Think automatic safety systems on cars and Mercedes or Volvo are your go-to brands, right? Subaru is ambitiously wading in to shake that perception up for a fraction of its rivals' cost. The system is called Eyesight, and having made a splash in Japan and the US since 2008 and 2012 respectively, the cleverest iteration yet is bound for European Subarus in mid-2015.
Subaru's target is simple to describe but monumentally difficult to get your head around. Quite simply, it wants Eyesight to catapult it into being the undisputed market leader for passenger and pedestrian safety by 2020. If that year sounds familiar in this context, it's because Volvo's Vision 2020 scheme is targeting no accident fatalities among Volvo occupants within six years. No pressure, then.
Subaru Eyesight is essentially a second pair of eyes. It uses two cameras mounted next to the rear-view mirror, rather than in the car's nose where they're easily obscured by grime and damaged in a crash. The current second-gen setup is a little bulky, like earlier rain- and dusk-sensors.
Subaru promises it'll be shrunk at least 15 per cent by the time you can try it out - despite an upcoming switch to colour rather than black and white cameras, which can even sense brake lights rather than just spot the difference between vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and static objects.
Four functions are provided by the cameras. There's automatic emergency braking, automatic cruise control, lane-departure warning and a feature that knows if you've accidentally selected Drive rather than Reverse when parked nose-on to an obstacle. All work with a variety of audible alarms and then automatic evasive action to lessen or avoid collisions, and the system is as intuitive and otherwise unobtrusive as you'd hope.
The emergency braking in particular is worthy of note. Instead of slamming the brakes on at the last second, Eyesight is already slowing the car the moment an obstacle is detected. That makes the eventual anchors-on moment far less brutal and distressing, and lessens the chance of being rear-ended. It's even been engineered to override the driver's braking inputs if the car deems the force you've applied too little, too late. Clever stuff, but the real boon of Eyesight is the cost, or lack thereof.
Subaru says that the latest version will be standard-fit on its automatic CVT-equipped models (auto cruise control doesn't sit well with manual transmissions). Speccing top-spec safety avoidance on a Mercedes or VW can run into several thousands of pounds, so Subaru's really looking to democratise its driver guardian angel. In Japan, where Eyesight carries a nominal £800 fee, take-up has been 80 per cent of all Subaru buyers.
Astonishingly, 50 per cent of those buyers have admitted that Eyesight has prevented them from having a collision since its arrival. In essence, Subaru's accident rate for new registrations has halved, and in the UK, the privilege won't cost a penny. On that basis, the beleaguered Japanese maker stands a chance of topping the safety class as it has ambitiously prescribed.