2011 Volvo S60 Examined
Jonathan Disley, interior designer for the 2011 Volvo S60, keeps referring to the “race track” when he describes both interior and exterior aspects of the newest car from Volvo Car Corp. He talks about it as regards the body side. Tail lights. Interior door handles. And look as hard as I can, I don’t see anything that resembles Talladega or Indianapolis. Finally, I have to ask.
And learn that Disley is talking about Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. Where they run Formula One races. No, he’s not talking about ovals. He’s talking about a faster, more complex form.
Disley’s quick notebook sketch of race track forms.
Because the S60 has the mission of being the “sportiest Volvo ever.” Thus, race track.
The S60 is built at the Volvo factory in Ghent, Belgium. (The distance between the factory and the race track is some 200+ km, incidentally.)
Disley explains that there was close coordination between the design of the interior and the exterior so that there harmony between the two than might have otherwise been the case.
Of the exterior, he remarks, “It looks poised. There is more of a wedge in the shape of the car. It looks like it is moving even if it is standing still. There is more of a coupe feeling than a sedan.”
Then, moving inside, he continues, “Everything inside is sporty and dynamic.” There are even large side bolsters on the rear seats.
Of course, there is something to be said of environmental concerns and considerations for the S60, as well, given what Disley describes as its “Scandinavian roots.” For example, the leather tanning was performed without chromium. Rather, there is vegetable dye used, instead. And the car is exceedingly recyclable. (Although that can be said of most cars nowadays.)
But even though it is a clean and contemporary vehicle, with sufficient levels of tech to make it a 21st century car without question, there is another more cryptic environmental aspect to the S60, a design cue that may not be consciously noticed but which could have a calming effect nonetheless: Disley points to the plastic covering the instrument panel. Specifically to the graining on the surface. The pattern is based on a photograph that was taken of the rippled surface of water on a stream. He acknowledges that this might be something that isn’t consciously discerned by the driver or passenger. But nevertheless, it is nothing if not representative of the level of detail that they went to in developing this new car.
To be a “driver’s car” there needs to be a powerful engine, of course. So the car has a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that produces 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, with maximum torque being reached at 2,100 rpm, which is to say that it is engineered to get going quickly. The engine (which is available, as well, in the XC60 crossover) is mated to a six-speed “Geartronic” transmission that allows fully automatic or manual shifts. The car is standard with the Volvo all-wheel-drive system.
But when they’re talking about “sportiness” and referencing the “race track,” again it needs to be underscored that the issue here is not drag racing or simply turning left on an oval. Ride and handling was a primary concern with the new S60, to the extent that there are three different chassis setups available: Dynamic, which is the standard in the U.S. market; Touring, which is a no-cost option in the U.S.; and FOUR-C, an option. In the case of the FOUR-C, this is an active arrangement that uses sensors to determine the car’s conditions; based on what’s detected, dampers are adjusted so that the ride fits within the parameters of three selectable modes: Comfort, Sport and Advanced. The Touring chassis is tuned for a smooth ride. The Dynamic chassis is for everyday but spirited driving.
Fundamentally, the car’s steering gear ratio is 10% faster than that found in previous-gen Volvos for better responsiveness. Also, thicker tubing is used for the steering column and stiffer bushings are deployed, thereby increasing overall torsional rigidity of the setup by 100%. There are thicker piston rods used in the front of the Dynamic chassis, which increases the stiffness by 47% compared with the sports chassis in the larger Volvo S80. In addition to which, there are shorter and stiffer springs that increases the Eigen frequency by 10%. Front strut mounting stiffness is up 50%, and the subframe bushings both front and rear are twice as stiff as those used in previous models. The damper mountings in the rear are made with polyurethane instead of rubber for better comfort and dynamic control.
Beyond these mechanical improvements, there is an array of electronic ones, as well. For example, there is Dynamic Stability Traction Control (it adjusts both engine torque and braking to prevent skids; there is a setting on the S60 that allows an increase in oversteer for spirited driving) as well as Corner Traction Control, which uses torque vectoring in cornering. That is, when making a turn, the car’s inner driven wheel is braked while more power is transmitted to the outer driven wheel, thereby reducing understeer. There is Ready Alert Brakes that position the calipers on the discs so that as soon as the driver stabs at the brake pedal there is engagement.
Sportiness notwithstanding, this is still a Volvo, which means that safety is a key element. So the S60 is equipped with one of the longest-named features in all of autodom: “Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake.” This system is based on a radar unit that’s integrated in the front grille, a camera system that’s mounted in front of the rearview mirror, and a control system packed with some highly sophisticated software developed by Volvo engineers (they believe that this sort of tech is a competitive advantage, so they keep it in the house).
The radar system detects what’s in front of the car and determines its distance. The camera system is used to figure out what it is. If it is a person—and it can determine a human that’s a mere 32-in. tall—and it seems as though the driver is not responding by making a maneuver, then there is an audible warning and a red flashing light in the heads-up display in the driver’s field of view. The car’s brakes are pre-charged. If the driver doesn’t react, full brakes are applied. The system is capable of avoiding a pedestrian collision at a speed of 22 mph.
It is interesting to note that the system is specifically engineered to handle collisions with humans, not animals or inanimate objects. Apparently, this was done largely to prevent false positives, or unnecessary braking. According to Thomas Broberg’ Volvo’s Senior Safety Advisor, “We’ve driven more than 300,000 miles in real traffic to ‘train’ the system to recognize pedestrians’ patterns of movement and their appearance in different countries and cultures.” This is particularly important in light of statistics that show in the U.S., 11% of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians; in Europe, the figure is 14%; and in China—and know that the new owner of Volvo (since August 2010) is Geely Holdings Group, which is based in China—the pedestrian fatalities are 26%.
In addition to the Pedestrian Safety with Full Auto Brake there are standard City Safety (to avoid low-speed rear-end collisions) and an array of safety-oriented options, including Driver Alert Control, Blind Spot Information System, and Lane Departure Warning.
But still, all things considered, this is, indeed, one sporty Volvo.
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