If you’re familiar with Honda and Acura’s racing pedigree, you may assume performance and handling is the Japanese automaker’s selling point. You’d be wrong, however. Or, maybe you’ve read enough JD Power reliability studies to expect that its dependability tops the list.
It’s not its fuel efficiency or its interior quality or the fact today’s Acuras boast 16 billion light bulbs in every headlamp it makes. It’s not its trunk space, either, or that its acclaimed minivan features a built-in vacuum.
Its best new feature? The unassumingly-named “Honda Sensing” package— specifically the Lane-Keeping Assist technology bundled within—that out-robots its competition by leagues. It arrives for just an extra $1,000, and this is—by far—the best $1,000 you can spend.
Technology that takes the wheel, keeping you between the lanes, has become old news. Every mainstream automaker is developing a form of autonomous motoring, some more aggressively than others. Tesla, for instance, has a full “Auto Pilot” mode that is now active on many Model S sedans, and companies like Nissan have promised semi-autonomous machines by 2020. Even Google and Apple are getting in on the act.
What’s impressive with Honda’s technology is that, well, it works. And it’s available on many of its models, including Acuras, for a price akin to the average new vehicle sales price of $32,000. The 2017 Civic will offer the “Honda Sensing” package on all trims, for around the $1,000 premium it goes for in the new Pilot ($1,800 in the new Accord). And the Civic will arrive with adaptive cruise control that not only maintains the speed of the car in front but will come to a complete stop if necessary. This is a first for Honda, and proves that a full-on semi-autonomous vehicle from the Japanese manufacturer can’t be far away.
So you can now get this technology for cheap, on cheap cars. That’s all well and good, but what makes it better still is how sorted Honda’s tech is. The Lane-Keep Assist does require you to touch the steering wheel every 10 seconds or so to let it know you’re there. This is more of a fail-safe, eliminating the chance for drivers to simply move to the back seat and nod off. Beyond this limitation, the system will handle relatively sharp bends all by itself, recognize most colored lanes—including dotted lines and off-ramps—and keep you centered and on your way. The adaptive cruise control will also ensure your speed is taken care of, no matter what occurs in front.
I’ve driven the 2016 Lincoln MKX. Its system mostly prevents you from veering off the road if you’re not paying attention; you couldn’t rely on it to make a turn. Then we have the technology-filled and wonderful Volvo XC90—our Yahoo Autos Ride of the Year. It arrives loaded at roughly $66,000, and while its lane-keep assist is decent and works mostly in the background, Honda’s feels far more active and confidence-inspiring. And it’s the same story for most other systems on the market.
Sure, Mercedes or Tesla’s versions are better than Honda’s. But no automaker delivers such a polished product for the price. And it’s not just a cool feature to boast about to your friends, or tech for lazy people. Features like these keep us safe: If an accident occurs and you’re too busy gawking at the scenery to notice, the car will brake for you. It will stop you veering into oncoming traffic when you’re fatigued during a late-night drive, desperately trying to keep awake while looking for a suitable place to pull over and take a nap. These are the options we would love to ensure our teen drivers have access to, but for the most part, they remain too expensive.
Not so, anymore.
2017 Honda Civic
Its realization into the mass-market couldn’t arrive at more appropriate time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just released news that after a minor decline in traffic fatalities in 2014, this year has seen a sharp incline. Why? Well, part of that may be due to lower fuel costs, meaning Americans are driving more than ever—1.54 trillion miles in the first half of 2015. Teens are also spending more time behind the wheel, and the NHTSA suspects that texting and driving while impaired is also to blame.
In 94 percent of crashes on the road, human decision is the root cause. Hence the automakers’ and safety advocates’ keenness to take the wheel—literally—out of our hands. That brings up its own risks and moral dilemmas, but advancement in safety technology—and making it available to the average car buyer, not just the rich—is where we’ll begin to see real, tangible improvements.
In today’s market, the best Lane-Keep Assist system on an affordable new vehicle is on a Honda. I’ve spent hours behind the wheel of the new Pilot and 2016 Acura RDX and it remains a revelation in both. If there’s an area of improvement to be made, it’s in the adaptive cruise control; it takes a fraction of a second too long to react, meaning you experience that brief “oh god, will it stop will it stop!!” moment. It does stop, and the lane-keep assist holds you between the lines unlike anything else for the price.
To me, of all the various car buying options out there, splurging around $1,000 on the “Honda Sensing” package—that includes Lane-Keep Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Road Departure Mitigation, Forward Collision Warning and Collision Mitigation Braking System—might be the smartest thing you could do. It beats a blinging set of 20-inch rims, that’s for sure.