MAX’S MONTHLY COLUMN: Speed limiters, the VW Touareg, and London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone

by | Apr 10, 2019

Max Berry

It’s alarming really isn’t it; just now it was January and we were putting away the Christmas decorations, and suddenly it’s April. I don’t really remember March actually occurring, but then again I wrote a Geneva Motor Show Special for last month’s column, so it must have.

You can read it here

Something else that slightly alarmed me the other week was a news story that popped up on my Facebook news feed. It read “Speed limiters will become mandatory for all vehicles sold in Europe from 2022”. Frankly, my heart sank, like properly sank. It’s a topic which has been on my mind, on and off for the last 10 years or so. Even as a ten-year-old boy I can remember looking at supercars in the street and saying to myself “I wonder if I’ll still be able to drive one of those when I’m old enough”. And unfortunately, the news headline I just mentioned would seem to suggest not – at least, not in the way I was hoping to as a mere infant (making the most of the loud pedal).

But let’s not get all misty-eyed just yet. Is this a genuinely good idea?

ARE SPEED LIMITERS A GOOD IDEA?

The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) certainly think so, explaining that ‘Intelligent Speed Assistance’ (ISA) limiters would reduce collisions by 30% and save around 25,000 lives within 15 years. They also explain that ISAs do not have braking capabilities, simply a limiter on engine power preventing the vehicle from going faster than a set limit. This is obviously a good thing – who wouldn’t want the roads to be a safer place?

However, I do see a few potential downfalls, one of which is more obvious than others. If everyone is limited to 70mph say, how will motorways physically function? 

“Regardless of what car you drive and what marvellous breed of motor might have been bolted inside: you can still only do the speed the bloke sat at his desk in HQ says you can.”

– Max Berry

A motorway relies on the fundamental principle of cars in the outside lane overtaking (therefore moving more quickly) than those in the middle and inside lanes. There’s a slightly comical image in my mind of every single car in each lane, just matching each other’s speed and rolling along as a unit.

But it’s more complicated than that, such as when we consider lorries and vans limited to 68mph. Our unit of speed-matching cars will have just a 2mph advantage to utilise when going for an overtake, making these manoeuvres last, well, ages! 2mph is less than walking speed, so presumably even the very fastest of performance cars will take the same time to get past. To put this in perspective, imagine walking past a parked lorry and acknowledging the (vast) period of time it actually takes you to get from one end to the other. It just doesn’t quite add up in my mind.

“But in the name of safety, perhaps it’s worth it. Perhaps actually, a system like this, despite the effort and cost could reduce roadside fatalities.”

– Max Berry

And then of course, there’s the emotional factor. For the vast majority who use cars simply as a tool to end up in a different location to the one they started at; this doesn’t apply. But it deeply saddens me, as I’m sure it will other petrolheads right across the continent, to think regardless of what car you drive and what marvellous breed of motor might have been bolted inside: you can still only do the speed the bloke sat at his desk in HQ says you can. It is a truly depressing thought, this idea of bumbling along at exactly the same speed as everyone else, whatever vehicle they may be at the wheel of.

But in the name of safety, perhaps it’s worth it. Perhaps actually, a system like this, despite the effort and cost could reduce roadside fatalities. We shall see – but as a famous motoring journalist once said, “driving quickly never killed anyone; suddenly becoming stationary, that’s what gets you”.

THE VOLKSWAGEN TOUAREG

The Volkswagen Touareg is now 15 years old, and in its 3rd generation. It’s VW’s answer to the big boy, 4X4 market, and is not (thank goodness) just another little SUV, or hatchback on stilts. So when asked by MJ Warner Volkswagen – a licensed Used VW dealer in Hertfordshire, if I’d like a go in the new 2018 model, I couldn’t refuse.

The thing I was most interested in with the new Touareg, was it’s necessity. I mean, since the early 2000s when it first went into production, the 4X4 market has saturated immensely thanks to cheap SUVs. In fact, thinking about it, the SUV has to be one of the fastest growing automotive trends ever – what with their small price tags but (wannabe) big-car feel. So, with a now very different market landscape, is there still space for a big, guzzly 4X4 like the Touareg? Is it still relevant?

“Thanks to its updates and innovations, the VW Touareg is absolutely still relevant, 15 years on.”

– Max Berry

Well let’s start in the same place I start in my video review below – the interior. There’s no question, in a big 4X4 costing between fifty and sixty thousand pounds, the interior needs to be bang on – and the Touareg is no exception. Volkswagen have done away with most of the physical buttons in the cabin, literally leaving behind a gear selector, electric window and handbrake switches and a couple of terrain-response selector dials.

Everything else, and I do mean everything else; is controlled by an enormous 15-inch touchscreen, fitted to the dashboard. It’s one of the first in-car infotainment systems I’ve ever used which feels as smooth and responsive as a dedicated tablet (by which of course I mean the iPad) or smartphone touchscreen (an iPhone). The build quality is just what you’d expect from VW, plus a little bit more. And so, impressed with the Touareg’s big boot and cabin space, I turn to the driving experience.

Watch Max Berry’s Video Review of the VW Touareg

The issue has always been, to make a car better at negotiating the mud and tree trunks and goat carcasses of off-roading, a 4X4 is raised to give it better ground clearance. This is fine when you’re in thick, glutenous mud, but when you’re on the road which let’s face it, the Touareg will be more often than not; you find the car corners less clinically due to its higher centre of gravity. I’m very happy to report however, Volkswagen have overcome this, with black engineering magic… or rather active anti-roll bars. It’s a very similar system to the one found on the Bentley Bentayga and the Lamborghini Urus, which both just so happen to belong to the multibillion-pound Volkswagen Group.

Besides being incredibly nerdy, what the system does is fight against body roll, pushing quite literally; against the forces of nature. So as the car turns left say, and the two-and-a-bit tonnes of weight lean right, the active anti-roll bars push in the opposite way – in this case, left. It works, it really does. There’s a little bit of give in the suspension to keep the ride smooth, but the whole setup does allow you to give it the berries mid corner – something not quite so easy in big 4X4s of yesteryear.

“The thing blasts along without drama or complication – just comfortable, controlled, quiet and solid.”

– Max Berry

The berries I talk of come courtesy of the 280bhp 3.0L V6 diesel engine, which linked up to the new DSG auto gearbox is as smooth as Matt Lucas’ head. But when it needs to, it can launch from 0-60mph in under six seconds and on to a 155mph top speed. The thing blasts along without drama or complication – just comfortable, controlled, quiet and solid. Other clever bits and pieces like the four-wheel steering which make U-turns a far more straight forward (if you’ll pardon the pun) affair, and a fascinating feature allowing the car to park itself- with a trailer! Gone are the days of making a fool of yourself as you back your speedboat or caravan into your neighbour’s fence. And so, to answer my question at the top of this piece – yes. Thanks to its updates and innovations, the VW Touareg is absolutely still relevant, 15 years on.

LONDON’S ULTRA LOW EMISSIONS ZONE

London is a fairly large place in the UK. I’ve been there a few times and seen many things including a river, a black taxi and a room full of celebrities captured in wax (artistically, not literally. The legal costs alone would be through the roof). Something I didn’t see when I last visited however, because it didn’t exist yet, was ‘London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone’, or ULEZ. In fact, the whole idea only came into existence a week or so ago at the beginning of April 2019. Now stay with me here (I talk about a Ferrari in a minute), but the ULEZ was the brainchild of Sadiq Khan – London’s current Mayor.

“It’s hoped that London’s ULEZ will reduce nitrogen oxides by up to 45% and in the name of the residents’ lungs, I hope it does.”

– Max Berry

It’s a central component in plans to improve the health of Londoners by cleaning up the city’s toxic air, which apparently leads to the premature deaths of thousands of residents every year. Here are the headlines: any motorised, roadgoing vehicle is basically affected. Whether it’s a van, a motorbike, a lorry, an auto rickshaw (TukTuk), a bus, a coach or a car, it’s in the firing line.

The ULEZ scheme operates on the same routes as the Congestion Charge Zone, and will run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every week of the year including bank holidays. “But what”, I hear you cry “do I do if I need to use those routes in my current car?” Well, you’ve got two options. Either you can buy a car which fits the new, tighter emission standards – or you can pay a daily rate to take whatever car you might own currently through the city centre. There’s even a rather handy webpage where drivers can check their vehicles’ cost beforehand – you can see it here.

JK’s Ferrari – £0.00 for the day!

I’ve been messing around on the site for ages, entering celebrities’ number plates to see the going rate. But I’ve made a surprising discovery. Having entered my own registration plate into the calculator, it turned out my SEAT Ibiza FR with its 1.6 turbo diesel engine is £12.50 for the day. Needing another vehicle to contrast, I entered Jamiroquai front man, Jay Kay’s registration “22 JET”, which he has screwed to the nose of his gorgeous, bright green Ferrari La Ferrari. Bear in mind the La Ferrari has 950bhp and goes like a scolded whippet – nailing down 0-60mph in less than 3 seconds. It’s a beast. And yet, due to its hybrid capabilities, where it can run purely on its electric motor alone, it came to a total of £0.00 for the day!

So there we are, it’s hoped that London’s ULEZ will reduce nitrogen oxides by up to 45% and in the name of the residents’ lungs, I hope it does. And along with all new buses from 2018 onwards being either hybrid, hydrogen or electrically powered, London’s future is fast becoming present.

Don’t forget to check out Max’s YouTube channel here.

Max Berry is also available to rent for video reviews as part of the Spidersnet Video Reviews package. For more information, view the package here.

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