When a press release announcing more details about the new Mk8 Volkswagen Golf GTI lobbed into my inbox recently, among its many pages of techno-jargon about differential locks and damping systems was the mention of a new vehicle-to-everything communication system being fitted to it, and indeed all new Golfs, known in Volkswagen-speak as Car2X.

While vehicle-to-everything communications, also often abbreviated simply to V2X, isn’t exactly something new – I wrote an article about it nearly three years ago as an intern at Wheels, while the systems that form V2X were being researched and developed since early last decade – it’s something I, and I’m sure many others, may have had lapse from our memory as it’s been some time since there was any real talk of them.

And so, with a new decade on our hands and a mainstream world car set to go on sale that features such a system, it seemed a good time to go back over what V2X is, how it works, and what relevance its implementation in the new Golf bears on you as a driver and the rest of the market in general.

So, what is V2X exactly?

Vehicle-to-everything systems are essentially a combination of two other vehicular communication systems – vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I).

In the case of the former, it involves cars ‘talking’ to each other, while the latter system involves cars communicating with things such as traffic lights, buildings, and so on.

Of course, the talking V2X-equipped cars will do isn’t in the way a 1980s Chrysler K-car would talk if equipped with the optional electronic voice alert system as that would only talk to the driver. Instead, the talking is between the cars themselves, allowing them to automatically communicate information they learn from the environment around them.

Say you’re driving a car with V2X such as the new Golf and you encounter a broken down car on the side of the road, or you have to make an emergency stop for whatever reason. The car, recognising this, will then send out an alert to other cars in the vicinity that also have a V2X system, and a message will flash up on the dashboard to alert the drivers of other cars of what’s coming up, and how far away it is.

Furthermore, emergency services vehicles equipped with V2X capability can also automatically alert drivers of their approach from behind or positioning ahead, allowing drivers to move over safely and promptly.

However, that’s only the V2V element of this two-part system, as V2X also includes V2I functionality – something previewed by Audi’s Traffic Light Information system back in 2016. This involves the infrastructure around you talking to your car to alert you of things such as the timing of traffic lights – allowing you to adjust your speed to sail through green lights rather than getting stuck at a red – as well as pedestrian and cyclist activity at intersections based off information collected by sensors were they to be mounted at them.

Okay, so that’s what it does, but how does it actually work?

Brace yourself, because things are about to get nerdy. All V2X-equipped vehicles will be fitted with a wireless local area network (WLAN) transmitter that uses a standardised language to enable communication between cars of all makes, and infrastructure in any location.

In the case of Volkswagen’s Car2X, the first system of its kind fitted to a production car by a European manufacturer, it’s based on the Wi-Fi p wireless standard, known officially as ITS-G5. Developed specifically for spontaneous, local communication between vehicles, it operates without the need for a connection to a 5G mobile phone network.

Model: Fabio Arena and Giovanni Pau, licensed under CC BY 4.0

Volkswagen developer Thomas Biehle, speaking of the standardised system, notes that, “Consequently, it works across EU countries and provides blanket coverage within the limits of the system.

“Vehicles equipped with the associated hardware modules – in our examples this also includes the emergency services vehicle – directly exchange positioning data and information using Wi-Fi p.

“This is potentially possible within a radius of up to 800 metres and within a matter of milliseconds. The data is not saved anywhere and thus data privacy is maintained.”

Sounds… interesting… but how effective will it be in these early days, and what will be the benefits?

With the new Golf soon to be the very first car to launch in Europe with V2X compatibility, perhaps not that effective initially, at least. At this stage, only brand new Golfs will be able to communicate information between each other, while just two major junctions in Wolfsburg, Germany, have been permanently fitted with sensors to feed information to cars and their drivers.

However, this early adoption does give future Mk8 Golf owners a benefit going forward as, should V2X technology begin to become more widely adopted and enabled, these 2020 model cars will be compatible with some of the most advanced driver safety tech yet for some time to come.

Now, it should be noted that a big part of this technology is that when vehicles with higher levels of autonomy come to market, should they ever, V2X communications will provide them with a lot of information they will require to make decisions. But even with humans still required to do the driving themselves, it does have a great bearing on driver safety.

The importance of it can’t be understated if independent European safety bodies are to be believed. Euro NCAP, which gave the traffic hazard alert function of Volkswagen’s Car2X system an Advanced Award, has had its Secretary General Michiel van Ratingen go on record as saying, “This is an exciting area of safety. Volkswagen are to be congratulated for making the technology standard in vehicles selling in high volumes, like the Golf.”

German automobile association ADAC, which has also independently tested the system, described it as a “technological milestone” after it passed eight tests it put it through, including detecting a broken down car positioned behind a tight corner at 100km/h from 300 metres away, and detecting a trailer indicating a blocked carriageway as part of roadworks and a strongly braking vehicle ahead, among others.

Moving forwards, machine learning and swarm intelligence will be necessary for the development and improvement of the system’s effectiveness, which is why it’s not only important that a mainstream manufacturer such as Volkswagen is adopting the technology early, and rolling it out on such a large scale in one of its most popular and affordable models. With more vehicles and more infrastructure able to communicate more information between each other, it means a greater number of drivers will be better prepared for incidents.

Of course, fitting Car2X to other models in Volkswagen’s lineup beyond the Golf is part of the plan – dare I speculate to say that other Volkswagen Group marques may be among the first to also boast the system? – and Volkswagen itself is keen to point out that other manufacturers across the globe are working on their own systems, too.

Cadillac, for instance, was the first marque to fit a limited range of V2V communication functions to a car with the CTS back in 2017, and plans to have its own full V2X system fitted to a “high-volume crossover by 2023 and eventually expand the technology across Cadillac’s portfolio.”

Worth noting, also, is that the technology is being touted as important not just for safety, but for the environment, too.

Platooning is being explored as a further use case for V2X technology – commercial vehicles could be directed to form convoys on motorways to provide one another with a slipstream and thus save fuel.

It’s an interesting future technology – it might now be here today, well, at least later in the year when the new Golf goes on sale, but it will take time for the system to truly become effective – and could well prove to be as revolutionary as Euro NCAP and ADAC proclaim it could be.

For now though, it’s good to see it starting to be adopted – if it does take off, it means that not only will a great number of cars be future-proofed but the system will begin learning and improving sooner, and this upcoming implementation may encourage more manufacturers to begin and continue exploring it.