Imagine you are actually "driving" one of those driverless cars that has received so much publicity in recent months (and probably scared the living daylights out of millions of motorists worldwide).
Imagine you are actually “driving” one of those driverless cars that has received so much publicity in recent months (and probably scared the living daylights out of millions of motorists worldwide).
Your thought processes might go like this: am I really going to sit there in the driver’s seat without touching anything and let the car do the rest? What about that all-important moment on a motorway when the car is flying towards a vehicle in front that has suddenly come to an abrupt halt?
Well there is one way you can get a foretaste of the “driverless” experience to come. Indeed I had just such an experience with this week’s drive, a Volkswagen New Passat saloon.
The full title of this 2015-model Volkswagen is the Passat SE Business 2.0-litre TDI 150 PS six-speed manual. It is very new: this generation Passat made its Paris Motor Show debut in October last year, 41 years after the original was first produced.
This is a tried and tested car: 22 million Passats have been sold worldwide since 1973, of which around 442,000 were bought in the UK.
The clue to the importance for Volkswagen of this new model is the word “Business” in its title. This is a car aimed squarely at scooping up fleet buyers, as well as some private motorists, too.
For the Passat is a motorway charger and the quintessential company car. Hard working and wearing, swift and comfortable and also equipped on the test car with something called Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC).
This gives drivers new to the experience a notion at least of what it might be like to pilot (I wonder if that will be the eventual terminology) driverless cars.
Now ACC on the Passat encompasses other goodies aimed at letting the car take the strain of everyday driving, rather like a prelude to the time when we all take a quantum leap and follow each other around in driverless cars. These elements of ACC are Front Assist, which is a radar sensor-controlled distance monitoring system, city emergency braking system, cruise control and a speed limiter.
This week I had the perfect journey to test ACC on the new Passat: we travelled in one day from Gloucestershire into the heart of London’s Chelsea and back again. The mixture of roads and conditions was perfect: long dual carriageway through Gloucestershire to the M4 motorway, then a long haul on what must be one of the busiest and most densely packed motorways in the world into central London.
Once on the Talgarth Road into Earls Court and then on to Chelsea there was ample opportunity to see this big motorway rambler transform into a city slicker of the most versatile kind.
But it was on the motorway I discovered the joys of ACC. You set the speed of the car at 70mph then basically just steer it. Though by no means the complete driverless experience it gave me an idea of what it might be like.
The clear logic of driverless cars comes home to you. With the ACC in place you cannot collide with the car in front.
The ACC checks your speed and keeps you at a safe distance. When the traffic in front brings your speed down to, say 60mph, then the car will wait until it is safe to return to the desired mark of 70mph.
All the time it is the car that sets safety limits (or limitations) and not the human being behind the wheel. I have long since given up on the nonsense that driving is a total pleasurable experience nowadays.
It once was for me but the sheer density of traffic and the attitudes of some drivers make it more often than not quite stressful. I’m sure a lot of people feel this way.
This does not in any way diminish my inordinate (and perhaps unexplained) love of cars.
I still can go weak at the knees at the sight of the most delicious Ferrari and classic cars are in my eyes things of beauty to behold.
Yet if everyday driving â?? the meat and two veg of motoring â?? has lost its lustre then cars like the new Passat can go a long way to helping the driver and minimising stress.
This technology is available so why shouldn’t we all benefit, especially drivers covering many thousands of miles each year in their work?
To name a few innovations on the new Passat there is also available Predictive Pedestrian Protection â?? a radar behind the rear-view mirror scans the area in front and detects pedestrians, exercising a full emergency stop if there is no braking intervention from the driver; Traffic Jam Assist â?? brakes, accelerates and steers automatically, easing the strain during stop-and-go traffic; Emergency Assist â?? helps keep the car in the lane and brakes automatically to a full stop if there is a medical emergency situation. The diesel BlueMotion Passat returns an estimated (and staggering) 78 mpg on the combined cycle.
All this may indicate a brave new motoring world as we progress through the 21st century, yet cars such as the Passat prove we should embrace this technology and reap the benefits in safety, economy and comfort.