If we were to mention the word Volvo, chances are your mind would travel back to the Swedish automaker’s simple, yet impeccably safe, boxes on wheels. For years Volvo’s love for right angles dictated much of its design, forsaking style for safety, and function over form. And to be fair, it’s worked. But that was the Volvo of old, and as the manufactuer begins life anew under Chinese parent company, Geely, the brand is beginning to forge a new identity, one that is more in line with modern tastes and sensibilities without betraying its automotive heritage. With the 2013 S60, Volvo is looking to deliver a vehicle that not only leverages the company’s sterling safety reputation, but attracts new, younger consumers with a bit of style, a sprinkle of sex-appeal, and a whole lot of on-board sophistication. And while we certainly dig the S60’s sharp lines and stunning curves, it’s the tech inside the vehicle we’re most interested in. It’s no secret the company has unabashedly prioritized safety above everything else, but in the modern age of vehicle technology, cars that aren’t packing tech heat are quickly relegated to the bottom of the shopping list. We recently climbed inside a 2013 Volvo S60 to see if the safety tech, indeed, steals the show, or if Volvo has managed to provide the perfect blend of sophistication and safety. Here’s what we thought.
Center stage safety
Volvo has established quite the reputation for building extremely safe vehicles, earning a loyal customer base and industry accolades in the process. Unsurprisingly the 2013 Volvo S60 is no different, exhibiting some of the most advanced safety tech on the market and earning the Swedish automaker yet another top five-star rating from the NHTSA, and the IIHS Top Safety Pick with a “good” rating in all categories across the board.
In addition to standard safety features like anti-lock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags, side-curtain airbags, and a Dynamic Stability and Traction Control system (DSTC) – which essentially regulates power to the drive wheels and can cut engine power or break individual wheels to help reduce skidding and maintain optimal control of the vehicle while cornering – a major highlight of the S60’s safety tech is its City Safety feature.
Acting more as a driver support system, City Safety helps drivers avoid low speed collisions. While driving at speeds of less than 30 mph, but more than 2 mph, City Safety, which is a standard feature on the 2013 S60, will apply brakes to the vehicle automatically in an attempt to avoid or mitigate an impending collision. Ultimately, no matter the tech, the onus of driver safety is planted squarely on the shoulders of the driver, but it’s certainly nice having City Safety to help in situations where distractions can get the better of you. No doubt it’s one of the cooler safety tech features on the market, and one that separates Volvo from the vast majority of automakers. The 2013 Lexus LS also carries this feature, but its $72,000 sticker price is a great deal north of Volvo S60’s range-topping T6 R-Design’s $44,000 MSRP.
Another impressive, but unfortunately optional, safety tech feature is Volvo’s Pedestrian detection system. Pedestrian detection operates similarly to City Safety, working automatically to apply the vehicle’s brakes should a pedestrian cross into its path. Unlike City Safety though, an audio visual cue is projected from the dash onto the the windshield’s Heads Up Display (HUD) that flashes red. If no action is taken by the driver, and the vehicle is travelling at speeds less than 22 mph, full braking force is applied. The system works in conjunction with both radar sensors and a digital camera located behind the rearview mirror to monitor what exactly is in front of the vehicle. It’s able to detect standing and moving pedestrians that are at least 31 inches in height, but is limited to a 60 degree field of vision and does not work at night. Bummer.
Other safety tech options include an active lane departure system that beeps when the car switches lanes without an indicated turn-signal; a rearview camera system that shows trajectory and distance; parking sensors to help maneuver tight spaces; and adaptive cruise control. The latter allows the driver to select a desired distance and cruising speed that will automatically adjust and follow approaching vehicles at a safe distance. Perhaps even more useful than its dynamic follow features is the fact that the active cruise control can bring the S60 to a complete stop altogether should traffic halt.
A sound experience
The 2013 S60 comes standard with Volvo’s unbranded 8-speaker 120-Watt audio system, as well as AUX and USB inputs. For those with smartphones, the standard setup supports Bluetooth audio streaming, so running Internet radio apps like Pandora and Spotify is supported right off the bat. In addition to HD radio, the S60 comes with SiriusXM Satellite Radio (with complimentary six-month subscription). A standard CD player is also included that can play back both MP3/WMA files, so for those of you that enjoy burning CDs, rest assure the S60’s CD player will play ’em. On a welcome note, streaming tracks from our iPhone was easy and the 7-inch LCD screen displayed both track and artists names accurately. A lot of interfaces have trouble syncing up with Internet radio apps, but Volvo’s seemed up to the task. Integrated steering wheel audio controls means minimal phone fiddlin’ as well. Additionally, we found the voice recognition software to be particularly able; the system never really had problems recognizing contacts name and making calls was as simple and intuitive as saying “call John Smith.”
Overall we found the standard sound system to be adequate. Audio tracks filter in crisply and the bass levels seemed balanced for a genuinely pleasant audio experience. Nevertheless, Volvo does offer an upgraded 12-speaker Audyssey Laboratories 650-Watt system with Dolby Pro Logic Surround sound that the true audiophile will no doubt want to check out.
No frills navigation
Standard on the 2013 S60 is Volvo’s Sensus all-in-one on-board operating system. Sensus serves as the hub to virtually all on-board features including infotainment, navigation, car settings, and displays everything via its high-resolution 7-inch LCD screen. Rather than utilize a finicky touchscreen, the whole unit is controlled by fixed buttons located on the central stack and manages to work relatively well, although we did find the system had a tendency to stutter and get bogged down when switching through various functions. Another gripe is the placement of the knobs. Rather than feature a centrally located knob like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus, the S60’s control is located too far from the driver’s seat and provides a binary control scheme (there is a button for OK and Exist, that’s it ) which has a tendency to feel awkward while rifling through the menus. While some systems rely primarily on their touchscreens, others do not, with Volvo taking a less fleshed-out approach with its control interface. It doesn’t feel nearly as refined or intuitive, and thus pales in comparison to other more dedicated interfaces
Rather than source its navigation through a third-party like Garmin, the S60 uses Volvo’s own proprietary system. Overall, it’s fairly straightforward and doesn’t really stand out from others we have come across — but it never caused us problems either. Entering a destination through voice commands works well and the LCD display supports multiple screens. Maps can be viewed in 2D or 3D and features an active route guidance system that will detect upcoming traffic incidents and provide alternate route assistance. It’s certainly not the most advanced system we’ve come across, but it gets the job done, and shortly becomes second nature.
In addition to being a stylish entry-level luxury sedan, the 2013 Volvo S60 offers a great deal of creature comforts and that cutting-edge safety tech Volvo has become renowned for. While its dynamic safety features undeniably take center stage, the S60’s straightforward navigation, excellent Bluetooth audio connectivity, and solid sound system provide a compelling choice for tech savvy shoppers that appreciate style and sophistication as much as they appreciate safety.