What’s Wrong with Honda, Round 2: the Acura ZDX with CMBS

Barnyard brown Acura ZDX

The Acura ZDX (shown above in Barnyard Brown) has become my new favorite in the ugliest-car competition that takes place every day on our roads. But really, it’s what’s under the skin that counts, right?

The car has all the usual safety features, including airbags galore, “active head restraints,” and something called CMBS, the Collision Mitigation Braking System, which beeps and flashes a warning if you are approaching the vehicle ahead too quickly, then retracts your seatbelt sharply, then applies automatic braking. It stops your car, that is, if you can’t or won’t when it thinks you should.

It also responds to certain objects in the road, like the steel plate that Autoweek’s Dutch Mandel encountered in Detroit, put down by a road crew. Which surprised the hell out of him. Read his account if you want to find out everything wrong-headed about where auto safety is headed.

It turns out that the ZDX’s radar system will activate “under certain conditions” and produce false positives. The designers wanted obviously to err on the side of being safe, rather than sorry. Though not likely, CMBS can react to a light pole or a traffic sign while the vehicle is turning. Or when you change lanes and suddenly pass a vehicle. Or when you pass a low bridge at high speed. Or when you traverse, as Mandel did, a construction area. Good times for the brakes to go on, right?

To put it nicely: This is another instance of technology monitoring drivers who aren’t paying attention. Yes, there is a switch to shut the system off, though as Mandel said, why pay for something you aren’t going to use? More important, why would anyone want to give over the basic driving function of braking your car to an admittedly imperfect device?

MIT's robocar

MIT's Robocar

Well, we all know the answer that Acura would give: There are imperfect drivers out there who need help. (It’s also an opportunity for the company to add a $5,000 package to the basic car.) One could argue that it protects against other bad drivers—though what about the guy who’s tailgating you when CMBS hits your brakes? One could also argue that such systems make bad drivers even worse by increasing their dependence on yet another electro-nanny.

In my piece on Honda a couple of weeks ago, we took them to task on other grounds. But the company clearly endorses such electronic aids and has them on its other cars. If current trends continue, we may all end up as robot passengers in self-driving cars. For some of us, driving is still an exercise in skills well-learned and well-executed.

I wouldn’t buy a car with this kind of “safety feature” on it. Would you?

—jgoods

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Used Acura ZDX

1 Comment

  1. Funny, you ran this story right above the Abruzzi article, which looks like a Batmobile. With a little extra paint on the front end (psycho red and asphyxia white) the ZDX would make the perfect Joker mobile.

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