I never thought I’d get the chance to go on the Top Gear Track, let alone do something naughty on it – yet I had the opportunity to do both last Saturday!
My day was almost over before it began since I’d forgotten to bring the paper part of my driving licence along (yes, the part that no one ever carries around) to register as a participant.
Apparently they needed this to verify that I’d not been banned from driving, or perhaps they were worried I might be a Bavarian spy..
So, thankfully after a quick call to the DVLA, the event organisers were satisfied that I posed no more risk to their range of cars than anyone else at the event.
Event 1: Pro-Drive
With that little mishap behind me I began the day being treated to several fast laps around the Top Gear circuit by a rather rapid Tommy Erdos, the well respected Le Mans Driver. The circuit has been graced by an array of extremely (and not so) talented drivers over the years – including the recently departed Stig, so I was fascinated to sit next to a professional and see it for myself.
I have to say, Tommy really demonstrated what the new S60 was capable of doing. It was not the speed that impressed me, rather the car’s stability and agility. It was definitely a long way removed from Volvo’s of old.
Event 2: The Chase
We moved swiftly on to the next event on the opposite side of the enormous aerodrome (I never realised how huge this site is – the Top Gear section is just one tiny little part!).
This time we had to negotiate a tidy arrangement of cones used to mark out a series of slaloms and chicanes, with the goal of gaining an understanding of the car’s balance and handling – yet, the Volvo team thought that they’d make it a little more challenging by having a Volvo V70 Police Car chase us through the course!
The best bit of this particular event for me however was getting the chance to ride in the passenger seat of the Police Car when the Pro-drivers tackled the course themselves at full speed – let’s just say there was a small amount of personal pride, mixed with a dash of ego, at stake for these guys. I’ll be taking those blurred images of hanging only inches from the tail of that S60 to my grave…
Event 3: Pedestrian Avoidance and Auto Braking Test
Back to base, a quick coffee and snack and then on to the sensible part of the day – the chance to see the Volvo auto-stop features in action. It was, well, typically Volvo really. Solid, reliable, safe, boring (I mean, in comparison to the previous two events), yet it demonstrated qualities of the S60 that every family man would seriously want to consider for their next automotive purchase.
Frank (the inflatable dummy used to simulate a real pedestrian) looked a bit fed-up after being driven at all day, but at least we didn’t hit him, thanks to the spookily effective safety systems on the new S60. We promised to bring Frank a cup of tea later in the day, since he looked a bit parched..
Event 4: Lift-off oversteer test
For this test our instructor switched the stability control (DSTC) off, which doesn’t remove the safety net completely since there’s still 20% of the system active, but the idea was to show us how unobtrusive these systems were.
The exercise was simple – drive at a patch of wet tarmac as fast as you can, then turn and lift-off abruptly to see what happens. The result? Well the S60 oversteered for a fraction of a second before being reigned back in gently by the stability controls. Very undramatic and yet it was impossible to notice the stability controls cutting in.
Event 5: Timed slalom
OK, sensible stuff out the way, now it was time to finish off the day with a competition event – who would be the fastest driver to negotiate a series of tight turns and obstacles. The winner would be the one who controlled their speed to complete the course without hitting any cones or missing gates, a 10 second penalty awaited anyone who transgressed.
I got close (actually within .8 of a second) but not close enough to win our group. Still the buzz was fantastic and it surprised me (again) how capable the S60 proved to be.
So, the day drew to a close. Without doubt, an excellent experience and hat’s off to the event team (customer service and drivers) for the part they played – they were superb. All of them showed incredible enthusiasm for the event (despite an 8am start) and seemed to genuinely enjoy being part of the Naughty Volvo experience.
Finally, to the all important question . . . has the event altered my opinion of the Volvo brand?
I’m pleased to say yes – and in the most positive of ways.
When I was first invited to the event I thought Volvo were trying to prove themselves as a hot, sporty saloon manufacturer, worthy of competing against the established pedigrees of BMW and Audi. However, I soon realised that the event was not about that at all.
Volvo were simply showing that they were not boring, because let’s be honest, that’s what we tend to think of them; sensible, safe and boring.
Yet, the event clearly showed another side to the car, a side which could be fun, lively, agile and entertaining – but without compromising any of the important safety qualities that the company is so reputed for.
So overall, was it good to get a bit naughty with the S60?. . I’d say![styledbox type=”information” align=”center”]Thanks to Volvo for organising the ‘Naughty S60 Track Event’ and Skiddmark for running the competition that gave me the opportunity to experience the Volvo S60 and the event – Kevin Matthews. [/styledbox]