My car can do what?

By Miranda Lightstone-Styker

As technology takes the driver’s seat in most automotive designs these days, the amount of buttons, switches and knobs increases as well. Beeps, boops, flashes and alarms are the norm in most cars. Where it used to be as simple as sticking the key in the ignition, popping down the door lock and turning on the radio by pushing the power knob; now the start-up process often takes much more.

Now, it’s not that I’m stodgy or against technology in any way; I love gadgets and gizmos. Love them. But, sometimes they get to be a bit much. Take the Infiniti EX for example. I adore this little crossover. It’s uber luxury, a pleasure to drive and after driving the Nissan Rogue quite often (as it is my Mum’s daily driver) it’s interesting to see the step up from Rogue to EX.

First off; the all-around cameras are the coolest thing. If you ever question your parking skills or abilities, then this is the car tech you want on your vehicle. It makes parking a breeze and could even help in tight downtown situations where you think you won’t fit — well the cameras will tell you!

Now, that’s where the cool kind of ends. The EX is loaded, and I mean loaded, with warnings alarms for everything you’re doing wrong on the road. I made it part of my start-up routine to turn everything off because the car was just beeping too much — enough to cause more mistakes on the road. From front-crash warnings (yes, I do know there’s a car in front of me, I’m not blind) to lane departure warnings (sometimes I drift, is it really a crime?) this vehicle is all about calling your out on your vehicular crimes. I understand the allure, but after the first few beeps and bops, I just wanted it all turned off — all the time.

From night-vision cameras to voice-recognition for everything (SYNC), cars are turning into truly incredible machines. But are we pushing the envelope on what a car is really meant to do? Are we causing more distractions or are we really improving the safety and security of our automobiles?

Last week I was in a brand new Volvo XC60 AWD. This is not the first time I’ve had the XC60. This is the vehicle with City Safety; the device that will stop the car before you can have a collision. It will apply the brakes and stop you from rear-ending someone. Sounds fascinating and uber cool and the best thing on the road because we’ve all been in that situation (don’t lie, I know you have). But when it came time for me to test the system, I was hesitant and had a hard time making it work. There are so many variables involved, I just couldn’t get it to perform.

Until I actually needed it to work.

Midweek with the XC60 I was out running errands. I’d deactivated the front warning system (or thought I had) as I’d grown tired of the red bar of light across the windscreen warning me of my proximity to the car in front of me (and really, I wasn’t that close, I swear). I was on a residential street, pulling up to a stop sign and there was a school bus in front of me. I thought he’d left the stop and I was inching forward (probably doing under 15 km/hr) and I decided to take that moment to look down into the middle console to change a song on my iPod. Bad idea.

The bus was still stopped and I was heading right into his back bumper.

Until the car freaked out.

Beeps, red lights on the windscreen and enough of a warning for me to stamp on the brake, even though I wasn’t even sure why I was. But it meant I didn’t rear-end the bus. But I came that close. And when I think back on it, I wonder if the car was already braking for me before my right foot hit the pedal — and I think it was.

I was so grateful for the City Safety system in that moment. And I realized that all those variables needed to make it work were in place on that sleepy suburban street — and that’s what the system is really made for.

Car gadgets are sometimes just that: gadgets (even annoyances). And yet, when a company like Volvo comes out with something as innovative and amazing as City Safety it’s often met with resistance because it’s so forward-thinking and could, potentially, change the way the auto industry makes its vehicles.

Needless to say, I did not turn off the front-warning system for the remainder of the week.

Drive on,
– M.

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