Everything Is Amazing
There’s a classic YouTube clip of comedian Louis C.K. on an episode of Conan O’Brien, when Louis laments how technology has improved everyone’s lives, but people are so jaded and blasé that no one really notices or appreciates how good they have it. In a similar vein, new-car owners have it so good today and most don’t even realize it. The level of advanced technology found in even the least expensive new vehicles would have been unfathomable just a few years ago. In fact, some of these amazing systems might have been considered impossible or even magic 50 years ago. However, much of this cool, new technology that keeps us safe, engaged and entertained is so common that drivers are no longer impressed. What follows is a quick showcase of some of these great high-tech features, and why you should be amazed at what they can do.
Adaptive Cruise Control
Cruise control has been around for years — the driver sets a speed and the car will stay at that speed until the brakes get tapped or the cruise gets turned off with the flick of a switch. But with adaptive cruise control, the speed gets set and the car locks on that pace unless the vehicle ahead of it slows. Adaptive cruise slows to keep a set distance behind the car in front and, in some cases, can follow the car in front all the way to a full stop. One of the latest iterations of adaptive cruise control found in the Audi A4 will adjust speed based on speed-limit signs as well as curves in the road ahead. Adaptive cruise control is available on a wide variety of vehicles, including lower-priced models such as the Mazda Mazda3, Honda CR-V and Chrysler 200.
Automatic Emergency Braking
Becoming more common on everything from luxury vehicles to entry-level models, automatic emergency braking scans the road ahead and detects an impending collision. Most of these
AEB systems provide audible and visual alerts to warn you that a crash is imminent. Then, if no action is taken, most systems will automatically apply the brakes to keep you out of the back of the car that stopped suddenly while you were fiddling with the radio or scolding kids in the back seat. AEB is available on a larger number of new vehicles, including the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Sentra and Subaru Impreza.
You’re driving along and the weather takes a turn for the worse as raindrops start pelting the windshield. Before you can reach for the switch, the wipers magically clear the window on their own. With rain-sensing wipers, you just leave them on all the time — when it rains, they go to work. Automatic wipers are especially convenient during occasional drizzle. Just don’t forget to turn them off before heading into a car wash. These smart wipers can be found on more and more vehicles each year. For 2016, vehicles such as the Buick Encore, Dodge Charger and Ford F-150 can be equipped with this convenient feature.
All drivers have experienced the frustration and angst of trying to back out of a tight parking spot — there’s no way to see if there are cars approaching until you’re most of the way into the lane, so you just have to go for it (slowly) and hope for the best. With cross-traffic alert, there’s no more guessing. Employing radar on either side from the rear of the car, CTA warns the driver if a vehicle is approaching from either direction — well before the car is visible. This feature has become much more common, available on vehicles such as the Subaru Outback, Chevrolet Camaro and Hyundai Tucson.
Keyless Entry / Start
Imagine running up to your car in the pouring rain while holding two bags of groceries, only to realize you now have to dig your keys out of your pocket while you’re getting drenched. With keyless entry/start, you simply have the key on your person and when you grab the door handle the car unlocks. Once inside, just press the start button and the engine comes to life while the key remains in your pocket. Upon exiting, touch a button on the door handle and the car locks. Just remember to leave the key if you ever valet park — the car can be driven away without the key, but it won’t start again without it. Many vehicles are available with this handy feature, including the Ram 1500, Ford Mustang and Buick Verano.
One step up from keyless entry is a hands-free rear hatch or trunk. You simply walk up to the door, move your foot back and forth below the car’s bumper and presto — the trunk opens. Other systems may require you to stand behind the car for three seconds and the trunk will then open automatically. The new Chrysler Pacifica adds one more convenience: sliding side doors can now be opened hands-free. When you first get the car you can say, “Open Sesame” while you surreptitiously move your foot to activate the doors — your kids will be impressed (at least the first time). This relatively new technology can be found on the Ford Escape, Hyundai Sonata and the aforementioned Chrysler Pacifica.
Stability Control / ABS
If you’re over thirty years old, as a new driver you were probably told that if the rear end of the car started to slide, you should turn the steering wheel into the skid to straighten out, or if you were trying to stop on a slick road you had to pump the brakes to keep the wheels from locking up. That’s now ancient history. Modern cars detect when the car is not going in the direction the wheels are pointed and applies brakes to individual wheels to correct the skid. On slippery roads, anti-lock brakes automatically pulse the brakes so the wheels keep turning, allowing the driver to stay in control. Your car knows what to do so you don’t have to. Per the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard #126, all new vehicles are required to be equipped with a stability-control system.
Navigation With Traffic Alerts
There was a time that we carried maps in our gloveboxes or had to stop and ask directions to reach our destination. If you got stuck in traffic on the way, you were just stuck. Now you simply plug the address of your destination into your navigation system and you get an interactive, moving map — many cars even read the directions aloud. Even better, numerous systems now take into account current traffic patterns and offer alternates to avoid gridlock along your route. The price of GPS navigation systems has dropped considerably, to the point that it is a common feature in a variety of new models.
For those who watched Star Trek growing up, we dreamed of one day being able to use all that cool technology. Although we can’t teleport to distant galaxies — or to the dry cleaner — yet, we can talk to our cars, and in many cases the cars will do what we say. Voice recognition is improving by leaps and bounds, and in some of the latest vehicles you can ask the car to make a phone call, change the radio station, adjust the temperature, navigate to a particular destination, and even find a restaurant if you’re in the mood for pizza. Many can even read texts to you and let you dictate a response. Vehicles from Ford, GM and Chrysler all feature some level of voice recognition.
One of the hardest things to master when learning to drive is parallel parking. Flubbing this seldom-used task can be enough to fail a driving test. Perhaps that will soon be in the past, since we now have cars that will handle this feat on their own. Ford was one of the first automakers to introduce a self-park system. When setup properly, the car will scan parking spaces until it finds one that is large enough. Then the driver just follows instructions, using the brake and shifting gears as needed — the car does all the steering and parks perfectly every time. Some companies, such as Volvo, are currently working on systems that allow the driver to exit the car, and then it will go off to find its own parking spot — and return when requested. Lexus was one of the first brands to offer a car that could park itself. Now self-parking systems are available from brands including Ford, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jeep and Toyota.
As smartphones become more and more capable, drivers want to be able to take advantage of that capability. However, most states have laws against using your phone while driving — and rightly so, since the distraction is extremely dangerous. But with in-car Bluetooth connectivity, your phone can be connected to the car with no wires, so it can be left in a pocket or purse. Utilizing the car’s voice recognition system, you can make calls, access your contact list, receive and send text messages, and even stream music from your phone through the car’s audio system. Almost every new car coming to market now features Bluetooth connectivity.
Cars That Exceed 200 MPH
Just 25 years ago there were only a few rare and very expensive sports cars that could top 200 mph. Cars such as the McLaren F1 and Ferrari F40 were legal to drive on the street, but they were not easy to drive and a bit too demanding to be considered a “daily driver.” However, today you can purchase a Dodge Charger Hellcat for considerably less money than a Ferrari or McLaren and get a 4-door family sedan that boasts 707 horsepower and a 204 mph top speed. If a bit more luxury is necessary, there’s the 200-mph Cadillac CTS-V. Not only extremely fast, these cars are safe, predictable and easy to drive every day. Sure — they are exotic and expensive, but cars that exceed 200 mph are available from brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bugatti.
Connected Car Services
Employing a personal assistant is a luxury most of us have to do without, but imagine how convenient it would be if your car could take on part of this role. It can somewhat, via communication systems such as General Motors’ OnStar or Hyundai’s BlueLink. With different levels of assistance available, these services provide access to actual humans who can do everything from unlocking your car if you’ve locked the keys inside to helping find the closest Mexican restaurant, and then making reservations for you. These services also alert and summon emergency personnel in the event of an accident — even if you are unable to call on your own.
Headlights have always been the go-to tool for driving at night, but imagine being able to see beyond the reach of your headlights. Some of these setups read the heat signature from people or animals and highlight them for the driver, while others light objects ahead with an infrared illuminator and then read the reflection. While these systems can’t be used to do drive without headlights, it’s still pretty cool to have a degree of night vision in your car. A number of luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW offer night vision systems that provide an image of what’s ahead.
Satellite Radio / Apps
Even though it has become a common feature today, satellite radio hasn’t even been around for 20 years. Only available from XM/Sirius, satellite radio has hundreds of stations with specific genres to choose from. And yes, satellite radio is beamed to your car from satellites in space — technology considered cool enough to be inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame (yes, a real thing). But there’s more than just radio stations now: XM/Sirius can provide real-time traffic information as well as weather forecasts, fuel prices, movie listings, sports scores and stock prices — all via the display in your car. Satellite radio is available on a variety of vehicles in every segment.