Swedish car maker Volvo’s long-time association with all things safety is one of the few constants in the motoring world. A pioneer of systems we now take for granted, you could say the company’s place in the history books is guaranteed.

But times have changed and rock solid safety performance is seen by many buyers as a given.

And with the current focus on low consumption cars, it was only a matter of time before Volvo opted to take the same, focused approach to improving the green credentials of its cars as it did with safety matters all those years ago.

In fact, Volvo has been getting some practise in with its expanding range of frugal DrivE models. With low CO2 — some models duck under the magic 100g/km — and city car levels of high mpg, a new wave of buyers are associating more than just seat belts and crumple zones with the car maker.

Petrol electric hybrids are no longer a novelty but there is a flaw — most rely on petrol power, whereas we are now partial to diesel. Enter Volvo and its V60 Plug-In Hybrid.

After a change of ownership and a desire to boost its appeal beyond enthusiastic existing followers of the brand, Volvo is aiming for the big time with a diesel hybrid with a twist as it offers the flexibility of being a plug-in hybrid.

This way you get the best of both worlds — electric-only running for around 30 miles and the ability to recharge, plus all the benefits of a conventional hybrid powertrain.

Only this time it is diesel powered, which means better fuel economy and a more flexible, all-round performance.

With cars expected to arrive in early 2013 there is still time to make final adjustments, but Volvo is already talking confidently about a 49g/km CO2 rating plus 148mpg.

Most are familiar with the economy gains of a modern hybrid but this is a significant step forward, and there is no sign of the experience being of the hair shirt variety.

Volvo is going for the no compromise approach, which means a 2.4-litre, 215 horsepower diesel engine up front and a powerful electric motor to drive the rear wheels.

Immediately you can see there’s a four wheel drive option minus a weighty propshaft, and the car’s zero to 62mph sprint time of 6.2 seconds is largely thanks to the two power units’ combined 472lb/ft slug of torque. This V60 is all about no compromise motoring and it shows. The reality is equally impressive, with a brief drive illustrating how brisk the V60 is in the real world.

It is quiet too, with the car making the transition to and from electric power almost seamlessly. With production slated for winter 2012, the final specification cars promise to be even more polished.

Volvo has kept the user experience a simple one and offers three driving modes. Pure is electric only and rear-wheel drive, Hybrid is the default intelligent mode blending diesel and electric power as and when it is needed with Power making the full use of the electric motor.

The electric motor’s ability to assist when you lose grip at the front is a welcome bonus feature.

The V60 hybrid is seen by its maker as a genuine alternative to a conventional premium diesel car. Certainly the performance is there — the combined power output is a generous 285 horsepower — and economy and emissions are much better.

You lose nothing in terms of driving and cabin refinement as the regular V60 is a genuinely upmarket proposition and for company car drivers the potential tax savings are considerable — Benefit in Kind is forecast to be very low.

Being a sub 100g/km CO2 car, businesses can write down 100 per cent of the car’s value in the first year, dispelling the myth that such cars are only for rich early adopters.

In reality, Volvo’s V60 hybrid shows considerable promise and it’s impressive to see engineers and company executives alike fully immersing themselves in the project.

It is destined to become an important part of the car maker’s future business and the potential to adapt the technology for other models is also an important consideration. Furthermore, it is encouraging to see a car maker develop a Euro-friendly hybrid.

The plug-in recharging element is key to moving the game on past a simple battery and electric motor ‘assistance package.’ With its electric-only mode this V60 can be your guilt-free zero emissions urban commuter car, yet it’s flexible enough to pound motorways, tow and allow you to occasionally have some fun.

As a first attempt,the V60 hybrid has a promising future.

Model tested: Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid Price: From £45,000 (approx) before Government electric car subsidy

Economy: 148mpg Top speed: 143mph, 0-62mph: 6.2 seconds CO2 emissions: 49g/km