The 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E we tested recently, like all Volvos if we’re not counting the coming XC90’s cool iPad-like portrait touchscreen, had no touchscreen. And that’s okay.
The Swedes in Gothenburg call the control interface for the Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E’s infotainment system Sensus, but I call it a scroll wheel mounted in the right-hand spoke of the steering wheel. The wheel is small and centrally located among buttons that control the volume level of the currently playing audio source, plus a button to its lower-left that says “EXIT” and functions like you might expect the “back” button on your Android phone to function.
In practice, this worked wonderfully. The wheel was used to scroll through vertically-oriented menu structures on the Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E’s high-mounted, somewhat-recessed screen. When you wanted to select a given item, you simply pushed in on the scroll wheel, which “clicked” with a satisfying feeling.
Menus were easily accessed by touching one of four main buttons atop the V60’s impressive central stack o’ buttons that included, in the fine Volvo tradition, a full number pad for dialing phone numbers or entering text. The top row of buttons above this number pad had “Radio,” “Media,” a CD eject button, “Tel,” and “My Car.”
- “Radio” will cue up the tuner, of course. A sub-menu allows selecting from AM, FM, or XM by using the scroll wheel on the steering wheel or by using the tuning knob on the head unit.
“Media” will bring up a sub-menu listing all the media options: Disc, USB, iPod, Bluetooth, and AUX. Once you select one of those, you could often utilize another sub-menu to navigate that selection’s songs. For example, in my most frequently used media (USB), the first screen that would come up was the currently playing song. One button press would get me back to a list of folders on the stick, which could be sorted by artist or album. I’d scroll through the artists, select an artist, and get another screen that listed the album folders under that artist’s name. Select an album, and I get yet another screen that lists the tracks on that album in order of the original disc — which is an important thing to note because some infotainment systems seem to have a hard time listing songs in the order they appeared on the actual album. This isn’t so different than the way many other infotainment systems organize their media displays, but Volvo gets points for doing it cleanly with a minimum of distracting button-pushing necessary.
- “Tel” will bring up the telephone options list. There’s an empty field with a cursor. You can dial in a phone number using the aforementioned keypad in the center stack — and yes, just to satisfy my curiosity, I tried it while driving and found you can enter a number while in motion. Scrolling up on the wheel will take you to a list of recent calls sent and received, while scrolling down will take you to your contact list. On either screen, you use the wheel to scroll over the list of phone numbers, then click the one you want to call.
“My Car” takes you to a screen from which you can deep-dive the 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E’s settings — everything from how long the lights stay off when you turn off the car to how much intrusion you want to allow from the traction control system. You can also go into your trip statistics, which will break down the day’s fuel economy information for you in an easy-to-digest bar graph. Finally, the Drive-E sub-menu allows you to select whether you want the engine stop-start system to do its thing and then takes you to a list of driving tips that should help you maximize your fuel economy.
Along with the fact that Volvo’s Sensus system is missing touchscreen capability, some would decry the fact that our tester did not have voice commands, either. No punching a button on the steering wheel and saying, “Call home.” No asking the infotainment system to “play album 555%.” But that didn’t disappoint me. For one thing, the little Sensus scroll wheel system worked so intuitively that I found myself taking to it like a duck to water. For another, most other manufacturers’ voice recognition systems seem to have difficulty understanding me, or they require stilted, unnatural phrases in order to unlock certain voice command features.
The fact that the Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E’s Sensus was so easy to use without all the extraneous, distracting design and features often found in other automakers’ infotainment systems just made the driving experience all that much more enjoyable. I’ll be interested in seeing how Volvo makes its touchscreen interface in the coming XC90 behave in what I hope is a similarly clean, non-distracting way.
Disclosure: Volvo provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.