The next Volkswagen Passat is set to be the new benchmark for standard and optional safety technology in the large family hatchback class.
Company sources have confirmed that the Passat will go on sale later in 2014 and will be based on the same modular ‘MQB’ platform as the Volkswagen Golf. It will be the largest model based on the architecture at around 4.8-metres in length – roughly the same size as the current Skoda Superb – and is likely to be the first model to showcase a raft of new safety systems that the company has unveiled today.
The new technologies will join those already in use on Volkswagen’s models, which include adaptive cruise control and automatic city braking, and will help in a variety of tasks from faster, more effective emergency braking and automatic parking to a system that steers and brakes the car autonomously if the driver is unresponsive.
The latter of these systems, dubbed Emergency Assist, is intended to prevent an accident if the driver has fallen asleep or suffered a medical emergency. The car senses if there is a lack of steering input, and responds by emitting a warning sound in the cabin and using the existing lane assist technology to keep the car on course.
If there is still no active steering input, the car will deliver a sharp, momentary braking force, and if the driver continues to be unresponsive, the car will put the hazard lights on and gradually brake to a standstill.
Blind spot monitor is another technology already in production (which uses lights in the door mirrors to warn when there is a car in the rear three-quarter blind spot) that will be upgraded to include a rear traffic sensing ability. The blind spot monitor’s radar sensors will now detect a car approaching the rear of the vehicle too quickly within a 20-metre range, and will respond by putting the hazard lights on and preparing occupants for an imminent rear impact by tightening the seatbelts, adjusting the seats to the safest position and closing any open windows.
This same system also functions as a car park aid, alerting the driver and stopping the car automatically from low speeds if it’s being reversed from a parking space when there is an oncoming car that the driver can’t see past adjacent vehicles.
Rear Traffic Alert is likely to be packaged with the optional Blind Spot Monitor, but company sources say that it "will be very affordable by comparison to similar technology in rival cars. We want to make this safety tech as attainable as possible on as many models as possible."
Another reverse parking assistant that will be particularly relevant on the Passat is the trailer assist. Popular with caravanners, the big VW will be available with an optional system that is intended to make parking a trailer much easier.
The system works in a similar way to the existing park assist, but the driver must select the angle at which they want the trailer reversed. The driver then controls the throttle and brake, and can adjust the angle of manoeuvre while the car is in motion – a command which is made using the door mirror adjuster dial; a slightly unintuitive system going by our experience at VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, but still very useful given how notoriously tricky it is to reverse park a caravan or trailer.
Other park assistant upgrades will also be available that enable the Passat and other models to be steered automatically into a perpendicular space, either forwards or backwards. The majority of VW models can be specified with a system that enables automatic parallel parking.
A new video parking system that shows a 3D image from a birds-eye perspective of the car will also be available.
The last of the technologies due to arrive imminently is a pedestrian sense function to be added to the city emergency braking system, which brings the car to a stop from low speeds and is standard even on the Volkswagen Up. Currently, City Emergency Braking can sense cars in front, but the ability to sense pedestrians is likely to be added as standard in the next two years if Euro NCAP increases the stringency of its pedestrian safety standards, as expected.
A new emergency braking system that relies on an electronic brake boost will also enhance the emergency braking efficiency, although company sources say that it is again down to forthcoming Euro NCAP test upgrades as to whether it will be standard or not. It functions by sensing obstacles in the road and preparing the braking system to react, meaning that if the car does have to execute an emergency stop, the brakes are applied roughly twice as fast as the current system, resulting in a stopping distance of around 1.3m less from 20mph.
Volkswagen also showcased a number of other technologies that won’t see production – if at all - until 2016 or later. These include a remote parking system that allows the car to be started and reversed from a tight parking space via controls on a key fob or phone, allowing for easier access.
Another driver aid that is still being fine-tuned is a Construction Zone Assistant. Using a 3D Camera and radar sensors in conjunction with lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control, the car will steer itself entirely unaided through narrow lanes of cones.
An optical aid that works at night and shines two lines of light onto the road surface in front of the car to show where the car is going according to steering inputs, and how easily it will fit into the lane, is also being tested.
Finally, a car-to-car communication system is also in development. The wi-fi-dependent technology is due to be implemented in 2016, according to a memorandum of understanding signed by 12 European manufacturers.
It’s essential that many makers are involved in this project, as it depends on other cars on the road communicating with those around them to warn of upcoming roadworks, accidents, or other potential hazards in the vicinity. The warnings – which arrive in VW models as a visual alert in the dial binnacle before sounding an audible alarm if the driver doesn’t acknowledge it – can also be sent from static beacons in roadworks, and to warn of emergency services vehicles trying to get through.