We recently took delivery of our new 2013 Subaru Outback, with some improvements over the previous 2010 model we tested. One is Subaru's new EyeSight system. This pro-active safety system uses a pair of cameras over the rearview mirror to know when to stop the car, if the driver isn't paying attention. We had a chance to try this and several other EyeSight features in a brief demonstration Subaru recently set up at our test track.
The EyeSight manages adaptive cruise control, lead vehicle start alert, lane departure warning, lane swaying, pre-collision warning, and pre-collision throttle management and braking. In other words, the EyeSight system sounds an alert if the driver approaches an object in front too fast, strays outside the lane, or begins weaving inside a lane.
The EyeSight system looks like a big plastic box, with two heads peeking down from the on either side of the rearview mirror, almost like police lights—except the boxes are for cameras, not lights. The cameras detect cars and other obstacles in front of the Subaru. The system sounds a warning if the driver is approaching them too fast, and it can apply the brakes up to maximum force if the driver still doesn't respond.
Insurance industry studies have shown such forward collision warning and systems have been effective in reducing accidents. (Read: "Automatic braking and better headlights reduce accidents.")
In the demonstration, Subaru set up 12 large foam blocks with the image of a stopped Outback near the end of our track. As we approached (in Subaru's EyeSight-equipped Legacy), our driver was told to hold the speed at 20 mph and not let up on the gas. The car automatically applied the brakes in time to stop in front of the target. However, when our driver instinctively adjusted the gas, the car assumed he was paying attention and released the brakes, so we smashed into the foam Outback ahead of us.
That's the way the system is designed, so if there is an escape route to the side, for example, you can accelerate into it. The next time, our driver held the throttle steady, and the car stopped short of the target.
The automatic collision-avoidance braking can only keep you completely out of a collision if you're closing on the car or obstacle in front of you at less than 20 mph. (For example, if the car in front is going 50 mph, you can't be going more than 70 mph.) That's because it takes 2.5 seconds for the system to recognize an obstacle and brake. At higher closing speeds, the system will still apply the brakes to reduce the severity of a collision, but it can't stop the car in time.
At lower closing speeds, EyeSight also uses pre-collision throttle management. It will reduce the throttle to as little as 5 percent to encourage the driver to slow down before the pre-collision warning and pre-collision braking are needed.
EyeSight's cameras can also help in stop-and-go driving (once the driver has engaged the adaptive cruise control) by following the car ahead at one of three preset distances. The system can't be turned on below 25 mph, but once activated, it will stay on even if you fall below that speed, maintaining pace with and stopping behind the car in front when needed. When traffic restarts, it sounds an alert and requires a quick tap on either the accelerator or the cruise-control Resume switch to restart, Subaru says.
Two switches in the headliner can shut off the lane departure and lane sway system, along with the pre-collision braking system, but you have to hold down the buttons for two seconds. Holding the main cruise control switch down for two seconds engages the traditional cruise control.
Other automakers have had similar systems for several years, and we have tested several. But they tend to be bundled into expensive technology or safety packages on pricey luxury cars. EyeSight is a standalone option on Outback and Legacy models that costs $1,295. One thing it lacks is side blind-spot detection, which typically illuminates a light by the appropriate side mirror if it detects an obstacle to the side.
As our 2013 Outback continues to make its way through our testing process, we'll continue to report on EyeSight's effectiveness. And we'll continue to refine our testing procedures to sort the better collision mitigation systems from the also-rans.
See how we're evaluating anti-collision systems in the video below.