2015 Volvo S60: Best Steering Wheel Controls in the Fleet
by Cameron Rogers, Associate Editor on October 9, 2015
A weekend in the 2015 Volvo S60 has convinced me that it has the best steering wheel controls in our fleet. The S60 steering wheel incorporates buttons that control only the most commonly used features. That may seem obvious or redundant to say, but many automakers can't pull off this simple design.
Let's look at the buttons that the S60's wheels has and how the controls differ from other manufacturers.
The six buttons on the left side of the wheel operate the adaptive cruise control. In contrast to other systems, the S60 does without a traditional "Set" button for engaging cruise control, because tapping the + or - buttons sets cruise at the current speed. There's also no Cancel button because the On/Off switch takes handles that function.
The buttons on the right side of the wheel control the infotainment system. The thumbwheel allows for scrolling through available radio stations, songs in a playlist and through phone contacts. There's also a button to activate voice control functionality, while another steps backward through menus. You can almost hear the frustrated Volvo engineer slamming his or her head against the desk after failing to draw an appropriate pictograph.
If a steering wheel must have buttons, they should only control frequent actions that would otherwise take attention away from the driver if placed elsewhere. With that in mind, the S60 steering wheel is notable for the buttons it doesn't have. When a car has an information screen in the instrument panel, many manufacturers put the buttons that control that screen directly onto the wheel.
Some Fords, like our old long-term 2012 Ford Explorer, even have two menus in the IP, with a total of 10 buttons that just control directional and confirmation actions. Volvo has a very simple info screen controlled by two buttons and a scroll wheel, located on the turn signal stalk.
Most cars keep advanced car settings buried in the IP screen, but that's unnecessary. Drivers don't need to adjust minute settings, like footwell lighting, on the fly. Volvo keeps these rarely-changed functions in submenus in the main infotainment screen away from the driver, where they belong.
Other features, including lane-keeping assist and steering wheel heating, are controlled with buttons located on the center stack rather than on the wheel itself, as in other cars.
The S60's steering wheel offers a great deal of functionality with few buttons. By only controlling the most often-used features, the wheel is easy to use and looks clean. It's one of my favorites.
Cameron Rogers, Associate Editor