IN a café over a cup of frothy cappuccino I was transported back through the pages of a book to
IN a café over a cup of frothy cappuccino I was transported back through the pages of a book to the day that drivers took their first legal drive on English roads.
The book was The Motoring Century — The Story Of The RAC by Piers Brandon, and the day was Saturday, November 14, 1896, when the motoring club organised its first lawful outing after a Conservative government repealed the Red Flag Act.
In other words, on that momentous day the floodgates were finally opened on a coming century of prodigious car use, production and sales. They were indeed off — yet one of the most astonishing facts I discovered while sipping my cappuccino was that there were only around 30 cars taking part, which was just about half the number of horseless carriages on British roads in the 1890s.
For those youngsters among you — and your correspondent, though undoubtedly a fan of veteran cars, was also not around then — this meant a man walking in front of a snorting horseless carriage with a red flag warning everyone of its approach.
The Red Flag Act was of course aimed at promoting road safety. More than a century later and, it has to be said, the loss of many lives over years due to road accidents, safety is as paramount today as it ever was.
With some 60 cars on the roads, there was a chance that you could avoid those oncoming monsters. Today, with some 27 million vehicles on British roads, most of us are aware of the perils of road travel and safety has become one of the most important factors in car production.
The first Volvo rolled off the production line in the late Twenties. Since then, the company name has become a byword for safety. As early as 1944 Volvo included a safety cage in the production of its cars: laminated windscreens appeared then, too, and by the Fifties, Volvos had anchor points for seat belts (three-point safety belt standard in front seats by 1959).
In the Sixties came the first prototype of the rear-facing child safety seat, crumple zones front and rear, safety door-locks and at the end of the decade inertia safety belts.
These days, especially in Volvos, the safety features have reached something approaching automotive art form. Indeed, this was demonstrated beautifully by this week’s drive, a brand new model, the Volvo V40. Safety is not the whole story because the V40 is accomplished in many other areas.
When the car was introduced at Geneva in 2012, Stefan Jacoby, Volvo’s president and CEO, said the five-door, five-seater hatchback’s design was achieved through “input from customers all over the world”. He added that the V40 was “loaded with features that buyers of modern luxury cars want”.
And having driven the V40 I cannot dispute the fact that it is packed with things that any modern motorist would desire. But what I really like about the V40 is that these “must-have” bits are not flash colours, and meaningless design but features that will help you enjoy motoring today in an overcrowded environment — and above all, stay safe.
My advice would be to take a test drive because the V40’s attributes are too numerous to list here. But some are worth noting: Corner Traction Control, for instance, is a new feature that makes driving on winding roads, roundabouts and wet surfaces easier. My old favourite, BLIS, has been enhanced on the V40. BLIS informs the driver about vehicles in the blind spots on both sides of the car. The technology can now also monitor and alert the driver to rapidly approaching vehicles up to 70 metres behind the car.
The D2 version of the Volvo V40 I was driving comes with CO2 emissions as low as 94g/km — corresponding to fuel consumption of just 78.8 mpg. The 1.6-litre diesel engine has 115 hp. The D2 engine is combined with a six-speed manual gearbox and start/stop function.
Some motorists may protest that they do not wish constantly to be nagged by warning signs and gizmos on a car: they want to be left to get on with it.
Yet I believe that although you can truly be a careful driver, the density and intensity of traffic today is so apparent, be it on motorways or pressing urban environments, that you cannot ever feel too safe in the car you drive. This is where carmakers can help: Volvo, to its credit, understands this.
lPrices range from £19,995 to £33,875
lV40 received the top rating of five stars in the Euro NCAP collision test: the overall result was the best ever recorded by the institute
lV40 D2 and V40 D2 R-Design (115hp) now come with reduced CO2 emissions, down from 94g/km to 88g/km
lV40 buyer can personalise the car with an exterior accessory styling kit. The kit creates a sporty aura and improves aerodynamic efficiency
lFront seats are equipped with whiplash protection (WHIPS) to help prevent neck injuries. Both the driver and front seat passenger seat have dual stage airbags.There are also integrated side airbags