My neighbors have been wondering why I’m driving around in brand-new cars. Nope, I’m not running a chop shop. Yes, I’ve been reviewing cars from a tech point of view in preparation for the arrival of self-driving vehicles.
Most recently, I drove the Subaru Legacy 2020 Limited sedan, a seventh-generation model with a dedicated camera that can detect whether the driver is drowsy or distracted. That’s a much-needed safety feature, particularly now that we all tend to act as if we already have self-driving cars.
I have driven a lot of tech-laden electric cars in the past year, including the Jaguar I-Pace, the BMW i3s, the Mini Cooper SE Countryman (hybrid), the Volkswagen e-Golf, the Land Rover Sport HST MHEV, the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, and the Ford Fusion Energi. But none of them had this distracted driver feature.
Safety and comfort
The DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System is optional on Subaru Legacy’s Limited version and comes standard on both XT trims. Thanks to a dedicated camera and facial recognition software, when you get into the car it can recognize you and adjust to your favorite settings.
If the camera in the dashboard detects that the driver is distracted or dozing off, a warning flashes on both the combination meter and the 11.6-inch center infotainment screen to alert the driver and any passengers. I was able to trigger it by pulling out a phone and looking at it or by leaning my head to the side as if I were asleep. It even sent an alert when I was just staring out the side window.
It’s cool to see this technology finally appear inside a car, as I had seen something like it at Samsung’s CES 2019 booth. The feature works by day and night, and it can be a real lifesaver. So many people are getting into wrecks because they’re texting while driving, not realizing that the conditions for an accident can materialize in half a second.
Subaru’s DriverFocus senses when you’re distracted or fatigued behind the wheel based on the positioning of your eyes. (Sunglasses may interfere with the distraction mitigation system because of their reflective nature, and the feature can be turned on and off using a button near the steering wheel).
The tech uses facial recognition software, which works much like what’s on the iPhone X (or later), with a focus on the positioning of your eyes. That means it’ll alert you with a chime when your eyes are off the road for too long. It will also chime if your eyes are closed for a prolonged period of time while behind the wheel.
Facial recognition settings can be made for up to five different drivers, and it will greet each one individually. To set up a profile for yourself, all you need to do is tap through the display and find the Driver Monitoring System.
In addition to the Subaru Legacy 2020, the latest Subaru Forester also has DriverFocus.
The feature works along with Subaru EyeSight driver assistance technology, which helps prevent wrecks and auto collisions by warning you when you should be focused on the road. This feature will hit the brakes for you if you’re bearing down on a car that is slow or stopped on the freeway.
The car also has blind-spot indicators that light up on the side-view mirror when someone is passing in your blind spots. Rear-facing cameras assist you in backing up, and lane-departure warnings alert you when you attempt to change lanes without signaling.
Basics of the Subaru Legacy 2020
The sedan starts at $22,745 with a standard model that sports a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter turbocharged Subaru Boxer engine. It gets 35 miles per gallon on the highway and 27 in the city. I drove the Legacy Limited version, with an option for the DriverFocus at $29,745.
The Legacy Limited XT and Legacy Touring XT versions have a 260-horsepower, 2.4-liter turbocharged Subaru Boxer engine.
The car has symmetrical all-wheel drive, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, LED steering-responsive headlights, and leather-trimmed upholstery, as well as reduced noise, vibration, and harshness. It also features an inner frame construction that is stiffer and lighter than that of the previous Legacy. Strengthened suspension and lower center of gravity improve steering and handling. It also offers better crash protection, with 40% more energy in front and side crashes than the earlier model. And it has eight airbags, including one for the driver’s knees.
With the standard model, you can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 8.4 seconds.
The car has a dashboard screen and a larger 11.6-inch Subaru Starlink multimedia touchscreen, though there are a couple of annoying things about it. Every time you start the car, it offers you a legal warning that you have to tap to make go away. It also has high latency, meaning it takes a while to react when you tap it with your finger. It’s like you’re using a tablet from 2005.
Of course, that’s better than driving a vehicle with an old car radio and an extremely slow touchscreen map with a tiny screen, as I do today. But I wonder why they can’t put something like an iPad screen in a $29,745 car. The screen is high definition, and you can use the touch controls for heating and air conditioning for both the driver and passenger sides.
Voice-activated navigation is powered by TomTom, with near-field communication. I used it to mess around with the Sirius XM satellite radio. The screen can display navigation and audio information at the same time. And it has two rotary dial knobs, including one for audio volume. It’s integrated with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which means you can view apps on the car screen. That’s convenient when you’re searching for things or using Waze for navigation. I also used it to play Spotify songs on the touchscreen.
You can plug a smartphone into the USB connector in the center console.
For the first time in a Subaru Legacy, it has Wi-Fi connectivity that gets you on the internet, using LTE communication. That lets people in the back seat view their own entertainment on their smartphones more easily.
Subaru Starlink Connected Services has three options for connectivity, including a Safety Plus package that includes SOS emergency assistance, roadside assistance, automatic collision notification, maintenance notifications, a monthly vehicle health report, and diagnostic alerts.
The Starlink Safety Plus & Security package includes remote engine start with climate control and heated seats; stolen vehicle recovery service; vehicle security alarm notification; remote lock/unlock, horn and lights, and vehicle locator; and parenting features that let you control how fast your kids can drive and set boundary limits and curfew alerts. The Starlink Concierge package adds the ability to make restaurant and hotel reservations, purchase tickets for sports and theater events, and schedule service appointments.
The car has 10-way adjustable power seats in the front, with lumbar support and adjustable cushion length. Seat heaters offer three levels of temperature settings, and the seats themselves are plenty roomy. The vehicle also features a heated steering wheel.
There’s the option of a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with Clari-Fi compressed audio restoration technology and GreenEdge high-efficiency speakers and an amplifier. The cabin is about 3 decibels quieter than the previous model at highway speeds. The doors have new weather strips that reduce noise, as well as sound-insulated glass.
The car has two USB ports in the front and two in the rear, and an auxiliary input jack in the front. There are also two 12-volt DC power sockets, one in the center console and one in the glove box. The vehicle has 15.1 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Worth the price?
I thought this was one of the better cars I’ve driven, and it could very well save lives for people who have long commutes and get drowsy on the road. It could also come to the rescue if you’re obsessed with your smartphone and tend to break the law and text while driving. In that respect, the car is designed for people who don’t drive the way they’re supposed to. To me, that demonstrates a recognition of what it takes to make our roads safer. Add to this safety features like lane-change and blind-spot alerts and emergency braking, and this car is a lot safer than vehicles that are just a couple of years old.
Now if only the distracted driver alerts could be broadcast to all of the people driving around you.