Driver's Seat: Car gadgets that take notice when you don't

The 2013 Infiniti JX35 allows
The 2013 Infiniti JX35 allows (the driver to see behind the vehicle, at left, or a view of the vehicle from all sides, at right.)
Posted: September 06, 2012

I've never been one to need all the latest must-have gadgetry.

Sure, all the other car writers hear this and laugh in unison at me, but I can take it.

Luddism is in my genes. The late Grandpa Driver's Seat never had a car with power windows or air conditioning until 1992. "More things to break," he'd say.

These days, as I see all the gadgetry out there and scan automakers' technical service bulletins, I think the old guy may have been on to something. (Besides, keeping Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0 in food and shoes has made finding spare change for new toys challenging.)

But every once in a while, even I am impressed.

So here's my ode to two technological advances I've tested out recently, and a follow-up on a third.

It sees ... and stops: Most of my guest vehicles spend their visits outside. My garage is always busting at the seams, between my own projects and the temporary college dormitory paraphernalia.

But I had the luck to park a 2013 Infiniti JX35 crossover in the garage. Lucky, because while backing out the first time, I noticed the rearview camera on the dash featured a picture ... of my garage. I thought "Hmm. Google Earth." Then, "Noooo, Sturgis. You're inside.

"What the ...?"

So I talked with Kyle Bazemore, senior manager of Infiniti communications, who explained to me the around-view monitor, which Infiniti debuted in 2009.

Bazemore said that four cameras on the vehicle - one under each side-view mirror, one under the license plate, and another on the grille - capture images of all sides of the vehicle. A computer program blends these images before they appear on the dashboard monitor. And, voilĂ , I can see the baseball mitts hanging on my garage wall on my JX35 TV.

But it's more than just a neato idea.

It's tied into the moving-object detection and backup collision intervention systems, which debut on the new-for-2013 JX35. These also use radar and sonar sensors.

What does it do? If the vehicle is in reverse and an animal or a child, say, nears the vehicle, the detection system not only makes it clear in the camera, but it will apply the brakes for the driver.

It works for inanimate objects, as well. I was able to safely test this out with some shrubbery near my driveway, and the system will stop the vehicle. And it's hard to override with less than a full-throttle stomp.

A full review of the JX35 will appear in next week's Driver's Seat.

A different kind of alert: Plenty of vehicles today come with backup cameras, and lots more have alert beeps that sound when you risk backing into or driving too close to something.

But often they offer so little information that I begin to ignore them.

From the moment I heard about Cadillac's new alert system on the 2013 XTS, I was intrigued. The safety alert seat gives a jolt from behind to wake drivers up. Literally.

Vibrations in the seat cushions butt in while you're driving. They come at you from the same side where the object appears, like a little Cadillac child tugging at your pants, or both sides in some cases.

So if you get too close to something, or teeter out of your lane, the XTS prevents you from, well, making an ass of yourself.

The XTS also debuts Cadillac's CUE infotainment system, featuring a touch screen with haptic feedback and the pinch-stretch-swipe functions of an iPhone. I found the system to be fairly user-friendly and easy to use.

For those wanting to know more, I'll have a full review of the XTS down the road.

A Touch better? Once upon a time (well, in 2011) I reviewed a Ford Explorer with the much-ballyhooed Sync with MyFord Touch.

My experience was comparable to other reviewers' and owners': The system froze. The screen went black five times in a weeklong test. It drove me nuts with its incomprehensible interface.

I had a chance to try the upgraded MyFord Touch system again recently in a 2013 Ford Escape, and I found it to have improved significantly.

Buttons for source, volume, and sound controls now reside in front of the screen. The touch-screen tabs in the screen's corners are easy to spot, and they take you to other functions, such as the map, phone, and CD player.

Best of all, no freeze-ups or shutdowns.

Consumer Reports is still giving the whole enterprise a big thumbs-down, but I have to put it in the "most-improved" category.

Gotta give the other writers something to tease me about when I see them at the debuts, right?


Contact Scott Sturgis at 215-854-2558 or ssturgis@phillynews.com.

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