Confessions of a (reformed) petrolhead

Here’s a terrible confession from a Prius owner: I was once a petrolhead. Worse: towards the end of my student days I had a 3.8-litre Mk II Jaguar (like the one in the photograph and the one owned by Inspector Morse in the TV series, but not in as nice condition as either of those). It was wonderful for a while. But then came the Yom Kippur war, and the OPEC oil-price hike and suddenly it cost £20 to drive to the end of the street and so, sadder but wiser, I sold it and bought a VW Beetle.

But back then I used to think that maybe it’d be fun to be a motoring journalist.

Reading Sam Wollaston in the Guardian has cured me retrospectively of that illusion: I just wasn’t a witty enough writer. Witness his latest piece — about the Volvo V60 D3 SE Lux Premium:

Do I know how to start it, asks the man from Volvo. Hey, come on, I’m an experienced motoring journalist – of course I know how to bloody start it. Leave me alone. So he does. And within half an hour or so, I’m on the move. You have to insert the key fob thing into the key fob dock thing, put your foot on the brake, then hit the start button. Remember when cars had ignition keys? Wasn’t that so boring? And straightforward. Anyway, thank God I’m not a getaway driver. I wouldn’t have got away.

Some of this car’s toys are more useful, such as the safety ones. So you’re driving up the M1, distracted by something (the kids or the dogs fighting in the back, say), you start to drift into the neighbouring lane… beep beep, beep beep, says the car. That’ll be the Lane Departure Warning kicking in. Or you actually want to change lanes, but you’re too old and stiff to look over your shoulder. You can’t see anything in the wing mirror, it’s probably clear… except suddenly there is a yellow light in the mirror, the Blind Spot Information System telling you another car is there. More lights appear on the windscreen if you get too close to the car in front. There’s also a City Safety System, which makes the car automatically brake if the vehicle in front slows down or stops: this car is constantly sending out radar and sonar and what have you to keep me out of trouble – it’s like driving a bat.

He’s intrigued by the “Pedestrian Detection” system that looks out for person-shaped things on the road in front, warns you, then brakes if you decide not to do anything.

I want to test it out, with my girlfriend as the person-shaped thing, but she won’t, unsportingly – says she’s worried that after all the Christmas bingeing, she won’t be recognised as person-shaped. How embarrassing would that be?

Oh — and another thing… The Jag had a ‘Start’ button in its veneered walnut dashboard. Just like Windows 95.

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