Volvo's cutting-edge City Safety system (worth HK$23,800, fitted as standard; see Motoring January 31), which combines a host of hi-tech features that work to prevent - or avoid - possible accidents. Central to the package is Volvo's collision warning system, which activates audiovisual signals when it senses that a distracted driver is approaching the car in front too quickly, then applies the car's brakes if the driver fails to act to avoid an impending impact. This in-car guardian angel works via a radar mounted on the front grille that detects the proximity of vehicles in front while a digital camera mounted in the front mirror monitors the driver's alertness and responsiveness to the road conditions ahead. It's clever stuff, and on top of the distance- and driver-alert functions that prompt automatic braking, the City Safety package comes with lane-departure warning and blind-spot alert systems that also warn the driver of potential danger through audiovisual signals. The system proves more of a reassurance than an intrusion in everyday driving. The Hong Kong-spec XC60 comes with Volvo's new 3.5-litre T6 (turbocharged V6) engine which puts out a hefty 285bhp, with plenty of low-down torque providing the muscle. That helps the XC60 hit 100km/h in an unexpectedly adventurous 7.5 seconds and makes it possible to poke some positively sporty performance from the car using the manual paddle shifts. The six-speed automatic gearbox is deft at delivering bullish pull from the T6 engine with immediacy - no lag or jitters here - and never loses its composure when braking down through the gears or speeding up to overtake. What's more, the XC60's ride quality is just as slick and intuitive as its safety features, and it handles like a lighter XC90. The smaller SUV feels even more refined than its sibling, and easier to pilot thanks to a significant weight reduction and more pliant chassis. Safe, practical and with an unexpected adventurous streak, the XC60 is one of the best all-round family buys you can get. Mediocre emissions figures and cheeky additional costs may curb your enthusiasm, however. AT A GLANCE: Volvo XC60 What drives it? A 285bhp, three-litre V6 all-wheel-drive engine linked to a six-speed automatic transmission. How fast is it? The XC60 hits 100km/h in 7.5 seconds and can reach 210km/h. How safe is it? It has whiplash and side impact protection, ABS and electronic brake-force distribution, dual-stage airbags, dynamic stability/traction/roll stability control, Volvo's City Safety system as standard (distance and driver-alert control, collision warning with automatic braking, lane-departure warning and blind-spot information systems). How thirsty is it? The XC60's a tad thirsty, drinking 11.3 litres of fuel per 100km. How clean is it? It spews 284 grams of CO2 per kilometre, the fug equivalent of 2.58 Toyota iQs. Availability: HK$478,000 from Wearnes Motors (tel: 2927 3388).