While shopping for what ended up being my wife’s new Mazda CX-5, one of the things that was a must-have for us was a full suite of active safety gizmos. Her Subaru Impreza we were replacing had them, and the pre-collision braking had saved my wife’s bacon a few times already.
My wife isn’t a bad driver by any means, but we live in the DC suburbs and the roads can be pretty treacherous. We moved here this past spring and while I was used to DC driving from growing up here, it was a new experience for my wife. She had a few times where her Impreza detected some other idiot doing something stupid and braked before my wife had a chance to react. She was very thankful that the car was doing this for her.
Our CX-5, like the Impreza, has all the safety gizmos like pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitors. This past weekend, we took a trip from DC out to St. Michael’s, MD and Rehoboth Beach, DE, and as is often the case on these trips, I did most of the driving, so I got to experience the Mazda version of these gizmos.
One thing I immediately noticed was the blind spot warning in the CX-5 is very persistent. If something is in your blind spot, a little yellow blind spot icon lights up in the side mirror. This is fine. But also, every time you put your blinker on when the little yellow blind spot indicator is lit on that side of the car, the car beeps at you to check your blind spot. In theory, this is also fine, except the activation radius for the little yellow light is kinda wide, so when you’re driving on a busy highway like the DC beltway, basically every time you put your blinker on, the blind spot monitor is on, even if there’s a decent enough gap in traffic for you to merge. Which means almost every time you put your blinker on, the car beeps at you.
I understood the virtue of this notification but wished the beep was quieter, and also wished that maybe the blind spot activation range could be a little narrower. I was able to dig into the settings and found there’s an option to lower the blind spot warning beep volume, but it only lowers it a little. There’s no sensitivity setting. Hey, it’s better than nothing.
Mazda has perhaps the best implementation of lane departure warning that I’ve experienced. In my wife’s Impreza, the lane departure warning was way too damn sensitive, and it had a super annoying beep too. This meant that any time you drove close to the marker for a shoulder, the damn thing would BEEP BEEP BEEP and flash a not-very-informative LANE DEPARTURE warning message on the screen in the gauge cluster. I called this the make my wife pissed at my driving tattle-tale, because any time we’d be on some curvy rural road in her car, the lane departure would freak out. At one point we went several months or maybe even a year with the lane departure deactivated, which thankfully was a setting the car would remember so you didn’t have to do it every time you turned the car on, but it left an annoying yellow warning light on the dash lit all the time to remind you that yes, your lane departure warning was turned off.
In the CX-5, the default setting for the lane departure warning makes no sound at all. The steering wheel has a vibration motor built into it like an old arcade driving game and when you approach a lane marking, it vibrates the steering wheel. It also blinks a more detailed graphical warning on the gauge cluster screen that shows you which side of the car is approaching a lane marking. It also defaults to doing subtle steering corrections to keep you in your lane. Overall, I thought this was very nice, and while it wasn’t quite so sensitive as the Subaru setup, it was making itself known a little more often than I liked. But, I found another handy setting that lets you set the lane departure warning to a lower sensitivity level, so I chose that. You can enable or disable the lane keep assist steering stuff separately from the sensitivity control. I left it on.
The CX-5 also has rear cross traffic alert which the Impreza didn’t. Basically if something is going to cross your path by when you’re in reverse, the car beeps at you and flashes some warning icons on the backup camera screen. It’s pretty handy in crowded parking lots. But again, more damn beeping.
Yesterday morning, after getting mean mugged by a Toyota CH-R, I got on I-270 and then the Beltway to head to work, in my stick shift, modded 335xi. It’s obviously a lot more involving of a drive than the CX-5. But one thing struck me. I was in the left lane on the Beltway, and I approached the shoulder marking line, and nothing happened. I put on my blinker to merge into a small gap in traffic, and nothing happened.
I thought to myself, ya know, not getting beeped and booped at, or having the steering wheel buzz at me, was extremely nice. Then, later in the day my wife texted me that she had some kind of near miss in her car that freaked her out a little bit, but she was fine and she’d tell me more about it when I got home.
Basically, she was driving along in the right lane, when someone in the middle lane decided they needed to go to the Rockville JCC so badly that they cut into her lane without signaling, then slammed on the brakes to turn into the JCC driveway.
My wife freaked out, but before she could even react, the CX-5 detected the other car, produced many beeps and boops, and came to a complete stop, all on its own. She was a little shocked by the experience, but immensely grateful that her brand new car was still intact, thanks to the car’s active safety gizmos.
So this got me to thinking. The pre-collision braking is extremely valuable. The blind spot warning, I could do without the constant beeping while merging, but I do like the little yellow lights on the mirrors. The rear cross traffic alert is nice. The lane departure is probably the most superfluous but at least the subtle steering wheel buzz doesn’t freak out your passengers.
But what have we come to, where we need our cars to constantly beep and boop at us to warn us of impending danger? My wife loves all the beeps and boops but me, it kinda makes driving a little more stressful. I like that my the only beeps and boops my 335xi makes come from the parking sensors. But if I had a car like the CX-5 where you can actually disable the warnings without leaving a light on the dash constantly lit like the Impreza, I’m still not sure I’d actually turn them off.
I don’t know. I’m conflicted. What about y’all: yea or nay on the active safety beeps and boops?