There was a time when Volvo’s were best described as “boxy, old-fashioned station wagons driven by
senior mature citizens…” Those days are long gone, though, and a quick glance around a modern Volvo showroom will confirmÂ that ‘boxy’ and ‘old fashioned’ are not adjectives easily associated with the Swedish brand. Not by a long shot.
‘Sleek’, ‘modern’ even ‘sexy’. Now those are words you could use to describe the modern Volvo range, and while Volvo will still sell you a station wagon, it’s a far cry from the beige box your Grandpa drove 35 years ago.
Volvo, have since inception, been renowned for their safety. Ask anyone to describe the Swedish marque in one word, and ‘safe’ will come out tops time and again. And for good reason. Volvo has actively pioneered passenger safety; engineering, inventing and debuting a plethora of safety systems we take for granted day to day.
It was the first manufacturer to equip cars with three-point safety belts as standard equipment, and rather than patent the design and licence it to other manufacturers, they made their designs open source for all to use, in the hope of making all cars safer, not just Volvos.
They were the first to prototype test a rearward facing child seat – something we take for granted nowadays – but worth remembering at the time that most people and car manufacturers hadn’t even given occupant safety a second thought, never mind child safety. The child seat would eventually go into production 1971 as would another common (and sometimes irritating) feature in modern cars, the seatbelt reminder chime.
Why do I know all these interesting facts you might ask? Well, I’ve just recently attended the Volvo Experience Day with Volvo South Africa.
Held once every quarter, the purpose of Volvo Experience Day is two-fold. On one hand Volvo wants to give current customers and possible new customers the chance to, what I call, ‘scratch and sniff’ the current Volvo range. Current owners might upgrade to a new model and new leads might sign on the dotted line and buy into the Volvo family. (Not that any hard selling takes place on the day. Quite the opposite actually.)
On the other hand, Volvo hope that over the course of the day, you will learn something new about the marque, share that friends and family, and generally become a positive spokesperson for the brand. Obviously, the core reason is to ultimately sell more cars, but with the Volvo Experience Day, it never feels like that is the overriding reason for everyone being there.
Held at Swartkops Raceway in Gauteng, the day is broken up into a series of four separate events or exhibitions, each showcasing a unique feature of the Volvo range. Attendees are divided into groups, and throughout the day each group rotates, making sure everyone has a chance to experience everything on offer.
First up for us was City Safety. Available on all Volvo cars, as on option on some and as standard spec on others, depending on the model, City Safety is an autonomous emergency braking system designed to help a driver avoid a low-speed collision and/or to reduce its severity.
Setup on Swartkop’s main pit straight, everyone has the chance to experience exactly how City Safety works. And as you can see below, it works!
Designed to work at lower speeds and in the city environment where a driver could be distracted, sensors in the front of the car detect that a collision is imminent, and if not stopped by the driver, the car autonomously applies full braking force to avoid the collision. With each of us afforded the opportunity to test the system, I can tell you it is very reassuring knowing that in most circumstances the car will prevent you from having a low-speed front on collision. Still, a strange sensation when a car is sometimes more alert than you are!
Next up for us was the Park Assist Pilot demonstration. Although around for some time now the system used by Volvo is an exceptional piece of engineering, and especially useful when piloting a large SUVs such as the all-new XC90, as demonstrated below.
One of the highlights of the day was the emergency lane change manoeuvre. In order to highlight Volvo’s stability systems, a series of cones are set up in a slalom formation and tackled with verve one by one of the very capable Volvo instructors. In order to showcase exactly how Volvo’s Electric Stability Control (ESC) function, this function is switched off on the first run through the cones. Swerving in and out of the cones and almost losing control due to violent nature of having to change lanes in an emergency.
The second run is with the ESC system enabled, and the difference is quite astonishing. With his accelerator foot firmly planted to the floor, the car was easily able to navigate safely between the cones and without any worry of spinning out or losing control.
The last stop for our group was a quick, but no less impressive trip around Swartkops off-road course in the all-new XC90 SUV. It’s worth mentioning, and it was reiterated by our pleasant Volvo instructor, that the XC90 is not a 4×4, but rather a SUV. Where a full-blown 4×4 is usually equipped with specialist features such as locking differentials and a low range transfer case, the XC90 employs a ‘softer’ all-wheel drive setup.
Still, the XC90 impressed with its ability to traverse, and descend a variety of tough off-road obstacles, without drama, and with a full complement of seven passengers.
After a few cold drinks and a hearty meal, we were then given the opportunity to get behind the wheel and tackle the Swartkops Raceway circuit on our own. With a pace car upfront to make sure enthusiastic drivers didn’t perform their best (or worst) F1 impression, we were allowed to do a few laps of the racetrack in any one of the Volvo cars on offer for the day.
All-in-all the Volvo Experience is a fantastic day out, giving you the opportunity to interact with not only the entire Volvo vehicle range but also the Volvo Marketing department who work tirelessly behind the scenes.
A big thank you to Volvo South Africa for the invitation.