GPS systems try to divert you away. In-car entertainment helps you pass away the time (though it's not recommended if you're the driver. Then there are the little innovations like in the Lexus GS and LS that automatically activate and deactivate the parking brake, particularly for situations like this.
On of the most recent innovations in traffic entertainment comes from one of the arguably safest brands in the world: Volvo. Volvo's last invention, City Safety looks out for obstacles in front of the car and stops the vehicle at the last possible second. It works from a very narrow window of 18 km/h up to 30 km/h. This is because the system only acts as a supplement to avoid low-speed collisions. It gives the driver every opportunity to react for himself up until the last possible second. Once engaged, it keeps the engine running and holds the brake for three seconds before letting go again.
With its own fair of limitations, Volvo added yet another system to supplement it, fitted as standard on the S60. The latest in Volvo's growing roster is its Full Auto Stop system. Similar in principal to City Safety, the Full Auto Stop takes the helm at speeds above 30 km/h. Like any modern cruise control system, the driver sets the speed and the car simply maintains it, without any input from the throttle needed. Should the driver brake, the system is paused and can be resumed when the obstacle is gone. The Full Auto Stop system does exactly that with the addition of automated braking. Like City Safety, it scans the road ahead for any vehicles and automatically applies the brake. Once the vehicle is at a safe distance, it accelerates once again to the set speed.
Indeed it's an interesting development, but where it really gets exciting is the customizability. The system not only lets you set the speed but also how close or far you want to be to the car in front of you. Imagine driving down EDSA with the Active Cruise Control set to 40 km/h and the gap set to just one car length. You only need your hands to drive as the car will do everything. All of a sudden, traffic is fun again as you observe and feel the system work its magic. It's not a fool-proof system just yet as the Volvo may not react as quickly to vehicles suddenly swerving into your lane. Yet on a slow crawl on the way home, with many of the drivers keeping within their lane, it certainly is a pleasure to have.
And lest I forget, the rest of the car is quite a pleasure as well. The S60's sexier styling, more aggressive stance and alluring tail lights are much appreciated. Ditto for the interior that blends black and brushed aluminum in the simple, functional yet elegant style of high end electronics like Bang & Olufsen. Praise is due too to how much of the vehicle's systems, despite their functional complexity, can be easily configured. Each of the safety systems are clearly explained on the center LCD and can be turned on and off like a checklist on a clipboard.
As for what's under its skin, there's a brand new turbo 6-cylinder hauling this vehicle along. With the help of a 6-speed automatic with manual mode and all-wheel drive, you can rest assured that there will always be plenty of traction to further enjoy just how fast this car can rocket to 100 km/h. With that kind of powertrain, it accelerates with the verve and jolt of a Japanese sport sedan, partially cushioned by its much suppler suspension. Its bias for comfort means you can expect some body lean when cornering. The all-wheel drive however imbues a great deal of confidence in turns, returning consistent traction be it with more understeer biased handling. Try as we did, we only achieved a fuel economy of 6.5-7kmL under hard driving, as the surge of the turbo was simply too much to resist.
Truth be told, the S60 is best enjoyed when driven leisurely, and particularly in traffic. The quiet cabin and very soft suspension can drown out some of bumps and noise of the worst roads with hardly any effort, the power of the turbo only making its presence felt in overtaking maneuvers, and everything except the steering left for the car to handle.
Tech and specs aside, the very bottom line is that Volvo is, dare I say it, a little more exciting. The huge boost in power, and customizable roster of safety systems lets you tune just how much or little intervention you want, on the fly. Its active safety systems give you more time and room to enjoy those adrenaline-filled seconds where death is at the door, only to pull you back into safety just as surprisingly but gently as a recoiling bungee cord.
It's odd, if you think about it, that a car known for safety could unwittingly make driving through heavy traffic exciting. It probably never was intended for that, though it's certainly a boon to have. And the package it comes in is not so bad either.