As your eyes take in the sleek form of the new VW Passat estate, see if you can't spare a bit of sympathy for poor old Volvo. The Swedish maker has long since dominated the market for sensible-but-slightly-sexy estate cars. And until now the Volvo V70 was probably the most practical all-round family station wagon that you could buy.
No longer. Although it competes in a segment that is supposed to be one below the V70, the new Passat out-guns its Swedish rival in every major regard. The VW is longer, larger, boasts a higher quality cabin, more space for rear seat passengers and - believe it or not - superior luggage capacity. Granted, the nearest equivalent diesel-powered V70 to the Passat we're testing here has a slightly brawnier engine, with 163 bhp instead of the VW's 138 bhp. But actual difference in the real world is minimal, with the Passat's 2.0 litre TDI engine being good for a 10.1 second dash from 0-62 mph and a top speed of 128 mph, compared to the Volvo's 9.5 second 0-62 and 130 mph flat out.
The biggest difference is price - the most basic "S" specification V70 D5 lists at £24,968, the Passat comes in at just £19,480 in well-equipped "SE" trim...
And VW's strategy here is a thoroughly sensible one. As an increasing number of punters are seduced by the lure of a premium badge, the ultra-useful Passat has been designed to make its appeal to those who are determined to be sensible pretty much irresistible.
Not that, for all its worthy image, the Passat estate is a dull car. Strong styling, including the same chromey radiator grille surround of the saloon version, gives it plenty of road presence - with the loadspace area well integrated into the existing design. And inside it's brilliant too - combining strong construction with high-quality materials. VW's confidence in the fundamental strength of the product was demonstrated by allowing us to test a car that was commendably free of the usual options work-out - and the basic climate control system (featuring rotary controls instead of the digital display of more expensive versions) works well, while the standard CD-stereo gives crisp, accurate sound and an instinctive, easy-to-use interface.