Every day, we take a look into life with a selection of our long-term test cars. Today we are musing on the future of driverless cars with our VW Golf, and lugging more stuff around with the Kia Carens.
Google’s self-driving cars have been in the news recently, following the announcement that the web search giant is to build its own vehicles.
No one knows how long it’ll be before we’ll be able to tell our cars to ‘make it so’ and ‘engage’ before we sit back and read the latest digital edition of What Car?, but this week I’ve been putting some of that advanced technology to the test in the Golf.
SE trim comes with adaptive cruise control (ACC) as standard. Once you’ve set your desired speed it employs radar to maintain a set distance to the car in front. It’ll decelerate and even brake to a standstill if required, while all you have to do is steer the car. Indeed, on my sojourn up the M3 one morning this week, I didn’t touch any of the pedals for the half hour I had ACC activated.
If I’m being honest, I am not a fan of ‘standard’ cruise control. There’s almost always too much traffic on the M3 to use it without having to interrupt and reset it constantly, and I didn’t hold out much hope for ACC – even though it’s designed to be operated on busy roads.
However, I didn’t hate ACC as much as I thought I would. The minimum gap it allows you to set to the car in front is small enough to deter traffic entering from other lanes (and then forcing the Golf to brake), yet is large enough for safe braking. When the system needed to slow the car it did so smoothly and without any jerkiness – mind you, the half-term traffic was behaving itself so more testing is required, now that normal service has resumed.
My biggest bugbear with ACC is that, in some circumstances, it forces you to hog the same lane; if you’re in the outside lane, following a line of traffic at, say, 10mph below your set speed and pull into a traffic-free middle lane (as you should), the car will accelerate and undertake the cars you’ve been following. Which makes you look like a bit of a berk.
It’s going to take a little while to get used to letting the Golf do the braking for me, but it’s made me realise that self-driving cars will be here sooner than we think.