Subaru joins the assisted-driving wave
25 Oct 2015 - 17:49
By Warren Brown
WASHINGTON: The idea is to prevent the unexpected from becoming the tragically final.
That is the real story behind the outburst of acronyms characterizing the technology of the 2016 Subaru Forester 2XT Touring and hundreds of other new cars and trucks.
After decades of pretending that safety does not matter, that more horsepower is always better, that the only real driving concern is finding an empty road on which to “take corners,” the automobile industry is tired of killing people - or, at least, of helping to speed them to their deaths.
That sounds harsh, I know. But I’ve spent the past two years looking at developments in the global automobile industry, and the conclusion is unmistakable.
Elmar Degenhart, chairman of the executive board at the Germany auto-parts giant Continental, bluntly put it this way in a talk last month at the Frankfurt Motor Show: “Zero accidents are no longer a utopia.”
Continental and numerous other industry suppliers, as well as original-equipment manufacturers such as Subaru, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and South Korea’s Hyundai, are pouring billions of dollar equivalents into technology now largely marketed under the rubrics “driver-assistance systems” and “advanced driver-assistance systems” (DAS and ADAS).
“The key to zero accidents is assisted driving,” Degenhart said. He said his company believes the steady development of assisted-driving technologies, already found in numerous cars and trucks sold in the United States, eventually will lead to autonomous vehicles, operated without human steering input.
The 2016 Forester is a long way from that, as are most new vehicles currently available in this market. But the Forester 2XT and many of its siblings offer valuable technical insights.
The acronyms help tell the story: ABC (active body control), AEB (autonomous emergency braking), LDW (lane-departure warning) but no BSD (blind-spot detection)! And ESC (electronic stability control), and FCW (forward collision warning) - the list goes on.
Researchers at the Boston Consulting Group, a transportation-safety study firm, say the development of driver-assistance technologies since 1984, a year marking the mass marketing of ABS - anti-lock braking systems, which help prevent skids - is preventing 10,000 US traffic fatalities annually. That is no small thing, considering historical US averages of deaths 40,000 a year.
Worldwide, according to World Health Organization estimates, 1.2 million people a year die in traffic crashes.
Substantially reducing or completely eliminating that number, as opposed to taking the task or joy of driving from the driver, is the primary objective of the kind of driver-assistance technology I sampled in the Forester 2XT, according to Degenhart and other proponents of the new technology.
I did not feel cheated. Nor was I lulled into the kind of inattentiveness that could lead to accidents, regardless of a car’s crash-prevention/mitigation equipment. But there is something good to be said of technology that monitors your driving behaviour, or signals that a diver in front of you has inexplicably hit the brakes, or that relieves the stress of backing out of a driveway onto a street that your fellow motorists are using as a racetrack.
Speed demons won’t appreciate the Forester 2XT’s turbocharged (forced air) 2-litre flat four-cylinder petrol engine (250 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque). The base 2.5-litre petrol four offers 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque - not exactly the stuff of high-performance legend. No matter. The Forester 2XT is an all-wheel-drive family hauler. All I care is that it gets me and mine to where we are going as safely and comfortably as possible at an affordable fuel cost. The 2016 model does that.
Nuts & Bolts
Bottom line: The Forester is among my favorite family haulers - one of the best and most affordable all-wheel-drive vehicles in the business, equipped with a reasonably efficient and powerful petrol engine, comfortable on long highway runs and almost affordable ($36,040) equipped with an advanced driver-assistance system.
Ride, acceleration and handling: It gets good marks - meaning easily satisfactory for most of us - in all three areas.
Head-turning quotient: It is conservative with some minor cosmetic spiffs (lower front fascia) for 2016. Not a styling statement.
Body style/layout: The Forester is a compact, front-engine, all-wheel-drive family wagon/crossover-utility vehicle offered in six trim levels - 2.5i. 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 2XT Premium and 2XT Touring.
Engine/transmission: The 2XT Touring comes standard with a turbocharged flat 2-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder gasoline engine with variable valve timing, linked to a continuously variable automatic transmission.
Capacities: There is seating for five people. Maximum cargo capacity is 74.7 cubic feet. But don’t try to tow much: The maximum pulling weight is 1,500 pounds. The fuel tank holds 15.9 gallons (regular grade is okay, but premium is recommended for best performance).
Mileage: I averaged 26 miles per gallon with the turbo four.
Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear), four-wheel anti-lock brakes, emergency braking assistance, stability and traction control, post-collision safety system, and side and head air bags.
Pricing (in US): The 2016 Forester 2XT starts at $33,795. Price as tested is $36,040, including $1,395 in onboard navigation with rearview backup camera and other advanced electronic safety options.
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