Rent-a-Nanny – the Volvo V40 experience

My wife and I recently visited the UK for a couple of weeks, and then spent 6 nights in Vienna. Plenty of harrumpfs, and one or two now-that’s-more like-its…

We rented a Volvo V40, but we might as well have rented a Victorian nanny. The safety features on this car are so numerous and so poorly thought-through that they end up being counter-productive.


Let’s start with the simple business of seeing out of the thing. Most cars have a bit of a blind-spot, but this thing is really a blind spot with portholes.

Now I have no doubt that this car would have protected us admirably if we had crashed it, rolled it, or driven it off a cliff. Which is comforting, for those of us who don’t mind crashing, rolling or driving off cliffs. For those of us who prefer to complete our journeys without these additional excitements, it’s a nightmare, because it’s structural integrity has been achieved by giving it pillars so massive that the windows have all but disappeared.

I’m a tall bloke, and it’s true that that gives me the worst viewpoint, but even ducking my head down to the height of the average driver, the view over my right shoulder, so crucial in safely entering roundabouts, is so restricted as to be positively dangerous. To add insult to injury, it’s got those wide-angle wing-mirrors that distort perspective, so they’re no help in finely judging distances.

Here’s a picture which gives you some idea of the view over your shoulder:

Collision avoidance

The Volvo V40 is stuffed to the gills with sensors. These include sensors in its wing mirrors that glow orange when there’s a car behind you in an adjacent lane.

Thanks, but I’d prefer a flat wing-mirror, plus Mk 1 eyeball, if you please. And no, I don’t need the car to remind me of the need to check that a lane is clear before I move into it. It’s something I’ve been doing for 50 years, and the suggestion that I’m going to forget it just because I get into a Volvo V40 is insulting, as is the implicit suggestion that I should treat the absence of a warning as an unqualified assurance that it’s safe to switch lanes without checking your mirror.

So all the little orange light is doing is reminding me not to do something I’ve never done, and never intend to.

But the worst of this infernal, dangerously misguided nannying is yet to come.

It’s got a collision-detection system which, if it becomes convinced you are about to hit something, makes a loud beeping noise, and sets off a row of flashing red lights right in front of your eyes.

It sounded three times during our two-week rental. On two occasions the cause was never clear to me, and certainly I never hit anything, or saw any obstacle which could prove life-threatening, despite the distraction of an inexplicable burst of lights and beeping.

The third occasion was at a roundabout, where, hampered by the car’s appalling visibility, I was entering a busy roundabout.

I had to negotiate a row of stationary cars already on the roundabout and waiting to leave it to my left, and of course to give way to traffic coming from my right. I found a suitable gap, but it required that I accelerate briskly towards the rear of the queue of stationary cars, which were pointing towards my 10 O’clock, and concentrate hard to get my timing right.

Right in the middle of this moderately exacting manoeuvre, when I wanted all my wits about me, the car decided that the row of stationary traffic to my left, pointing at 45 degrees to my direction of travel, was a serious collision hazard, and set off the beeps and lights. It is difficult to imagine anything more calculated to distract me from my manoeuvre, and cause me to have an accident. Well done, Volvo – just brilliant.


The car had a choice of fully automatic transmission or flappy-paddle sequential gearbox. Being the possessor of only one functioning arm, I used the automatic box. Fine, except that it kept switching, for no apparent reason, to sequential. This meant that I had to either flip it up through the gears sequentially or flog it to the red line to force it to change automatically.

And here’s another picture of the thing – note the almost non-existent quarter-light window: