For decades it was Formula 1 that gave the car business much of its cutting edge technology. Everything from a braking system that generates power to use later to innovations in tire technology, our road cars are more efficient and safer thanks to top-tier motor racing. These days though, mainstream car companies are investing much more in their own research and design, and they’re putting technology to work for us every day on the road.
Volkswagen’s new Golf Highline is full to the brim with tech designed to make it efficient and safe for drivers, but I was curious if all this new tech would still let motoring be fun as I took to the open road.
I picked up my Tumeric Yellow Golf Highline and it’s difficult, even for a nerdy type, not to be struck by the lines of this car. They call the Golf a family car, but the sharp colour, styling and Jurva alloy wheels catch your eye and it seems to exude an aura of sporty capability.
Inside though, is where my real interest lies and the very first thing I needed to do was pair my iPhone with the car. Volkswagen’s App Connect system give the driver a number of options for connecting a phone to the car. I used plugged my phone in to the Golf’s USB port and used Apple’s CarPlay but Android Auto and Mirror Link are also available. I noticed also, that my phone began to charge which was a useful bonus.
With my phone paired with the car I felt at home and the center console displayed the huge icons from my iPhone, but in remarkable definition that functioned just like the touch screen on my phone. Instantly I got access to my contacts, SMS and Google Maps, but also my playlists from Apple Music appeared, and even my audiobooks. Once my phone was paired, the car’s comprehensive voice-control feature, which is activated from the steering, wheel let me use voice commands to make calls using my phone.
Inside the glove compartment, I discovered the discreetly placed CD player and also, surprisingly a Micro SD memory card port for additional media access. The center console displays the traditional radio stations with nice bright display of the stations logos but also, if I select the TuneIn radio app, lets me listen to a radio station from anywhere in the world as I drive.
With my connectivity and entertainment sorted out I focused on the driving tech. Instead of traditional dials and gauges, the Golf has a huge twelve inch Active Info Display. This high-res display replaces a traditional speedometer and has five different views that can be selected to your own preference, depending on what you want to keep an eye on as you drive.
As I set about reversing, I discovered putting the Golf in to reverse activates the rear view camera and sensors with large, clear image of what’s behind you displayed on the center console screen. Once in a forward gear and heading for the open road, it was time to look at the other tech that makes like easier, and safer for drivers.
Active Cruise Control is a remarkable innovation. The simple idea is that the Golf will help you keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front. Simple, but needs a lot of tech to make it work. I set the speed I wanted to cruise at using the controls on the steering wheel but then sensors monitored the space in front of my car and analyses their speed and how close they are. The Active Cruise Control can keep you at a safe distance from the car in front at speeds up to 160 km/h. The most pleasing part though is surprisingly in annoying traffic. I could feel the car changing gear, and braking and then accelerating again when lights changed up ahead. It reduces your effort, but I think more importantly, reduces stress.
Back on the road, other smarter features become apparent. When a car came up behind me, Light Assist dimmed my mirror to reduce glare and a camera on the front recognizes a vehicle ahead and dimmed the headlights automatically. This sounds simple, but the wonderful part of this is that technology is taking away frequent adjustments and interruptions that distract me.
Perhaps the most safety focused tech in the Golf is Fatigue Detection Driver Alert. This tech monitors driver behavior and things like erratic steering wheel movements or lane deviation and even analyses traffic signals and figures out when you’re tired and need a break.
Fuel consumption and running costs are reasonable. Sure, it’s not a Tesla, Volkswagen have been making cars for almost eighty years and what’s fascinating about this car, the biggest gadget I’ve ever tested, is how it changes how I think about driving and traditional auto makers. Yes, it’s fun driving, but it’s also smart driving,.