It doesn’t matter what other car manufacturers say about automobile safety. The fact is, Volvo owns it, lock, stock and barrel - always have, always will.
Listed inside Volvo Cars’ pocket guide to its safety features (yes, there are so many that you need to refer to the ‘Safety Features A-Z' pocket guide) is the company’s vision statement:
“By 2020, nobody should be killed or seriously injured in a Volvo.”
It’s a bold edict and one that puts huge responsibility on the Swedish car company (although the brand is now owned by the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group) to deliver outstanding safety credentials across its range of passenger vehicles for many years to come.
Volvo-speak for its latest and greatest safety tech includes Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake and City Safety, and it's at the cutting edge of vehicular safety despite the brand’s lower price points than its German competitors.
Twenty years ago the idea of a car capable of coming to a complete stop automatically to avoid rear-ending the car in front, or hitting a school kid who has walked out on to the road without looking, would have been considered science fiction; and yet City Safety, which can completely eliminate low-speed crashes, is now standard kit across Volvo’s ‘60’ range of cars and SUVs.
The ultra-advanced Pedestrian Detection and Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist are optional extras (although Volvo could quantum leap its higher-priced competitors if it worked out a way to include these systems in the standard features inventory), which could be considered inexpensive if you weigh up their potential for crash minimisation.
CarAdvice was recently given the opportunity to test drive these safety systems in a Volvo S60. The results were mighty impressive, although somewhat unnerving, given you are eschewing your natural tendency to self preservation for what amounts to the collective forces of radar, a camera and a computer.
Thirty km/h can seem like the car is standing still on a freeway, but when you’re heading in a straight line towards an able-bodied cameraman who happens to be standing directly behind the six-foot-plus blow-up human, it can be quick enough to kill or maim.
That’s exactly the position I found myself in last week. From a standing start we accelerated up to 29.5 km/h in a Volvo S60 while the Volvo representative riding shotgun was repeatedly saying: “Hold your line and don’t brake”. I mean, we’re literally just metres from the camera guy and ‘plastic man’ when a loud warning sounded along with flashing red lights on the head-up display. That allowed me enough time to take evasive action and steer the car away from the person and avoid a collision.
Seconds later I was heading towards another blow-up person in the next lane, only this time I was told to ignore the audible and visual warnings and go for a direct hit. It’s a totally unnatural response that goes against our natural instincts. I had my left foot hovering above the brake pedal but held fast until, frankly, it was too late to brake. The S60 automatically pulled up within centimetres of the blow-up person without any input from me, the driver.
What is even more remarkable is that I had kept my right foot on the accelerator pedal maintaining a speed of near enough to 30km/h and only lifted off the throttle after the Volvo’s Pedestrian Detection engaged ‘Full Auto Brake' and the car came to a complete stop.
I tried it twice more, but at one or two km/h quicker and got exactly the same results. The word 'remarkable' is simply not enough praise for this kind of technology. Volvo would do well to make Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake standard across its entire model range, as this system will save lives.
Of course, if we all paid attention while behind the wheel, car companies wouldn’t need to worry about spending huge amounts of R&D dollars on safety kit. But that’s not how it works out there on our roads and motorways, is it? We all get distracted from time to time, even if it’s only momentarily when your mobile phone has slid off the console or you’re looking down to check your speed or even turning around to check the kids. As innocent as the moment your eyes leave the road might be, it can easily lead to tragedy and that’s where systems such as Volvo’s Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake can be a lifesaver, literally.
Look closely at the front of the S60 and you’ll notice a black radar unit integrated into the grille. The radar can detect any object in front of it and determines its distance from the car. There’s also a forward facing camera in front of the rear vision mirror that can identify what kind of object it is.
The latest radar has a wide field of vision and is able to detect pedestrians at the edge of the footpath who are about to step onto the road. It can event catch those smaller people from as low 80cm tall.
What I didn’t realise at the time of the live test drive was that just prior to the S60 coming to a compete auto stop and averting a pedestrian hit, the Pedestrian Detection system had already pre-charged the brakes in readiness for a Full Auto Brake.
The system can completely prevent accidents with pedestrians at speeds up to 35km/h. At speeds higher than this it’s all about reducing the vehicle’s speed and minimising the impact with the person.
Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake is actually a feature of Volvo’s wider Collision Warning System with Full Auto Brake, which works at higher speeds and is more about minimising the rate of impact, although like Pedestrian Detection, it can prevent a crash if travelling below 35 km/h. The combination of the radar behind the grille and the camera behind the windscreen automatically monitors the distance of the vehicle in front. If that vehicle brakes suddenly and the driver in the car behind is too preoccupied to heed the audible and visual warnings, Volvo’s Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake will automatically apply the brakes to minimise the speed and reduce the force of impact.
Next up was a seat behind the wheel of another Volvo S60 to test its City Safety system, which has been in active service with the XC60 since 2010 and is now a standard feature on XC60, S60 and V60 models.
It’s a clever system that works at speeds below 30km/h, which according to research is where up to 75 per cent of accidents occur.
Key hardware for City Safety is a laser sensor behind the rear view mirror, which monitors traffic in front at up to a distance of six metres from the front bumper. By processing 50 calculations per second, the system is able to work out how much brake force is needed to stop the car before impact is made with the vehicle in front.
Our City Safety test drive involved driving an S60 at a constant speed of 25km/h toward an airbag the size of a car that was attached the side of an XC90 SUV. Again, trying to convince your brain that there is no need to brake as you are on a collision course with a giant airbag goes against our natural instincts to avoid potential danger.
Several times I drove towards the bag at 25km/h, and remarkably, the S60 came to a full stop just centimetres from the bag. We repeated the process time and time again, and City Safety performed flawlessly.
Volvo says tests show “If the speed difference with the car in front is under 15km/h then City Safety should avoid an accident entirely. If the speed difference is greater, then an accident will probably happen, but the severity will be substantially reduced.”
Of course, it’s not just personal safety that this system protects; it’s also about eliminating or reducing the extent of damage and time off road that these low speed crashes may result in. Then there is the real possibility of a hike in your car insurance premiums. There are real savings to be made there too.
Adaptive Cruise Control with Distance Alert and Queue Assist Function might seem like a mouthful on top of the myriad other Volvo safety systems, but it’s probably easier to consider this piece of safety tech as the core head unit for much of Volvo’s active safety inventory.
It’s an option on the S60 and one that you may want to consider, especially as part of a one of several option packs that Volvo offers.
In short, this third-generation Adaptive Cruise Control is able to assist the driver in maintaining a safe distance from the car in front. It’s not a bad thing in a country like Australia where tailgating and multiple lanes changing have become the norm on our roads and motorways. The radar sensor measures the distance to the car in front and adjusts the speed of your car in order to maintain a safe distance from standstill through to 200km/h.
Does it work? Yes, we tried it on part of the Eastern Creek circuit. We followed another car around after the Adaptive Cruise Control was set to a preferred distance to the car ahead at a cruising speed of 40km/h (driver’s have a choice of five different distance intervals) and the system automatically applied brake if we got too close.
The car ahead came to a complete stop and without any driver input from me, the car automatically braked to a complete stop thus avoiding a rear end crash.
When the car ahead moved off again all I had to do to move off again and accelerate up to the predetermined speed and distance was to either press the resume button on the steering wheel or use the accelerator pedal.
It’s only after you drive with these high tech safety systems engaged that you begin to understand the various Volvo-speak for them, as prior to the road test, it all seems totally confusing.
You’ve got to applaud Volvo for always pushing the safety envelope and the associated costs for doing so. After all, safety features have never been an easy thing to market over high-end 20-speaker sound systems and yet Volvo has stayed the course.
The introduction of City Safety across Volvo’s '60' series line-up is a massive step in the right direction and may already have saved lives.
Our only request is for Volvo to include Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake on its entire model range, as that strategy will save even more lives and help maintain the brand’s outstanding contribution to automobile safety over the past 68 years.