For now, the technology is “available,” an industry euphemism for pricey optional stuff, on Volvo’s 2012 S60 entry-level luxury sedans — the front-wheel-drive T5 and all-wheel-drive T6, the latter of which is the subject of this week’s column.
I should say the secondary subject, because the car, in this case, plays a supporting role to its optional and standard safety equipment. That might be a surprise to most of the buying public, thanks to the behavior of Volvo’s top executives, who’ve been all agog over their recent discovery that sexy styling helps to sell cars. They’ve been as giddy as teenage boys in a high school locker room, effusively chattering about the sleek shape and hot looks of their new S60, even wasting millions of advertising dollars to declare the car “naughty.”
Note to Volvo’s leaders: It matters little what you do to the exterior and interior styling of Volvo’s passenger cars. They will never be “naughty,” no more than replacing clerical garb with a suit and tie makes the wearer “naughty.” Naughtiness resides in the soul. And the soul of Volvo, since producing its first car in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1927, has been all about goodness — safe passage, reliability, innovation.
That is what we have in the optional technology package on the 2012 S60 T6 sedan. Imagine a car that automatically and fully applies its brakes a few feet before it otherwise would have slammed into a child (at least 31 inches tall) or adult who runs or steps into the path of the oncoming car. Volvo’s patented pedestrian-detection system, using a combination of cameras and radar, does that at speeds of up to 22 mph.
It did so in recent media tests in Northern Virginia. It did it again in what I am beginning to think is the most dangerous parking facility in the Washington metropolitan area — the Green parking structure at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. Pedestrians, many of them outpatients going to or leaving doctor’s offices, routinely step into the paths of incoming or outgoing automobiles.
One such pedestrian leaving a VHC building in early April entered the garage, started walking in one direction, abruptly changed his mind and started walking in the opposite direction — directly in front of the S60 T6 that I was driving that week.
The car braked suddenly. I thanked God there was no car following me (a possible hazard with the pedestrian-detection system). The pedestrian continued moving, blessedly unaware of how close he came to being sent back to the doctor’s office, or to a hospital bed.
The pedestrian-detection system, as currently designed, isn’t perfect. There is, for example, the real possibility that automatically braking to spare a pedestrian could result in someone plowing into the rear of your car. And, as other tests have noted, it does not work in all conditions in sparing pedestrians, either. But it worked that time in the VHC parking structure. And for that, I’m willing to give it a green light for further development.
In conjunction with the pedestrian-detection system, the optional Volvo technology package also provides several other electronic notices for driver inattention — lane-departure and blind-spot warnings, impending-collision warning with automatic braking assistance, and front and rear parking proximity warnings.
Other car manufacturers, of course, have pioneered safety devices such as lane-departure and blind-spot warning systems. Volvo has integrated those with its pedestrian-detection system. As a result, in the matter of safety, it gets the nod here.
As for “naughtiness,” I wish Volvo and other car companies would dispense with that silliness, and I apologize here and now for my many columns over the years promoting the same stupidity. The reality is that there is not much hot, sexy or naughty about cars that can run at breathtaking speeds in a highly regulated world that voids their prowess, in which the availability and price of oil has become a literal matter of life and death, and in which traffic-congested roads and highways have become the norm instead of the exception.
That said, yes, the 2012 S60 sedan is probably the best-looking car ever penned by Volvo. Its turbocharged 3-liter in-line six-cylinder engine (300 horsepower, 325 foot-pounds of torque) is an absolute delight on roads where you can come close to exploiting its potential without going to jail, a hospital, or both. The all-wheel-drive system increases traction and, thus, driver confidence on wet, twisty roads.
In short, the 2012 Volvo S60 is a winner. But it’s less of one without the optional technology package. Get it. It could spare you heartache, headache, and a lot of unnecessary legal and financial pain.