While features like Adaptive Cruise Control originated on high-end vehicles, the trickle-down effect of high-tech features on automobiles is only growing. Subaru, which recently rolled out its EyeSight safety system on the 2013 Legacy and Outback, promises to offer it on every Subaru model in the future. To see if the system is all talk or pitch-perfect, we gave it a quick shakedown.
The only visual cue that a Subaru is equipped with EyeSight is a slightly bulky apparatus that sits behind the map lights. Unlike some adaptive cruise control or automatic braking systems that use ultrasonic sensors, EyeSight uses two black-and-white cameras, which are mounted on either side of the rear-view mirror.
The camera setup is stereophonic--that is, they create a running "left" and "right" video feed, which a computer stitches together to determine depth, much like our own brains. EyeSight is capable of identifying objects in a vehicle’s pathup to 87 yards away, and since it doesn't use radar, it’s also capable of detecting non-metal objects, like people or animals. The only downside of not having radar is that the system's latency -- the time it takes to detect a possible obstacle and react accordingly -- is between two and 2.5 seconds. Subaru promises that future versions of EyeSight will decrease that lag as processor speeds climb and algorithms improve.
With that small caveat in mind, the camera setup allows Subaru to program in over half-a-dozen safety systems based upon the cameras’ data. EyeSight provides camera-based adaptive cruise control, pre-collision brake assist and automatic braking, pre-collision throttle override, and lane departure warning and lane sway warnings using just the cameras.
We were only able to test EyeSight's pre-collision warning and braking systems, but learned that the other systems work just like those we've already used: adaptive cruise control replaces ultrasonic sensors with two cameras to maintain a safe following distance and follow cars in front to a complete stop, and the lane departure warning uses the cameras to read lines and warn when the car exits a lane without signaling. Lane sway control works like LDW, but doesn't wait until you've already left your lane to warn that you're swaying.
As for the pre-collision system, we tried a production-spec 2013 Legacy 2.5 Limited with EyeSight and came away impressed. As we traveled towards a foam barrier (painted with a photo of an Outback wagon) at 20 mph with no intention of stopping, the system first silently detected the obstruction, then chirped and showed a warning message on the color multi-function display. After that, the car took over braking and applied light pressure, then applied full anti-lock braking force to pull us to a stop about two feet shy of the barrier. The interim "light-braking" step gives the system a smoother operation than, say, Volvo's City Safety system, but it certainly isn't as smooth as the Infiniti JX's automatic braking feature, which is less of a last-ditch safety feature and more of a driving tool.
Subaru says the system can stop cars at speeds up to 19 mph, but it performed admirably with us behind the wheel at 21 mph and with a spokesperson doing 30 mph on the same course. Above that speed, Subaru stops promising that the system can bring you to a full stop, and instead suggests EyeSight can mitigate the force of a rear-end impact.
What happened next in the Legacy is new and notable thing. We backed the car up about 20 feet, and accelerated towards the barrier again. Almost immediately, the system detected the object in front and cut some throttle, beeping and reminding us to brake (the system won't automatically brake for you in this case). This feature, called pre-collision throttle mitigation, is designed to prevent rear-end collisions where the second car in a line of cars tries to accelerate into the first car, perhaps while the driver is looking to see if an intersection is clear.
While the Subaru system can stop the car automatically, like many other systems, it also has a mechanism to quickly return control to the driver. Performing the 20 mph test again, we let the car go into "light braking" automatic mode, and then quickly swerved around the barrier at the last possible second. As soon as we turned the wheel, the braking stopped and the system allowed us to clear the car without bringing us to a stop or abruptly returning power.
Subaru's system might not have every single high-tech safety feature installed--its front-mounted cameras can't do anything about back-up collisions, for obvious reasons--but it works well, and further improvements (and reverse cross-traffic warnings) will arrive in a few years. In the meantime, the EyeSight setup is available only on 2013 Legacy and Outback Limited models (available with either the H-4 or H-6 engine), as part of an optional $3940 package. That puts the cost of an EyeSight-equipped Legacy at $30,605 with the 2.5-liter H-4 or $33,605 with the 3.6-liter H-6, and the Outback at $33,830 for a 2.5 and $36,830 with a 3.6 (all prices include destination). Even with the steep price, Subaru says the take rate on EyeSight-equipped Outback and Legacy models, which have been on sale since July, is exceeding expectations.