Wednesday 7 December 2016

Opel Mokka X: 'The biggest advance of voice control is the safety it affords us at the wheel'

Mokka X's voice command impresses

Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30

Safety at the wheel: Opel MOKKA
Safety at the wheel: Opel MOKKA

I overtook the Hyundai on the motorway near Enfield at about 110kmph. The driver had his head down, one hand on the wheel. He was totally engrossed in talking down to a phone in his other hand, which rested on his right thigh. I happened to be on the phone, too. Only I had both hands on the wheel and was aware of what was going on around me.

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I'm using the little episode to make a point, not show off. The point is: there is absolutely no excuse nowadays (there never was, really) for texting or talking on the phone at the wheel. The technology has been there for a long time, we know, but increasingly now you don't even have to shift a hand from the wheel to make a call. You can, with your thumb or finger, press a little button on the wheel and tell the system who you want to talk to (as well as other things such as setting a route, picking your favourite songs, etc).

'Voice control' or 'command' is not new by any means, but I'm highlighting it this week because several systems have improved so much lately.

The one (IntelliLink) in this week's test car, the revised Opel Mokka X, is as good as I've come across in its price bracket (see panel). For the phone, that is. It's not as good as the Ford SYNC 3 system on navigation or giving you a list of nearby places to eat. Nonetheless, the important thing for now is the utter simplicity of calling someone safely and non-distractedly by just saying 'phone' and adding the person's name.

I've given it a great try-out. I started with the simple, distinct names and quickly progressed to the complicated ones. I picked a few that had previous systems doing loop-the-loops, offering to dredge names from the altar list of the dead or others who, if they answered, would need a two-minute debriefing to remember me. The real test came with the double-barrelled moniker, complete with brackets, of a great friend. "Howya Ed," came the reply within a few seconds of me approving the call be made. Convincing evidence that Opel has cracked it. If it works for me...

All of this underlines why, with Bluetooth, hands-free and voice control, none of us - absolutely none - has any excuse for putting lives at risk by daring to phone-and-drive in a modern car. Okay?

It was good to be able to concentrate on such matters because they're central to wider revisions of the Mokka. For a start (I understand the motive but smirk at the outcome), Opel is now calling it the Mokka 'X', with the added letter proclaiming its refreshed presence among the crossover ranks.

Big deal, you might think, but trust me, in the crazy world of SUV/crossover mania manufacturers need every help they can muster to make sure they are seen and heard among the pack.

Opel has also beefed the Mokka X up a bit to look more, well, more 'crossover'. And with all-wheel-drive, it can claim 'SUV' status (most options are front-wheel-drive). God be with the days when a SUV looked like a tank on tyres; when petrol engines guzzled gas and diesels throbbed like an all-night disco.

Opel has overhauled the inside a bit, too. It was in need of a lick of modernity. Importantly, they have improved the way the instruments display, and use, information on the seven-inch colour touchscreen. Opel got it right. You press a button (or tell it what to do) and you get a result.

Different bits of the IntelliLink infotainment system come in at certain trim levels so check what you are getting. The version I had included phone integration - via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. And you can have Opel's Onstar 24/7 system. This links you to a helper who, among other things, can call emergency services. The other benefit is it makes the car a Wi-Fi 'hotspot on the move'. Just check what comes with what trim/price.

There is nothing madly exciting to report in terms of drive. I had the 1.6-litre diesel (136bhp, 6spd manual) with all-wheel drive. But I can't say the car is designed to do anything other than be smarter to look at, offer reasonable room (not more), and conduct itself predictably.

It is not a head-turner like the love-or-hate Nissan Juke; or as smart looking as the Renault Captur. Neither is the handling/ride class-leading by any means. It's reasonably comfortable and roomy, no more, and a fair-sized boot.

Above all, though, it has that interactive infotainment system that does what it is told. It is a reminder that, while designers and engineers scramble to outdo each other, the real revolution - in on-board technology - is transforming how our cars can serve us. And with voice control, the biggest advance is the safety it affords us at the wheel and on the phone.

Facts & figures

Opel Mokka X compact crossover, 1.6 diesel, AWD; 136bhp, 4.7litres/100km, 124g/km, €270 tax. Prices from €21,495 (1.6 petrol). Diesels from €26,295 (AWD from €27,795). Elite spec tested: €30,245.

Standard spec (S) includes cruise control, air con, Bluetooth, digital radio. SC trim adds Opel OnStar, IntelliLink system (Wi-Fi hotspot), 7ins touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, 17ins alloys. Elite AWD: descent control, leather front sport seats, auto lights.

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