The Volvo V40 is a great-looking car that we don't get in the U.S., but being a Volvo, one of the things that makes it look the way it does is safety. In the front end that manifests itself as a pedestrian airbag, but if Volvo gets rid of it, it may spell a big change in the way the sleek little Swede looks.
Volvo senior vice president/possible action hero Lex Kerssmakers told GoAuto that this cool bit of safety tech probably won't be used anymore. Kerssmakers says it's unlikely to be implemented on the new XC90, due next year, because it's an SUV and already has a blunt front end and a lot of cushion to absorb the impact of a person.
But the Volvo exec says that active safety measures such as pedestrian detection cameras and radars make the under-hood airbag unnecessary and not worth further development.
Does the pedestrian airbag work? According to Euro NCAP, the influential car-crashing agency that cares most about pedestrian safety, it does. In fact, when they tested the V40 it was the first car to score maximum points in protecting the dummy's head in the test simulating a car hitting a pedestrian.
A pedestrian airbag system is a complex piece, no doubt, and putting it on the cheapest Volvo as standard equipment is likely a costly proposition. It incorporates a hood that pops up upon impact and then an airbag that has to fire shortly thereafter to cushion a person's head if they wind up on the car's windshield.
But one of the reasons I really like the V40 is that it doesn't have a super blunt front end like a lot of cars these days. It's low, it's sleek, both of which are increasingly rare traits among cars these days as they have to meet stringent pedestrian safety standards.
Euro NCAP's ratings system does take into account the availability of auto braking and safety tech like that, but the pedestrian test itself does not. It's a reflection of how the car works when it hits a person, not its ability to avoid one altogether. In order for a future V40 to do as well as a current one, it's probably going to need a higher, probably uglier front end.
Of course, tests need to evolve to incorporate the active technology that's out there, but radars and cameras can't be relied on to totally stop crashes. The pedestrian airbag seemed like a solution to cover both sides of the safety equation.
Photos: Volvo Cars