It rained a lot on our day trip to Sweden. From the moment we landed in Gothenburg, to the moment we boarded the plane back to Heathrow, it rained. Then it rained. Then it rained some more.
The standing joke amongst our Swedish hosts was that the weather had been laid on especially to make us feel at home. Standing jokes, standing water – put simply, we got wet.
But it was well worth the trip. We were in Gothenburg – or to be more precise, Stora Holm proving ground – to check out the latest range of Volvo safety features, currently in development. Volvo is on a mission to ensure that nobody dies or gets seriously injured at the wheel of a new Volvo car from 2020 and, following our day in Sweden, we get the impression they won’t stop until they achieve their aim.
The rain was actually rather fitting. Not only does it makes things a little more slippery, it also adds a dollop of realism to the proceedings. Crash tests and safety demonstrations in a controlled environment are all well and good, but a sprinkling of the wet stuff adds a little uncertainty to things.
But just how relevant are Volvo’s new features to you and us? Well, at least three of the safety features we tested will make their debut on the new 2014 Volvo XC90, which is arriving towards the end of next year.
The premium SUV has enjoyed a remarkable innings – on sale since 2002 and, according to a certain Mr Jeremy Clarkson, just about the best seven-seat off-roader you can buy. It’s hot property for ‘yummy mummies’ and you’re guaranteed to see a couple on the daily school run.
And that’s not without good reason. The Volvo XC90 changed the shape of premium SUVs, putting safety above all else. After all, if you’ve got five children in the back, you want to know they’re as safe as can be, right? Roll Stability Control and a rear-end designed to withstand impact energy may seem like old hat now, but it just goes to prove what a game-changer the XC90 was.
The all-new XC90 will be the first car to utilise Volvo’s new modular platform, which has been in development since the takeover by the Chinese. Given that the V40 achieved the highest Euro NCAP safety score and that the XC90 looks set to raise the bar even higher, we reckon the new SUV will become the world’s safest car.
Here are just some of the safety features we got to try in Gothenburg, all of which will make their debut on the all-new 2014 Volvo XC90.
Pedestrian Detection in Darkness
This sounds a little too much like a 1980s new wave pop group to us, but in all serious, it’s a pretty impressive piece of kit. We were told to drive into a dark tunnel and to expect the unexpected.
The unexpected was a dummy in dark clothing. And no, I’m not talking about yours truly. Even at 16mph, we saw the ‘chap’ too late to brake, but fortunately the Volvo test mule did the braking for us. A potential lifesaver.
Adaptive Cruise Control with Steer Assist
This is destined to be the most contentious safety feature of the lot, providing an ability to effectively remove your hands from the steering wheel and allow the Volvo to follow the car in front.
It’s an extension of Volvo’s Adaptive Cruise Control and works by maintaining a safe gap to the vehicle in front, following it around bends and braking to a halt if necessary. Volvo tells us the finalised version will include sensors in the steering wheel to ensure the driver doesn’t let go of the wheel. Which is reassuring.
Road Edge Barrier Detection with Steer Assist
Talk about a leap of faith. The Volvo engineer told us to drive towards the central reservation without steering or lifting off the throttle. Sounds like madness?
But of course, the XC70 gracefully steered away from danger and brought the car back in line. Even at 44mph, it was an unnerving experience, but after the sixth test, we were left in little doubt that this is another potential lifesaver in the XC90.
We also got to experience new technology still some way off completion, such as Animal Detection (a big thing in Sweden where moose roam the roads), Autonomous Parking (more on this soon) and Car 2 Car Communication.
Volvo’s commitment to road safety and its 2020 Vision is seriously impressive. Of all the modern car manufacturers, it’s Volvo that feels that most authentic when it comes to safety. And attending days like this just goes to highlight this point.
Whilst jetting off to the south of France to test drive the latest supercar is rather appealing, it was the technology we saw on a cold and wet Swedish day that impressed us the most. Which is why we can’t wait to see what Volvo is going to do with the XC90.
Safety has never been more exciting!
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