Domestic Brands Charge A Hefty Premium For Advanced Safety Features

Photo: GM

Now that the American automakers have, for the most part, ceded the small car market to the import brands, you would think they would try to field competitive offerings in the crossover/SUV segment. However, when it comes to what most car buyers are really looking for in a family car, the domestic brands do not seem to be reading the market very well.

As a professional car shopper, I broker deals on a lot of crossovers and despite (my arguments that the minivan is the better choice.) But the vast majority of my clients want a three-row SUV as their primary family car.

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But in doing this for several years I have found a recent shift in what people want out of those crossovers. While I still get requests for leather seats and navigation, more and more buyers are requesting advanced safety technology like automatic braking, collision mitigation and blind spot monitors over some of the luxury options.

While these safety systems are not perfect, and studies have shown they have caused some frustration with car buyers, features like collision mitigation and automatic braking have been proven to prevent accidents and potentially save lives. Therefore it’s no surprise that buyers looking for a vehicle for their family want to have the latest tech that can prevent a crash before it happens.

Recently I was comparing various models for a client who needed a larger family car but wanted to keep the costs down. I was shocked at how expensive the offerings from domestic brands were once they were equipped with the requested safety features. (For the purposes of this comparison, I am going to stick with mainstream, non-luxury brands.)

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The Chevrolet Traverse has a starting price of $31,125 (including destination) for an L trim, but that is a very basic car. In order to get a Traverse that is moderately decent, you need to step up to the LT Cloth at $36,595. When it comes to safety tech you can add the $1,800 Convenience and Driver Confidence Package, which will get you the lane change alert, side blind zone alert, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Screenshot: Chevrolet
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However, if you want the forward collision warning, low-speed automatic braking, and automatic pedestrian braking systems, along with a few other features, you would need to step up to a FWD Premier trim with an MSRP of $47,170.

Perhaps GM’s “professional grade” division would offer a bit more features for your money, but according to the 2019 GMC Acadia configurator, the cheapest way to get forward automatic braking is the top-spec Denali with Technology Package that would retail for $48,785.

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Crosstown rivals Dodge and Ford do a little bit better, but the best stuff still isn’t often standard. While Dodge will sell you a lower spec Durango with a “Brass Monkey” (yes, that’s a thing) package, in order to get adaptive cruise control and automatic braking you need to pony up to a 2WD Durango GT Plus trim that retails for $43,235.

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The Ford Explorer has a starting price of about $38,000 for a two-wheel drive XLT, and it comes standard with the Ford Co-Pilot 360 package that includes the Blind Spot Information System, lane keep assist, and automatic emergency braking. That is a pretty good setup for a base car. You can also add the Ford Co-Pilot 360+ which gives you adaptive cruise and evasive steering, but that will automatically force you to bundle additional options and increase the price by about $6,200 for a total of $44,745.

Now Japanese brands seem to have a different philosophy when it comes to making safety technology available to customers. The Toyota Highlander starts at $32,950 for the four-cylinder model that no one buys, but it does come standard with the Toyota Safety Sense that includes pre-collision sensing, pedestrian detection, radar adaptive cruise control, lane departure alerts and other features.

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The Honda Pilot LX 2WD has a base price of $32,645 and also comes standard with the Honda Sensing System that has collision mitigation system, road departure mitigation, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.

Photo: Subaru
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Subaru’s camera-based EyeSight system offers a fairly similar suite of features to Honda, but it comes standard on the base model Ascent for $33,005. The Mazda CX-9, is the crossover for people who don’t like crossovers, has the Smart City Brake Support that is a low-speed automatic braking system on the Sport trim that comes in at $34,080 for a 2WD car.

Photo: Erik Shilling
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The Korean brands too have jumped on the bandwagon with the all-new and very large Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade. Both have automatic emergency braking standard and their starting prices are $32,085 and $32,645, respectively.

Right now, the Asian brands are not forcing buyers to stretch their budget if they want to prioritize safety. At a time where a lot of car shoppers are arguably spending too much on their vehicles, it’s important that folks do their research and compare which models have the features they want within their comfort zones.

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)