I love it when new technology fails – particularly in cars. It’s a sick pleasure, like watching skateboarding stacks on YouTube. Of course, I’m not talking about vital technology like airbags or brakes, but little tech fumbles that leave car companies with egg on their face.
Like when Mercedes-Benz crashed its new S-Class while trying to demonstrate its collision warning system. Or when Holden’s new self-parking system on the Holden VF Commodore failed to detect a parking space. Twice. In a room full of journalists.
Things had been going swimmingly with my long-term Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance. Then it spat in my face. Returning home from dinner, I engaged the GTI’s simple and intuitive self-parking system to slot into a spot in front of my house. I guided the Golf in on the brake with complete trust, the steering wheel spinning of its own accord. Things were going well until the front left wheel bumped into the gutter. Even this wasn’t a drama, given the wheel was on hard right lock, so only the rubber bashed into the cement. Then, with no input from me or any change on the brake pedal (the car was stationary), the Golf straightened itself. Crunch.
The kerb took a bite out of the 19-inch rim the size of a 50-cent piece, leaving me a furious cocktail of disbelief and unadulterated rage. Then I got to thinking; who was at fault? Surely not me. It was the car that chose the steering lock and distance from the kerb; all I did was control the speed, which was painfully slow. If it was my car, I would have been straight on the blower demanding VW repair the wheel.
Turns out I was wrong. After calling VW, the official response was: “Thanks for letting us know about the damage. To clarify, the Park Assist system did not damage the vehicle; the driver is responsible for maintaining control of the vehicle. Park Assist 2.0 is an assistant. The driver is still in control of the car and all legal liabilities remain on the driver when using the system.”
Volkswagen suggested two things could have tripped up the GTI. First, the offending kerb is of lower-than-usual height, but it’s a spot the Golf had previously navigated without damaging its wheels. Secondly, VW reckons a parking sensor could have been bumped and put out of alignment, which again is doubtful given how cautiously I’ve used the system.
So, let this be a warning. Automated technology like self-park systems, collision prevention and such is becoming more widespread. But place your trust in such technology at your peril.
KING OF THE (URBAN) JUNGLE
The parking incident was a blemish on an otherwise A+ scorecard for the Golf this month. Sadly, there was no free time to escape to winding roads to further acquaint myself with its sublime balance, but even stuck in the rat race, the GTI impressed. The press of a button (Sport to Comfort) transforms the Performance from a rorty, apex-hunting hot hatch into a supple and refined city cruiser that soaks up road imperfections and speed bumps with ease – no easy achievement given its big 19-inch hoops.
Click here to read the full review on the Volkswagen Golf range.
This article was originally published in Wheels August 2014.