Volvo has confirmed that all of its 2021 model-year cars will be restricted to 112mph. Yes even a 390PS, 640Nm top of the range XC90 that yesterday could have topped out at 143mph (itself a restricted speed) will now be able to storm the autobahns at no greater velocity than a mid-range Nissan Micra.
“We believe that a car maker has a responsibility to help improve traffic safety,” says Malin Ekholm, head of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre where so much of the automotive safety we now take for granted was developed.
Along with the 112mph limit, Volvo is fitting its cars with a Care Key which allows the owner to set even lower speed limits for young or inexperienced drivers. Both steps are part of Volvo’s long-held quest for a world where no one ever dies in a Volvo.
“The speed cap and Care Key help people reflect and realise that speeding is dangerous, while also providing extra peace of mind and supporting better driver behaviour,” adds Ekholm.
Volvo accepts that its decision is controversial and that some observers have questioned the rights of car makers to impose such limitations. But it says it has an obligation to take action that can ultimately save lives “even if this means losing potential customers”.
Is Volvo’s move really so controversial? Limiting speeds is hardly new after all. A generation has grown up believing their decently-powerful BMW, Mercedes or Audi could only ever do a max of 155mph. That speed has been virtually enshrined for decades, following the German big three’s “gentleman’s agreement” to limit top speeds in the late 1980s.
Motorcycles – we are talking to you, Suzuki Hayabusa – got so fast 20 years ago that manufacturers agreed a voluntary speed limit (it was 300 clicks, or 186mph, though…).
With a few exceptions, most cars on sale today are restricted to one speed or another – reasons might include tyre compatibility, insurance requirements, corporate CO2 averages or, as in Volvo’s case, its view that speeding kills.
Limiting top whack is definitely part of the zeitgeist, arguably more so than a 250mph McLaren Speedtail or a 300mph Bugatti Chiron. When the Chiron became the first production car to hit 300mph last year hardly anyone noticed.
Over the decades, top speed has always sold cars, though maybe not Volvos; in that respect the company has less to lose than others. And 112mph is still 42mph over the motorway limit in this country after all.
The latest battery electric cars too are, quietly, getting us used to new lower top speeds, not because they do not have the power to go faster but because doing so runs their batteries down at an exponentially greater rate. A big range sells electric cars, not a big top speed.
Again, 112mph (Mercedes and others) is the new normal – it is already a common restricted speed in Japan – while some, like Jaguar and Audi, agree on 124mph (200km/h) for their electric machines. Others are restricted to much lower terminal velocities; the new Mini Electric has a Cooper S-like 0-62 time of 6.8 seconds but is all through at a Mini diesel-like 93mph.
Are we bothered? We all know that top speeds are largely theoretical, certainly in this country. But, as enthusiasts, we equally know a nice big number is a good thing to have… and, on odd occasions where legal and safe, a wondrous thing to be able to use. Driving a Volvo down the autobahn at 112mph will not feature on anyone’s bucket list; seeing the far side of 200mph in a McLaren Speedtail certainly will.
There aren’t many places in the world you can do that, legally and safely, but they do exist and ironically those in Germany still exist because that 155mph limit was brought in all those years ago. Without that “gentleman’s agreement” it is possible all autobahns would have speed limits today.
In any event it is possible Volvo’s toe-in-the-water will soon have ripples for us all, with a provisional EU law requiring mandatory speed limiters on all cars by 2022 (along with emergency autonomous braking). If approved, it will be physically impossible to drive faster than the speed limit and thus more academic than ever that a car can double it. Reports suggest the UK will mirror EU safety standards despite Brexit.
Who knows, one day the only place to immerse yourself in speed may be at the Goodwood festival that was created to honour it. Thankfully there are no such limits coming for the Festival of Speed…