“By 2020 no one should be killed or injured in a new Volvo car.”
It’s an extraordinary claim, isn’t it? But it’s the latest word from the Volvo HQ in Gothenburg, and with each new iteration of the brand’s cars the company takes a step closer to the aim.
With the replacement for the current XC90 (shown above) due to arrive in 2015, Volvo has been busily preparing a new range of electronic driver assistance systems and information devices to actively avoid the most common kinds of accidents, along with good old fashioned engineering to lessen their effects. Here’s what’s been revealed so far.
First and foremost is a new safety cage. Safety cages are vital once everything’s gone wrong, because they give a strong, stable shell to keep you intact while softer areas of the car dissipate energy through crumpling and being rent asunder. Volvo’s new XC90 safety cage is made from an ultra-high-strength boron steel and makes up around 40 per cent of the car’s bodyweight.
While boron steel sees some use in the motor industry (particularly in roof pillars), it’s not commonly used and certainly not in such high quantities because it is significantly trickier to repair than regular high strength steels. But if you’ve reached the point where your safety cage needs repairing, there’s not enough left of the car to make a repair viable anyway.
One of the commonest types of collision is the nose-to-tail prang in queueing traffic. Volvo’s adaptive cruise control has been tweaked into Queue Assist, which automatically controls acceleration, braking and steering to follow the vehicle in front. This allows the driver to escape the monotony of low-speed traffic and avoid the bumps caused by not paying attention in these situations.
There is also a new City Safety Assist which provides warning and autonomous braking at low speeds if a potential collision is detected with a cyclist or oblivious pedestrian – and the system works day or night, unlike our eyes!
New for the next XC90 is the world’s first autonomous braking system that watches around obstacles for oncoming traffic when turning at intersections. The system will effectively work so that when you go to turn across an oncoming lane (the left-hand-drive version is shown above) at a crossroads or other intersection it will apply the brakes to prevent you making the manouevre if it detects approaching vehicles. This is particularly useful when in queueing traffic and your vision is obscured to the point of having to guess for a gap.
A number of other manouevring informational aids are provided too. You’re probably familiar with Park Assist, which will self-park the XC90 in any gap 1.2 times the length of the car (or the car’s width plus a metre for parking bays), and the Surround View system which combines four cameras’ views to give you a bird’s eye view of your surroundings when parking, but a new system called Cross Traffic Alert is also available. This warns you, when reversing out of a gap into live traffic, if there are approaching vehicles within 30m of either side of the rear. Handy for getting out of supermarket parking bays when you’ve parked nose-in so you can access the boot.
Another new system for Volvo is designed to prevent injuries from “run-off” accidents, where the vehicle leaves the road – a situation that Volvo’s figures say cause half of all traffic fatalities.
As well as fitting devices designed to avoid the eventuality – such as fatigue alerts and a Lane Keeping Aid which automatically applies corrective steering – enhancements to the car’s collision-detection systems are designed to reduce common injuries should the car leave the road anyway.
These enhancements include ‘Safe Positioning’; a system that detects an imminent collision and tightens the front seat belts to keep occupants in position. The belts remain tightened as long as the car is in motion. Dampers between the seat back and seat frame absorb the energy experienced in hard landings in terrain and reduce vertical loadings by up to a third, dramatically reducing the risk of spinal injuries.
In addition to the usual array of airbags, rollover prevention systems and pyrotechnic seatbelt pretensioners we’ve come to expect from the Volvo badge, the new XC90 makes a good claim to be the safest car yet made when it arrives in 2015. Watch this space for more information.
If you’d like to know more about the current Volvo range, then check out our full Volvo review section, where there are photos, videos, stats and a buying guide to every model.