To be perfectly candid, to get enthusiastic about test drive featuring the latest in automotive technology -particularly one that focuses on safety- is like being excited about sliced bread.
That was the thought on my mind while I was behind the wheel of one Subaru model after another -all of them equipped with something called EyeSight- as we embarked on what is essentially the most boring test drive ever.
I know what you’re thinking too: Subarus aren’t supposed to be boring. Machines from this brand are supposed to evoke motorsport-levels of performance right out of the box, harkening back to the days when they were painted WR Blue and had gold wheels as they slipped and slid towards to the end of a far and away rally stage.
But just because we can’t highlight the performance of these Subarus on this test course -all while aircraft on final approach to Singapore’s Changi airport roared overhead- that doesn’t make it any less important for safety.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
The no-frills way to understand EyeSight is through its four key functions designed, engineered, and tested to enhance overall safety. All four of these we will experience first hand within a parking lot (converted to a makeshift test course) on the southeastern tip of Singapore.
The first key feature is called Pre-Collision Braking. When the car detects that there is a possibility for a frontal accident like when the vehicle ahead suddenly slows down or a pedestrian (or jaywalker, as often the case may be) crosses the street without looking, the system will warn the driver. If it detects no reaction from the driver (i.e. not stepping on the brake), then EyeSight will do it for him or her in order to either minimize the impact or avoid the crash completely. And it won't hesitate to apply the full braking power of the Subaru you're driving; if you're drinking a lidless hot cup of coffee (you really shouldn't be doing that) you won't like it very much.
The second is something called Pre-Collision Throttle Management. Imagine you're parked with your car facing a wall. Sometimes through inattentiveness in the moment (like when that lady friend you've been pining over suddenly likes your Facebook post) drivers can end up putting the transmission into the wrong gear like D instead of R. In that case, EyeSight will automatically limit the throttle to prevent you from driving over the parking chocks and through a wall or worse, a store front with people inside. The limiter lasts for four seconds, long enough for the driver to recognize the error and get off the gas. Believe me, we tested this again and again.
Third on EyeSight's list is Lane Keep Assist and Sway Warning. The name itself is self-explanatory: EyeSight gives the driver a warning if it detects that, through inattentiveness, the car is drifting from the lane without activating any of the turn signals. The warnings are comprised of beeps and warning lights; meaning it will flash on the screen in the gauge cluster. This feature is seen on other vehicles from other makes, though EyeSight's version does not tug at the steering wheel like others.
Lastly, there's the Adaptive Cruise Control. Like any cruise control system, the one that's coupled with EyeSight is very convenient for highway driving; you just set the speed and go. But it goes several notches further because the “adaptive” moniker means that the cruise control will try to maintain a speed that the driver selects, but will slow down as it will prioritize a safe distance to the car ahead; again, the driver can also adjust the distance. More than that, EyeSight's version of ACC allows it to come to a full stop if the car ahead does, and can resume once traffic moves. The application of this is especially neat, particularly in our urban traffic. The feature even advises the driver if the car in front has started moving again, meaning the car behind won't have enough time (hopefully) to annoyingly blow the horn.
Those features that we listed and tried out all work, and they work very well. But we've seen most of them from other car companies before; Honda has their Sensing technology while Nissan has ProPilot, just to name a few.
What sets Subaru's EyeSight apart is in their approach to achieving the capability. As the name implies, EyeSight does involve “eyes”; there are two cameras that flank the rearview mirrors, giving the system its vision. Yes, EyeSight effectively has 20/20 vision at all times. And in color.
Like the Terminator, EyeSight really does see everything, so long as the visibility (i.e. fog, heavy rain) isn't too bad or if you don't turn it off. The benefits are clear; it's like having a driving instructor in the car with you that isn't so intrusive, but will not hesitate to step in if it's really necessary to prevent a crash or, at the very least, reduce the actual impact.
Subaru, however, is very careful not to call EyeSight as an autonomous driving system, even though some of its features can actually be classified as autonomy, albeit in part.
We clarified this with one of their executives who visited the EyeSight launch event in Singapore, and he reiterated what they believed EyeSight is.
“We call our EyeSight as a Driving Assist System. We never called it [an] autonomous driving system. That's the key point, ” said Mr. Jinya Shoji, Corporate Vice President and Chief General Manager of Subaru's Global Marketing Division.
He did, however, relent that EyeSight does have functions that fall under the definition of autonomous driving by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). “There is an SAE autonomous driving classification,” continued Mr. Shoji. “EyeSight gives you level 2 function, but if you drive it you may feel [that] this function gives you level 3 as well.”
The executive from Subaru Corporation then continued on the thought of whether the company should pursue EyeSight and develop it to become autonomous technology.
“We like to deliver driving fun and enthusiastic feeling to customers through our Subaru products. If we make it autonomous, it's going to be boring. Very boring. Actually we already have some technology inside the company, and we had a test drive. You have nothing to do. It communicated with the 'cloud' and got everything, the information. And you just sit there.”
“I strongly disagree that [autonomous driving] will be a benefit for our customers if we deliver that product under the Subaru brand,” continued Mr. Shoji. “Subaru needs to be fun. Subaru has to stay exciting. We are not so excited about autonomous driving to be honest.”
MORE THAN A PARLOR TRICK
EyeSight, as a package, cannot be retrofitted to existing Subarus, but will be available with several of their models from here on out. The Legacy, the Outback, the Impreza, and the XV will have the technology available. Even the WRX CVT can have it, though Subaru says they still have to figure out a way to make it work for manual gearbox models like the BRZ, WRX, and the STI. According to Glenn Tan, the Managing Director of Motor Image parent company Tan Chong, says that overall, a Subaru with EyeSight would cost about USD 2000 (around PhP 100,000) more than a non-EyeSight model.
The goal for Subaru in launching this technology to their markets, particularly Asia, is interesting: EyeSight is intended to improve vehicle safety through technology. It's a geeky approach but it works; it just has to get over the hump and transcend being a mere parlor trick when you show off your new Subaru to your friends and family, to something you know you will truly depend on, especially when you didn't know you needed it.
Some will contend that technologies like EyeSight won't work in South East Asia, particularly in our archipelago where road markings are (sometimes) non-existent and driving rules are considered mere suggestions. But given that wild wild west (or east?) approach to motoring in the Philippines, technology can provide one additional solution safety to the many that we know are already needed, but don't (or can't?) act on. It's a pinprick in the big picture, but every single one counts.
That's the goal of Subaru really; this is their “little” solution to try and achieve zero road accidents. No, they can't do it alone; no single company, government, NGO, or other entity can accomplish that perfect world where zero accidents happen, not when the human factor is very inconsistent, unreliable, but necessary. Through things like EyeSight, however, Subaru hopes to skew the odds just that little bit more in our favor.
And with technologies like this starting to become mainstream with other manufacturers as well, I have a feeling it could be just as revolutionary for motoring safety as a pre-sliced loaf of bread from the supermarket is for breakfast, even though they aren't particularly exciting.
Not one little bit.