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Volvo S60 and V70 R 2003 Road and Track Test

Thu, 10 Jul 2003

Technobabble alert. To pitch its 300bhp S60 and V70 Type Rs against Audi’s 340bhp S4, BMW’s 343bhp M3, Mercedes 354bhp C32 AMG and Mercedes forthcoming 371bhp C55AMG, Volvo had to come up with a better way of getting its power to the road.

Volvo calls it ‘Four C’ active chassis technology. The four ‘C’s stand for ‘Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept’. But rather than continue with all this gobbledgook I’ll try and explain it in language we can all understand.

The car is four-wheel drive with a Haldex centre clutch, like an Audi Quattro. It has ABS with Emergency Brake Assist and Dynamic Stability Traction Control, like a Mercedes. But what makes it different from anything else is the way the systems are linked, are controlled and are also individually controllable.

The system always compensates for load; prevents bottoming; stops wheel-hop on washboard surfaces; prevents front-end dive and rear-end squat on braking and acceleration; calculates the optimum damping needed according to the speed the steering wheel is being turned; and minimises both understeer and oversteer (the tendencies for a car to plough straight on or for the rear-end to slide sideways).

Using three buttons at the top of the dash the driver can select ‘Comfort’, ‘Sport’ or ‘Advanced’ chassis settings. Volvo reckons ‘Comfort’ equates to the ride comfort of a normal car, ‘Sport’ to a sports car, and ‘Advanced’ to a competition car.

As well as that, the driver can play with the ‘DSTC’ button. One firm, push partially disables the DSTC system, allowing some oversteer and wheelspin; five firm pushes while stationary completely disables the system.

So does it all work?

First we had the car out on a fairly tight handling circuit, trying it in ‘Comfort’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Advanced’ modes. Basically, in ‘Comfort’, you get normal body roll and all that brings with it; in ‘Advanced’ you get virtually no roll; and ‘Sport’ is a compromise in-between. Next we tried it on a slalom in ‘Comfort’ and ‘Advanced’. In ‘Advanced’ the car is much more precisely controllable and can be taken through the cones at higher speeds safely. From the back seat. it feels like a giant hand has come down from the sky and is preventing the car from oversteering like a child holding a Dinky toy. Next, a washboard surface, for which everyone will switch to ‘Comfort’ if they don’t want to rattle their bones.

On, then, to check out the DSTC on a watersprayed tiled surface which is as slippery as sheet ice. With the DSTC partially disabled you get wheelspin; with it enabled you don’t. Try to brake with it disabled and you sail straight on. Try to brake with it enabled and you stop. You can even steer while braking and, though the body will move at the back, it refuses to spin.

Penultimate test: following a racing driver around a high speed track at up to 110mph with the ‘Four-C’ system set to ‘Advanced’ and the DSTC partially disabled. Good, safe and confidence-inspiring fun. A bad driver rapidly thinks he can drive a lot faster than he would do normally because the car looks after him so well. By the third lap he’s happily four-wheel drifting at 80mph and taking a quick chicane at over 100mph. Yes, the car is extremely capable. It gets its power down very well indeed, which is exactly what the engineers intended.

Final test, though, was the road and oh, dear, ‘Comfort’ isn’t. You still feel every ridge, pothole and cat’s eye. You’re not jogged around by them as you are in ‘Advanced’ and you’re not in any discomfort but each one sends a shockwave through the car. At least it does with the standard 18” wheels and 235/40 Pirelli P-Zero Rosso tyres. Fully aware of this, Volvo offers as a no cost option 17” wheels with 235/45 P-Zero Rossos and for
road use these have to be the tyres of choice.

Then. when a good road with great sight-lines opens up in front of you, you might find yourself pressing ‘Advanced’ and the DSTC button once.

Surprisingly, sports high performance salons and estates don’t sell in the numbers you’d imagine. Just 3,500 S4s, S6s, RS6s, M3s and C32s in total, with the M3 and M3 convertible taking the lion’s share.

Volvo reckons on shifting a mere 400 S60Rs and 400 V70Rs in the remainder of 2003, then 350 of each next year. Since it’s already taken orders for 198 S60Rs and 179 V70Rs, meeting the targets won’t be a problem. Just watch out for any parked at the roadside containing two men wearing peaked caps.


Volvo On Call

This is Volvo’s new telematics system for its S60, V70 and S80 models. It’s basically a satellite navigation and radio link between the car and Volvo’s On Call Centre.

If you have a crash which sets off the airbags, the emergency services are automatically informed of your precise location.

If you have an accident, need medical support or feel threatened, pressing the SOS button automatically summons emergency services or police to your precise location.

If you break down and call the centre, the satnav pinpoints exactly where the car is, making it easier to get help to you.

If you get lost, you can call the centre which will guide you from wherever you are to your destination.

If you lock your keys in the car you can call the centre, provide a code and the centre will remotely unlock your car.

If the car alarm system is activated, the call centre automatically calls any telephone number you have designated.

If the car is stolen, the call centre can track its precise location.

If you want to book accommodation a few hours ahead the on call centre will also do this for you.

Logically the service will eventually extend to full telematics: to telling you when your oil level is low or reminding you that the engine is overheating, for example. Eventually it should be able to interpret fault codes directly from the ECU and will monitor when the car needs servicing.

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