I genuinely liked the 2014 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Limited — especially its snappy throttle — but its electronically controlled emergency brake reminded me of a pet peeve of mine.
Let the Airing of Electronic E-Brake Grievances commence!
Okay, so let’s get this out of the way right up-front: I will always, always, always prefer a handbrake to a footbrake, where emergency/parking brakes are concerned. Handbrakes, whether mounted in the console, on the floorboard, or in the dash, are easier to modulate in emergency braking situations than are floor-mounted brakes. When an old Nissan truck of mine was totaled by a herd of deer that decided to T-bone the driver’s door and bedside, the impact shut down the engine — thus losing my power braking system — and I had to pump the dashboard-mounted e-brake several times to slow from 65 MPH and safely come to a stop after the crash. I couldn’t have done that with my current Ford Ranger’s foot brake. Well, I could have, but it wouldn’t have been as easy.
But more and more new cars I test drive don’t have either type of e-brake. They’re resorting to electronically controlled systems that are intended primarily to be used as parking brakes — or they must, because I would hate to think what would happen when you try pumping the button like you would a handbrake in an emergency situation like the one I faced.
Perhaps to avoid unintentional setting and release of the electronically controlled emergency brakes, many manufacturers do as Subaru does: You press a button in to set the brake, or you pull it out to release the brake. That’s a completely counterintuitive setup for those of us who have had the joy of dash-mounted e-brakes. In every vehicle I’ve ever seen with dash or console-mounted e-brakes, you pull to set the brake and push to release it. No surprise that all week long during my test of the Subaru Legacy 2.5i Limited, I kept trying to pull the switch mounted to the left of the steering column in an effort to set the parking brake, which of course it never did. By week’s end, I had finally remembered to do it the right — which is to say wrong — way.
I can understand why many similar switch-controlled brakes are set up this way, I guess. It would keep someone from unwittingly bumping the switch and turning off the parking brake when the car is, for example, street-parked in San Francisco. But for a die hard handbrake fan like me, pushing to set the brake and pulling to release it just doesn’t feel right.