If the 2013 Volvo XC60 is any indication, the Swedish automaker's first five years under the thumb of the Chinese company Geely has not changed a thing where it comes to product. The XC60, a midsize SUV, retains the styling and technology course began under previous owner Ford.
Both owners have let Volvo be Volvo, which means building premium-quality, safety-conscious vehicles.
The exit of Ford may, however, have caused the stagnation of Volvo's cabin electronics, which have not progressed much in the last five years. Although the XC60 does a solid job with the basics, such as navigation and Bluetooth phone support, connected features are limited to traffic data integrated with the navigation system.
Volvo just announced it is partnering with Parrot to offer an Android-based head unit, but we have yet to see how well that integration will work out.
Where Volvo has pushed the envelope is in driver assistance technology, most effectively demonstrated by the XC60's standard City Safety feature. This system relies on cameras to identify vehicles and pedestrians, and will slam on the brakes if it senses an imminent collision. City Safety actually prevents collisions at speeds under 20 mph; at higher speeds it will still brake, mitigating the damage.
As a safety technology, it's a good one, as it can prevent pedestrian deaths and costly vehicle repairs.
Volvo also offers driver assistance features such as adaptive cruise control and a blind spot monitor, but they were not optioned on the XC60 T6 Platinum trim car delivered to CNET.
The T6 appellation on this XC60 meant it came with a turbocharged 3-liter, six-cylinder engine, a step up from the base model with its naturally aspirated 3.2-liter six-cylinder. The really interesting things about this powerplant are that it is an inline six-cylinder, and that it mounts transversely under the hood.
That configuration supports the car's front-wheel-drive platform, although all T6 models come standard with all-wheel-drive. This all-wheel-drive system offers no driver controls, such as a differential lock, instead automatically shifting torque between front and rear depending on which wheels have grip.
Clever but confusing
The Platinum trim on this car brought in Volvo's cabin electronics suite, including navigation and an upgraded audio system. The navigation system maps look good, with a nice, clean design. Stored in flash memory, the maps render quickly on the small LCD, and I never noticed the system having a problem locating the car's position, even among urban towers or in the woods.
However, figuring out how to enter addresses, use the stereo, or make phone calls will cause some trouble. Volvo has a very baffling cabin electronics interface.
The center panel holds a keypad, function buttons, and traditional volume and tuning dials. The tuning dial includes buttons labeled OK/Menu and Exit.
With the radio screen on the LCD, the tuning dial works traditionally, changing stations. But with the map on the screen, the tuning dial turns into a zoom function. Tapping the OK/Menu button brings up a destination entry screen, where the tuning dial selects entry fields.
Volvo cleverly uses the one dial for many functions, but it can be confusing, at least initially.
Choosing the street address destination option led me to the alphanumeric input for street and city names, using a rotary paradigm on the screen, again controlled by the tuning dial. Rotary inputs are particularly tedious when entering long names, but Volvo offers a couple of shortcuts. I found I could tap the keypad, which would bring up each button's three associated letters, kind of like texting using a non-smartphone.
Voice command proved even easier, although I had to speak each part of the address, such as street and number, separately. The system also tended to give me multiple choices for each voice input, adding steps to the process.
The system's route guidance delivered clear turn-by-turn directions, and even showed lane guidance on the LCD in easy-to-read graphics. At one point, when I got off route, it took a surprisingly long time to recalculate, but most times it worked just fine.