New technologies boost safety and increase performance levels in the Volvo S60 T5. Arman Ahmad finds it almost drives itself
THERE is a video made in the 1990s that keeps being played on TV about a group of researchers making cutting edge car guidance systems that let the cars drive themselves.
The station should remove this outdated clip, because last week I just drove a production car that did just that.
Well, not really, entirely. The Volvo Adaptive Cruise Control found on the Volvo S60 T5 won’t help you steer, but it does just about everything else. All you have to do is press a button — set the maximum speed and engage the auto cruise.
The steering wheel has plus and minus buttons which allows you to adjust the distance of the car in front. Another two buttons allow you to adjust the speed.
There is a cluster of radar and cameras in the windscreen. A camera sits in the grill.
The car uses the lasers and radar to maintain the distance of the car in front. It’s at first disconcerting to let the car brake and accelerate on its own on the highway. And it’s especially unnerving when the car starts to accelerate with all the fury of 250 turbocharged horsepowers to keep up with another car.
On my first few tries, I ended up stepping on the brakes and cancelling the cruise function. But you gradually overcome years of instinct and learn to trust the system. Of course, you still need to keep your foot near the brake pedal.
Once you become accustomed to it, the system makes long distance driving a pleasant and comfortable affair.
Earlier this year, Volvo tested the next generation of this technology which goes further and allows driving on “road-trains” in Spain. Known as Sartre (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), the system allows a group of vehicles to travel on the highway at high speed, and may be soon made available in Volvo vehicles of the future.
Volvo says the system will not only improve safety but also increase fuel efficiency by up to 20 per cent.
In KL’s notorious stop-and-go traffic, driving also became much easier with what Volvo calls a queue assist function, which helps the car crawl through the urban traffic while you only worry about steering. When the car in front moves, the Volvo follows suit.
It made driving so much easier. Just steer the car in the right direction. However, one thing to be wary of is that road conditions here are unlike that in Europe. Motorcycles dart in and out of traffic all the time. The system does not seem to sense smaller objects like motorcycles. According to a Volvo spokesperson, motorcycles are not detected sometimes. So in city traffic, where motorcycles can be found in abundance, you still need your foot vigilantly placed near the brake pedal.
That is not to say the car doesn’t make the road safer for motorcyclists.
On each rear view mirror is an LED which lights up if a motorcycle or car comes into the blind spot which the driver is not able to see. The Blind Spot Information System, uses two sensors in the rear view mirror to sense an approaching vehicle.
There is also the pedestrian detection system that looks out for objects on the road. If one is detected, a camera imbedded in the windscreen takes a photo and processes it against 10,000 stored images of human beings. In a split second, it will ascertain if there is a person in front and apply the brakes.
Right now, it can detect any person up to 81cm tall and Volvo is striving to make the system even better. The system activates at low speeds in city areas.
The car also has a plethora of devices and features that makes driving safer in general. There are cameras onboard the S60 which can help you look into blind spots on each side of the car. If you come to a 90-degree bend and can’t see past the corner from the driver’s seat, there are cameras positioned further in front which allow you to see into the corners.
The rear view camera is unique in the sense that it allows you to see the bumper and makes parking much easier. The navigation system can be activated by voice.
With all the gadgets on board, the Volvo S60 is still not exactly the self-driving car of science fiction movies, but it’s an indicator of things to come.