Review by Steven Bochenek, photos by Steven Bochenek and courtesy Volvo

Depending on whether you ski, this past March has been Southern Ontario’s best or worst March in years. I ski, hence best. Volvo, almost as proud as Ikea of their Swedish heritage, celebrated the long cold days of this late March by giving a few auto journalists a tour of what their marketers are calling Candanavia*, including a day on the slopes.

Day 1

For the others the tour began Thursday morning at Volvo’s Canadian HQ in Richmönd Hill. I couldn’t attend that morning’s seminar and would join the others near Cøllingwööd at 3:45 PM, at a lovely spa called the Scandinave. So for me, the event began the day before in Öakville (okay no more cute Swedish stuff — I blame it on their Canada/Scandinavia mash-up and preponderance of pickled herring) where I picked up a 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD for the event, intended to offer us a slice of the life the Volvo suits envision its customers having.

If you, as a consumer, think only of safety when considering Volvo, it’s a pity, because the S60 is much more than safe. This sport sedan is more class rebel than hall monitor. It’s also Swedish, but I believe we covered that.

But first: is it still safe, even with all that attention they’ve lavished on product placement? (Twilight, anyone?) All S60s boast industry–leading features like City Safety, which automatically brakes without your input when it senses an impending collision. Testing City Safety is a disconcerting experience, because you have to force yourself not to brake while coasting towards solid obstacles.

This feature’s standard, but if you purchase the Driver Support package with the T5 you get some pretty impressive others. Consider the appropriately named Pedestrian Detection with Full-Auto Brake, Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake (CWAB), Distance Alert (DA), Driver Alert Control (DAC) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW). Each does as its name suggests. Forrest Gump would be proud.

Road Trip: Collingwood, Ontario in a Volvo S60Road Trip: Collingwood, Ontario in a Volvo S60Road Trip: Collingwood, Ontario in a Volvo S60
Road Trip: Collingwood, Ontario in a Volvo S60. Click image to enlarge

Then there’s the also optional, but highly recommended for the city, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS, get it?). A light flanking each door’s mirror illuminates to warn you when some bonehead’s living in your blind spot.

These features are all acutely attuned to the modern consumer’s short attention span. Their automatic brakes, warning beeps and lights continually invite you back into the present like some benevolent electronic yoga instructor after savasana.

Wait a second, 3:45 at the spa?

It’s not that I couldn’t arrive later — the quarter hour seems a tad anal even for efficient northern Europeans — but that was when my complimentary Swedish massage was booked, and I wanted to exploit every precious minute and de-stress from all this hurry to make appointments.

According to Google maps, it’s a 1-hour and 44-minute door-to-door drive, taking Ontario’s usually useful but always-ugly Highway 400. I was leaving at 2 PM, so that didn’t leave much room for error. The more direct but far more scenic route, which I took using the Gore and Airport Roads, is about 20 km shorter, yet is supposed to take eight minutes longer.

I must have caught all the green lights because I arrived five minutes early. Furthermore, radio reports said the 400, not 30 km west of my sunny route, was an utter mess due to sudden snow squalls. ‘Booyah’ as the kids in Sweden don’t say.

The event was meant to offer a sampling of the attitude and luxury that Volvo is trying to embody, building on its foundation of safety and modern Scandinavian design.

But the safety is still there, and in addition to the aforementioned preventive electronic safety systems working to keep you out of the ditch in snow squalls, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives it five stars (yes, that’s out of five). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the 2013 S60 the Top Safety Pick+, one of the few vehicles to earn this top mark by scoring a Good ranking in the new Moderate Overlap test. In fact, the 2013 Volvo S60 earns Good ratings in each of IIHS’ four crash tests. Impressive.

* The word ‘Scandinavia’ is often used as shorthand for the Nordic countries, from Iceland through to Finland, but it’s actually a historical region that’s based on a language family. Meaning? Only Denmark, Norway and Sweden are actually Scandinavia. (Add Iceland and Finland and you have the Nordic countries, a geographical demarcation.) So regarding Candanavia, it’s not like the Swedes to give Norway and Denmark free press, but one assumes that ‘Welcome to Swenada’ didn’t get approval in the boardroom.

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