Volvo's keyless car makes your smartphone the master

Volvo's keyless car makes your smartphone the master

Volvo showed up at MWC 2016 in Barcelona with a car (shocker), but there wasn't a key in sight. Yes, this is Volvo's new keyless vehicle, and I went to check it out.

Locking and unlocking your car via your smartphone isn't anything new – a number of manufacturers already offer this – but Volvo's new implementation takes things a step further.

The Volvo S90 parked up at MWC packs always-on Bluetooth, which is on the lookout for your smartphone.

All you have to do is walk up to the car (with your phone switched on and in your pocket or bag), place your hand on the handle and it'll magically unlock.

Volvo keyless car

The lights flash, the wing mirrors unfurl and the doors make that satisfying, clunky unlocking sound. The app doesn't need to be open, or even sitting in your multi-tasking drawer, but your Bluetooth will need to be on.

You'll also need to be standing by the door, otherwise you'll be out of Bluetooth range – but you'll likely be out of arms reach, too. Locking the car is as easy as touching the square sensor on the door handle.

Volvo keyless car

Feeling generous?

Of course, you will need to download Volvo's app to your phone – it's coming to iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry – and set register your vehicle to the handset. This creates a virtual key on your phone.

This key can then be easily shared with other family members or, if you're feeling generous, friends via the app. You can even set up time limits for the key. So, if you lend the car to someone for the day, they won't be able to go for a joyride at a later date.

This functionality is also likely to appeal to rental firms, making it much easier for them to get a car's information and keys to customers.

Volvo keyless car

Getting in and out of the car is only half the battle, though: once you're sitting in the driver's seat, you still need to turn the car on.

To start the ignition, you need to be sitting in the driver's seat with your phone on or about your person. If you've left your smartphone in a jacket pocket, which is now in the trunk, you won't be going anywhere.

Assuming you've still got your phone, starting the car requires you to twist the ignition button on the central console, and you're ready to roll.

Volvo keyless car

Low power warning

This all sounds great, and – if it works – will make things a lot easier. But there is only rather major hang-up: if your phone dies, you won't be able to get into the car.

Now, Volvo tells us it doesn't see this being an issue, as people will ensure that their phone has juice. But, we've all been caught with a dead phone in the past and, if you're reliant on your phone to get into your car, you could find yourself in a bit of a pickle.

Volvo keyless car

Workarounds are already available, as any phone or tablet with Bluetooth will be able to operate the car. So, if you've got an iPad in your bag, you can use that if your phone has given up the ghost.

Limited trials of the keyless car will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden in the coming months, where Volvo will monitor the likelihood of flat phone batteries and look into the best ways around it.

The keyless tech is due to hit new cars throughout the Volvo fleet in 2017.

John McCann
Global Managing Editor

John joined TechRadar over a decade ago as Staff Writer for Phones, and over the years has built up a vast knowledge of the tech industry. He's interviewed CEOs from some of the world's biggest tech firms, visited their HQs and has appeared on live TV and radio, including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, LBC and BBC Radio 4. Originally specializing in phones, tablets and wearables, John is now TechRadar's resident automotive expert, reviewing the latest and greatest EVs and PHEVs on the market. John also looks after the day-to-day running of the site.