I've been at this car journo gig for a fairly long time now. As journalists, we write endlessly about the features of the cars we drive, but some of them we never, ever want to test. Yesterday I tested those features. And they are phenomenal. I walked away from a horrible, violent accident in the new VW Golf GTI, an experience that I would never wish on anyone.
This was an accident in the truest sense of the word. The driver of my vehicle executed a safe manoeuvre in clear road conditions. The driver of a bakkie in a rural farming area was going about his day. He chose a bad time to U-turn – he didn't see us coming. No one wants to cause something like this. It’s an accident, plain and simple.
New VW Golf GTI put to the testThe new Volkswagen Golf GTI launch was pretty much a standard issue car launch, pair up with a driver and hit the road. The accident happened after lunch. It was in the grape growing region of the Western Cape, very rural but great roads and great visibility.
We weren't pushing hard, genuinely around the speed limit of 120km/h. The bakkie (pick-up) was way ahead of us and crawling, if not stationary, on the left hand side of the road. My driver had a perfectly clear road ahead to overtake, and moved to the right to pass.
Closing on the bakkie, with I'd say less than 80m to go, he just U-turned. No indicator. We didn't stand a chance. My driver moved further right to try and get around the front of the bakkie, but our options very rapidly narrowed to either running into a big ditch or hitting the vehicle. If we were on anchors for 20m it was a lot.
And then the impact. It's quite possibly the most awful feeling imaginable. My mind was fairly calm but my body panicked, and for a moment I felt an awful horror, this was going to be a big one, and I was going to get hurt. Properly hurt. It shakes up a very primitive part of your brain and it’s a trauma I’d quite like to never experience again.
A very loud series of noises followed, and everything was very white. I was totally winded and in quite a bit of pain. It wasn’t a specific pain, more a total body shock. The driver asked me if I was okay, I replied yes and he immediately climbed out to go help the other driver. The sweeper car pulled up and so did the medics. Amazing efficiency and professionalism from everyone at VW. I was extremely happy to be in such calm and capable hands.
I sat in the car for about 10 minutes. My sunglasses were in the back, my iPad, which had been on my knee, had somehow become lodged between the driver’s seat-upright and the central console. I couldn’t get it out without kneeling and yanking it out. The airbags were out, a sight I never thought I’d see from where I was sitting. The windscreen was very badly cracked but intact, and I couldn't open my door.
After a few minutes I realised nothing was seriously wrong with me, which was a nice feeling to say the least. But for a few minutes I was very dazed and frightened. My chest felt very tight. As soon as I saw the bakkie driver pop out of his side window like a meerkat, chatting on his cellphone, I knew everyone was okay. I wiggled my fingers and toes and my immediate thought was, "I'm fine, but this is going to hurt tomorrow".
Excellent safety in the new VW Golf GTIThe passenger side of the car took the brunt of the impact but the passenger cell was resolute. In a 5, 8, 10 year old car, maybe I’d be writing this from hospital with a broken leg – who knows. The seatbelt pre-tensioner worked perfectly. The latest Golf can sense when an accident is about to happen, and yanks you quite forcefully into the safest position possible. I think this system could be one of the best new safety systems in the motoring world, and I hope it makes it into more and more cars.
The belt exploded into place and prevented me from moving around too much. The airbag hit me, but not very hard. This was either because of the seatbelt, or the force of the crash throwing me more sideways than forward. But your head is a very heavy object, and the G's have a lot of opportunity to swing it around. I'm really stiff now all the way down my back, but I’ll be fine.
And I am fine. My neck's a bit sore, I've got some bruising on my collarbone from the seatbelt and my shin took a little knock. But that's about it. I pretty much hopped out of a horrendous accident, where my side of the car took the majority of the impact. Every single safety system worked perfectly, and I am so happy I was in a modern car of that calibre.
Accidents are awful for everyone involved; no one wants this. But we have to get around and we have to drive something. And that incredible piece of engineering is what kept me out of hospital today.
In a weird way, I am glad I got to test arguably the most important features of any car, and the fact that I’m sitting here, enjoying a coffee and writing about it, is testament to how clever and well-engineered today’s vehicles can be.
I would like to heartily recommend that if you can, get yourself into a modern car as soon as possible. Any new car today is better at looking after you than an older car, and the tech is getting better all the time. Not only are they cleaner and more efficient, but when it really matters, they are the only thing standing between you and potentially permanent injury.
This is a story that needs to be told, these are images that I hope will remind everyone who ever uses a road that accidents do happen, and to please be very careful.