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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .

(November 2013)

Hello, nice of you to call in. Yes, thatís my new Golf out there, or rather, my nearly-four-years-old Golf. Sheís clever Ė or tries to be. Watch this: from indoors, if I hold down the unlock-button on the key, all the windows wind down together, as far as I want. When I found this feature in the manual, I thought: what a brilliant idea in hot weather, saving me having to go out to let air into the car.

Except it doesnít save me anything! If I donít press the lock-button now, the car will lock itself anyway in a minute, look, because the doors havenít been opened. And then the motion-sensing system becomes active again, and as the windows are down now, just a moderate breeze can trigger the alarm.

How silly is that? It means I still have to go out, open my door, press the button inside to disable the motion-sensor, and then lock up. Well, at least at the end of a hot day I can safely close all the windows just by holding down the lock-button, like so...

Youíre impressed that Iím able to switch off the motion-sensor? I would have thought it was possible on any car. I could do it on my old Corolla: the trick with that was to press lock a second time, and the indicators would give a long flash to confirm. But arenít these different ways of locking a car confusing! Now, what would you guess happens with the Golf, when I press lock twice?

No idea? Iíll tell you: the Ďdeadlockí stays off, which means the doors can still be opened from the inside. Thatís good of course, as long as you remember itís possible Ė but the point is that normal one-press locking puts the deadlock on, and if someoneís left in the car they will then be locked in.

The manual warns you about this, but not until page 49, and I wonder how many new owners are going to read that far? The Corolla had locking stalks in the doors, so there wasnít much risk of being trapped. Also, it meant you could drive with individual doors locked for protection, and you could see from inside and outside if the stalks were up or down...

Iíve just remembered another way in which the Golf tries to be clever: if I get out, close my door and press the lock-button, the system waits for any passengers still getting out to close their doors, and then locks them too. The flaw with this is that a door could accidentally be left open, as we walk away. With the Corolla, if I tried to lock it with a door even slightly ajar it would beep at me Ė and likewise if either the bonnet or the boot wasnít fully down. But not so the Golf.

And then supposing youíre on the road and you stop at traffic lights: anyone can sneak up behind, press the VW badge to open the hatch, pinch things and run for it. On the old car [Mrs S (distant): ďThatís the sainted Corolla again!Ē] you needed a key to open the boot from outside.

The Golf manual does tell me I can secure the hatch by pressing the central-locking button on my door, but this locks all the doors as well, against being opened from outside I mean, and Iím not sure I want to be in a position where no-one can get to us inside the car if thereís an accident. Though admittedly, if an airbag has gone off, the doors are supposed to unlock automatically anyway.

Not boring you, I hope? Iíll say this for the Golf: it detects a key-press from up to 80 metres away. So when Iím in a car park at night with lots of rather similar dark hatchbacks, I can rely on the flashing indicators to help me find mine. The row of bright indicator lights on each door mirror too is a good thing Ė but what with these and the tilt-adjustment motors inside and, would you believe, a demisting heater, a mirror unit must cost a fortune to replace if damaged.

So now I try to remember to pull the mirrors in when parking. Iíve carefully noted the warning printed in the manual: Only fold the mirrors in or out when there is no-one in the path of the mirror. Strangely, thereís no mention of the much greater dangers in opening and closing the doors!

Then just below is a physics lesson: Curved mirrors enlarge the field of vision and could make objects seem smaller and further away than they actually are. Me, I would have put it with more confidence: ď...and will definitely make...Ē. But really, havenít convex mirrors been around long enough now for drivers to be used to them? Whatís surprising with these new ones is that my view in them out to the side is more restricted than before, because the shrouding around them is deeper. And the mirror on my door wonít adjust outwards quite as far as I would like it to.

Must you go already? Iíll see you out ... what do you think of these alloy wheels? Iíve not had them before, and I canít say Iím impressed: they seem to attract road dirt faster than any other part, itís difficult to get a brush into them properly, and even after a decent wash they donít really shine.

Just compare them with the bright hub-caps on Mrs Sís 20-year-old Micra there. And now take a look through the alloys: you can see the brake discs in all their rustiness. Not a pretty sight, is it! How on earth did this pass the design-quality checks?

But what really worries me is the lack of paintwork-protection across the doors, down the door-edges and especially at the front and rear. All my previous cars had bumpers Ė Iím rather tempted to look for clamp-on ones. Still, at least Iíve found some black door-edge strip which fits well and looks good, donít you think? And in spite of all my little criticisms, she is a lovely car to drive. Would you like to come for a spin? Oh ... OK then, next time youíre passing, perhaps.

Peter Soul

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