Hello, I’m here to talk to you about (BEEP!). Ah, could you excuse me, I just need to
switch off (BLURP!). Damn it, how do you shut off this crazy (BEEP!).
This infuriating test of emergency warning systems has been brought to you by the new Infiniti M37, an otherwise terrific midsize sport sedan that really wants to keep you safe behind the wheel -- and won’t take “no” for an answer.
In the Infiniti’s defense, the 6-cylinder M37 -- along with its beefier sibling, the V8 powered M56 -- isn’t the only luxury car to adopt the latest electronic do-gooders. And by these I mean lane-departure warnings, blind-spot monitors and a forward collision warning system, among others. Mercedes, Volvo, BMW and Acura are on that list, with some models actually braking themselves when their radar or laser beams calculate that a driver can’t stop in time to avoid a crash. But the Infiniti, like a maiden aunt that you can’t ditch, turns its digital chaperones on whenever you start up the car – forcing you to manually shut them down, each and every time.
Lane-departure systems train onboard cameras on highway lane markers. Stray from your lane above a certain speed (usually 35 mph or so) without flicking your turn signal, and the system beeps at you. Helpfully, it assumes. Blind-spot monitors typically use radar, lighting up the driver's side-view mirror or a dashboard icon to alert you to a car or motorcycle looming in those hard-to-see areas. The Infiniti takes things to the next logical step, allowing the car to physically intervene when it thinks you’re about to screw up. The Infiniti can subtly apply individual brakes when you stray out of your lane without signaling, or when you don’t see a car in your blind spot. That helps keep the car in your current lane, as you feel as a subtle resistance in the steering wheel -- a tactile clue that says,“Don’t go there, buddy.”
This is all well and good -- as long as the car lets me decide when and whether to use the systems, that is. I can see lane-departure warnings being useful when you’re driving at 2:00 a.m. and at risk of becoming drowsy. And as blind-spot monitors improve -- especially when cars and motorcycles begin directly communicating with each other over a new wireless safety frequency whose applications are rapidly being developed -- they could become a valuable safety feature. They’ll allow cars to automatically sense and avoid each other, even potentially stopping drunk or oblivious drivers from running red lights and causing a wreck.
But while the Infiniti lets you shut the nannies off, you have to do it each and every time. The result is a car that beeps at you like a satanic oven timer every time you set off for a cruise, until you use one hand to shut the systems down while using the other to rip your hair out. As if that weren’t enough, the Infiniti’s stability-control system is also overly eager, applying brakes and cutting throttle well before there’s any hint that the car is about to skid. That spoils the fun for a driver who wants to explore the car's handling limits -- specifically, the kind of buyer who might be interested in a high-powered sport sedan like the Infiniti.
The worst part about overly intrusive safety systems is that, if your first urge is to shut them off, you lose any potential benefit. And with the Infiniti, the systems are so maddening that it’s best to save the $3,000 (the cost for the optional technology package) and your sanity in the process.