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Auto Design and Safety

Sleek Car vs. Safe Car

Automakers wrestle with design and safety features

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— Karl-Fredrik von Hausswolff/Gallery Stock

Electronics to the rescue?

With so many hurdles to achieving good visibility, manufacturers are relying on a host of electronics to serve as drivers’ eyes—from back-up cameras to blind-spot alerts. The rear-view camera is standard on the Taurus SEL models and higher, with a cross-traffic alert system, which warns drivers who are backing up of traffic in their path, as part of an optional technology package. But where they’re not standard, these technology aids are not inexpensive options.

Ford’s adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support, the system that allows the driver to set and maintain the speed and uses radar sensors to detect moving vehicles and warns the driver of a potential wreck, adds $1,195 to the vehicle cost. The back-up camera is standard on the Infiniti M56, but the blind spot intervention system is part of a $3,000 safety package. And, while technologies like blind-spot detection can help, they don’t substitute for the driver’s manual checks. Besides, electronics can fail.

All of which serves as a reminder to bump visibility up on your list of criteria when looking for a new car. Ask yourself whether you’d be comfortable backing out of a tight space at the grocery store, for instance. Better yet, try this during a test drive.

Some models to consider, according to Phelan, are the Honda Fit, the 2010 Volkswagen Golf, the Ford Flex and the Subaru Forrester. McElroy adds Kia Soul to that list. And Larry Erickson applauds European sedans such as the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E Class, as well as the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Chevrolet Malibu.

Maher certainly plans to give more weight to visibility the next time he’s in the market for a car. Given where he drives, that may be sooner than later. “On Southern California freeways, it’s too easy for someone to sneak into your blind spot,” he says.

Julie Halpert, who has covered the car industry for two decades, lives and drives in Michigan.

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