Impressive safety and comfort from Volvo's new model
It's surprisingly difficult to deliberately drive at a visible barrier, however physically insubstantial it is. But that's what Volvo had me do last week to prove how well its City Safety tech works.
Designed to reduce the severity and number of fender benders, it uses a sensor in the windscreen to measure the speed differential between your own vehicle and the cars up to 10 metres ahead. If you're closing too fast, it'll slam the brakes on.
There's no warning - there's no time for one. One moment you're driving; a momentary distraction (spilled coffee, squawking child) flicks your eyes from the road; the car ahead stops and so does yours, though you're foot's still flat on the throttle.
Volvo says 75% of reported crashes occur at up to 30kph, and 90% of injuries. It says it won't guarantee to prevent impacts from 15kph to 30, but it'll certainly reduce their severity. And next year, City Safety will recognize smaller vehicles - bicycles and motorbikes - too.
Expect the tech to roll out in other cars and, sooner or later, other brands.
You may not like robot driving, but in this case it's clearly beneficial. Pay attention at all times, and you'll never need it...
I, of course had my eyes firmly on the barrier ahead and found it difficult to keep my speed up. And though I knew it'd work - Volvo wouldn't show me if it wouldn't - it still came as a shock when the car stopped itself.
Mind you that's not all that's impressive about this Volvo. Though it's almost identical in size to Audi's Q5, it has a more aggressive look thanks to those strongly sculptural lines.
The cabin's as stylish as we've come to expect from Volvo, and though it took a little longer to get comfy than usual, comfort was eventually delivered in spades.
What then impressed was the driving experience. Though XC70's performance and handling are reasonable rather than keen, while my experiences with the 90 have been disappointing.
Not so with this car. There's the second generation five-cylinder 136kW/400Nm 2.4-litre turbo diesel and the 210kW/400Nm 3.0-litre petrol engine. Both are matched to an Aisin-Warner-supplied transmission and either proved responsive, and surprisingly happy to be hurled around. This is not a sports car, no. But neither is it boring to drive, in part thanks to stiffer suspension and steering set-up than the XC70.
Meanwhile it's easy to live with, the rear seats folding flat in one movement; inbuilt child booster seats popping out of the second row; parking assist standard and the usual complement of comfort and safety features, including stability assist designed to prevent fishtailing.
It's easy to laugh at Volvo engineers' over-pedantic approach to safety; their conviction they will one day see an end to city-speed crashes. It's less easy to laugh when the tech appears in a car that's price competitive in its class, that's well designed, easy to use and pleasant to drive.
In increasing numbers of countries that City Safety tech also attracts insurance discounts. Arguably the discount is already built in. You won't have those fender benders and the attendant cost and stress, unless someone hits you. Put that way, the sooner this tech trickles down to more affordable cars, the better.