Thursday, December 13, 2012

Subaru’s Eyesight system furthers its reputation as safety leader — TECH TIME AUTO REVIEW

Among the various automakers, one of the most well-known for its safety features is Subaru.
A regular among the list of top safety picks, the company is not resting on its laurels, and has now added an extra layer of safety to some of its vehicles with the new Eyesight system, which I got to test out on a 2013 Subaru Legacy.

What is Eyesight?
The Eyesight system, which began being used in Japan in 2007 Subaru models, in Australia in 2012 models, and now has come to the U.S. in 2013 models. It’s currently only available as part an optional package on Subaru’s top trim level of the Outback and Legacy (the package also includes a moonroof and a navigation system), but there are plans to eventually make it available on all Subaru models.
So what exactly is it? In short, it’s a system that helps see what’s going on around the car and protect you in the case that something bad is about to happen.
Dave Sullivan, cross car line planning manager for Subaru of America, explained it in more detail.
“It’s a pair of cameras, a processing unit and it’s networked into all major car subsystems like steering wheel ABS brakes, throttle, etc. It will affect how the car reacts to vehicle dynamics control and it has a self-braking feature,” he said. “The cameras work very much like your eyes. Both are up on the windshield header, on either side of the rearview mirror inside the car. They compare each other’s images. The further apart or closer the images are dictate the distance between you and the next vehicle. It’s how you eyes work”
Eyesight involves several different functions, which I’ll get into in detail here.

This is perhaps one of the more critical functions of Eyesight. Sullivan said that in certain circumstances, vehicles with Eyesight, “will apply brakes or decrease throttle to avoid a collision”
“It depends on the situation and the speed differential. If you’re on the road in a residential street and someone turns suddenly in front of you going 30 mph, Eyesight is already monitoring the vehicle in front of you. After it detects a decrease in distance, first it warns you with a noise, then you get a visual warning on the cluster. Then it goes into light braking if you do nothing. And if you still do nothing, it will go into full braking,” Sullivan explained. “If you’re really not paying attention, as long as the speed differential between the two objects is within 20 mph, you have enough time to be warned and slow down to avoid the collision.”
A companion feature to this is Pre-Collision Brake Assist, which will help provide additional braking if you hit the brakes but not hard enough to stop in time to avoid a collision.
Nobody wants to be in a situation where you would have to use this feature of Eyesight, but if that kind of situation does arrive, it’s helpful to know that these safeguards are in place.

Adaptive Cruise Control
Another aspect of Eyesight is the Adaptive Cruise Control, which uses the cameras to sense how far cars are in front of you while you are in cruise control and keep you a steady distance away. Even if cars move into your lane while using cruise control, the adaptive cruise control will automatically slow down the car and maintain the same pace behind the new car ahead of you.
Of course, if you move over to a new lane to avoid the new traffic in front of you, the vehicle will re-accelerate to the set cruising speed..
You have three distance settings to choose from -- close, mid and far.

Pre-Collision Throttle Management
Similar to the braking help you get from Eyesight, this feature kicks in when the car in front of you starts and suddenly stops and you might not see the stop coming. Eyesight will give you warning and cut the throttle some if it sees you’re going regardless of the obstacle stopped ahead. Hopefully, the warning will give you enough time to stop the car and avoid the accident. Again, you never want to use this, but it’s nice to have on board as a backup.

Lane Departure Warning and Lane Sway Warning
Lane Departure Warning was the feature I think most drivers will get the most daily use out of on the 2013 Subaru Legacy and Outback models.
You’ll get a verbal warning and a warning on the screen in front of you when you depart your driving lane. It can be shut off if you’re about to enter a construction zone or other area where lines might have to be crossed, but for the most part you’ll want to keep it on. It’s quite sensitive, maybe too sensitive for some people’s tastes, but I was amazed how often I was leaving my lane. It made me focus more on staying where I belonged on the road.
As long as you use your turn signals, the warning won’t sound when you switch lanes, but if you forget your signal, you will get the warning. The volume level of the warning can also be adjusted.
Lane Sway Warning is another feature that could potential save lives. It looks for a pattern over several minutes of erratic weaving between lane lines, which could indicates sleepiness or that you’re driving under the influence and need to pull over. It will warn you if it sees that pattern, and hopefully you’ll take the advice and pull over if you are weaving through traffic erratically..

Another neat feature was Lead Vehicle Start Alert.
This is basically to help you out if you’re not paying attention at a stop light and the car in front of you moves.
“If the car pulls away, after it moves about 3 meters if you don’t do anything, the system gives you a quick beep and say that the vehicle has moved. It’s intended to give you a warning to go,” Sullivan said.
If nothing else, this will prevent you from getting beeped at by a bunch of people behind you.
Sullivan said that the Eyesight system as a whole is just an additional layer of security that makes your ride in a Subaru that much safer.
“It’s an additional layer of safety. And you can turn it off if you’re going offroading, etc., so it’s got some flexibility. It’s the attraction of having another set of eyes always scanning the road ahead of you in case you get distracted,” he said. “It’s always good to have that extra layer of safety. And we have had a couple of people who have written us letters and cited examples of how this system has really saved them.”

The only aspect that was left off the Eyesight system, but can be found on other vehicles, is blind spot warning, which would have been a nice addition.

Non-Eyesight tech features
Eyesight is not the only tech feature you’ll get on the newest Subaru models, and they keep up pretty well on the overall tech front.
You get voice controls of navigation, can connect your phone via Bluetooth to make calls and listen to music. There’s some limited voice control of your music, but the physical knobs must be used for most radio control, as well as climate control.

Another safety feature that’s in line with other automakers is the bevy of controls on the steering wheel, so you don’t need to reach for controls.
There’s control of the info screen in the dash with your mpg and other info, cruise control buttons, following distance setting, the voice commands button, music source button, volume buttons.. And with some phones, you can fast-forward and rewind songs playing via Bluetooth.

The 2013 Legacy gets 27 mpg total (24 city, 32 highway). This is decent, but not spectacular.

The Legacy, like most new Subaru models, features both a USB connection and an AUX jack for other audio sources. One helpful use of the USB port is you can charge your phone while driving.
As far as music sources, you also have the AM/FM radio, plus satellite radio (optional on most models, standard on top trim level). First four months of satellite come free, then you have to pay to continue the service. There is also a CD player, and you can stream music from your phone via Bluetooth.
The Legacy and all new Subaru models (other than Tribeca) features a special tie-in with Apple phones -- iOs control functionality in the head unit. Basically, that means that if you plug in your iPod to the USB,  you can control it on the screen.

The rear camera on the Legacy is separate from the Eyesight system.
If you opt for the navigation system, you’ll get a rear camera that’s very helpful when you’re backing up. You do not have to get Eyesight to get this rear camera.
There’s a slightly different bundling on the Subaru Outback, as the rear camera is paired with the moonroof.

One area where the Subaru lineup falls short is in emergency help, as there is no OnStar-style system to automatically send help in the event of an accident.

The map information for the Legacy is stored on an SD card, which can be updated at a website online. Every six months of so, you can pull the card out, go to your laptop and download map updates from a website, then put the card back in your vehicle.
There are no real cloud-based elements in the Subaru lineup as of now, but some cloud-elements are planned for future models.

Going under the hood, you’ll find the 2013 Legacy features a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine, which was quite capable and produces 173 horsepower.

I love music, so i like a nice sound system. That was definitely the case in the vehicle I tested, as the very loud and crisp 440-watt 9-speaker harman/kardon Premium Audio System did not disappoint. This is standard only on the top trim level for the Legacy.
Lover levels of the Legacy will feature fewer speakers, less wattage.

The Legacy I tested was the top trim level -- Limited -- and will cost you $30,677 (including destination charge). That’s the base price plus the Navigation/moonroof/Eyesight package.
If you want the base version of the Legacy, minus Eyesight and other features, the starting price is a reasonable $20,954 (plus destination) in the very competitive midsize sedan segment (Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, etc.). You’ll have some sacrifices (cloth seats, 4 speakers, etc.), but the price reflects those downgrades.
In the middle there is the Premium category, which starts at $22,495 plus destination. You still have cloth, but upgrade to 6 speakers, power drivers seat, leather on steering wheel and shifter, 17 inch alloy wheels
The Limited model, which I tested, adds leather seats, the premium 9-speaker sound system, auto climate control, power passenger seat, heated seats, fog lamps, different interior trim, rear A/C ducts.
The $3,940 package featuring the moonroof, NAV and Eyesight can only be added to Limited for now, but later will come to other cars.
“It was first offered to those most interested in tech, which are mostly Limited buyers,” Sullivan explained. “Because it’s a safety system, it will cascade down lineup quickly.”

The size on the Legacy is kind of a middle ground between smaller cars and SUVs/crossovers, so the target audience kind of reflects that.
“This is the heart of the U.S. market; middle-aged, male-skewed, engineer, teacher, middle manager,” Sullivan said “Someone with family that wants room in back seat but still wants an engaging drive. Ultra-reliable, pragmatic purchase for somebody that will fit people but be great for commuting.”

‘Next level of safety’
As far as what Eyesight adds to the mix, Sullivan said: “All Subaru cars are extremely safe. We take a lot of pride in that we have multiple years of top safety picks across the portfolio. This is the next level of safety. Our customers are very attuned to driving a safe car. We’re trying to use technology to push that envelope.”

In my time with the 2013 Legacy, I was impressed with what Subaru has done with this Eyesight system. it’s not perfect, with the lack of blind spot warning, but the features it does have could be very helpful in protecting drivers and even saving their lives. I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes its way to more Subaru models in a very quick fashion.
Some may find the lane departure warning to be a bit too sensitive, but its settings are adjustable and I found it helpful. Overall, the Eyesight system will be very helpful in keeping your Subaru vehicle, and you the driver, in one piece. Combined with the other tech features in the Legacy, Subaru’s 2013 Legacy is an impressive offering from a technology standpoint, and as an overall vehicle.

Matt Myftiu can be reached at

On the Web

For more information on the the Eyesight system or the Suburu Legacy, visit


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