5 Car Technologies We Love
The rapid rate of technological advancement in the past decade or
so is nothing short of extraordinary. Cell phones have gone from
clamshell offerings that were used for voice calls and awkward three
letters per button texting to devices that can do everything from
leveling pictures to filming HD movies. A media card the size of your
fingernail can store millions of files, and you can check to see if you
remembered to close your garage door while flying over the Grand Canyon.
Automotive-based technologies have grown with equal intensity. The
word “power” has never before been used as an adjective to the extent
that it appears on new vehicle’s window sticker. Features like power
steering, power door locks, power moonroof, power-adjustable seats and
one-touch power windows are so common that we take them for granted. The
rapid growth of technology is a gift for consumers. Expectations rise
every year as standard equipment packages that were easily documented in
a few sentences now take multiple pages to list.
While some of the new technologies feel like gimmicks, others have
stolen my heart. I will be the first to admit that my job as an
automotive reviewer has spoiled me. I could live without any of the
items on my list, but, with many of these items now found as standard
equipment on relatively affordable vehicles, why not splurge? If they
make my life easier and add a higher level of safety in the process, I
can’t imagine why I wouldn’t want to include them on my next car, truck
or SUV. Luckily, many used cars also offer today’s top tech features.
Proximity Sensor Key Fobs and Push-Button Start
first time I sat inside a vehicle with push-button start I actually
wondered what to do with the key fob. I was so used to putting a key in
the ignition that out of habit I tried to insert the little plastic box
into the steering column. As the feature became more commonplace I began
to enjoy the convenience of leaving the key in my pocket and simply
hopping in the driver’s seat and pushing the start button.
While it may not seem like a big deal, not having to fish through my
jeans for a key has become a major help. Being able to approach a
vehicle that senses the key fob in my pocket and allows me to unlock the
doors with a tiny button located on the door handle or trunk lid is a
time-saver and incredible help, especially if I am carrying groceries or
camera equipment. Some vehicles automatically unlock the door for you
as you approach, adding yet another level of convenience.
If you’re rolling your eyes, I understand. I mean how lazy am I? It’s
a key. But drive a dozen cars where you can leave it in your backpack
or hand bag and then jump into a vehicle where you need to dig it out
and you’ll see why this often inexpensive option or standard feature is
tops on my list.
Blind Spot Monitoring
I am fairly certain that every driver has done it. You’re carried
away talking with a friend, listening to the radio or focusing on the
road ahead. Preparing to change lanes you take a quick look in the
rearview mirrors and flip on your blinker only to hear a loud blast from
the vehicle in the lane next to you.
did you miss a 5,000-pound SUV only feet from your driver’s seat? Where
did they come from? Turns out they were always there in what is
not-so-affectionately known as your vehicle’s blind spot.
Blind spot monitoring or blind spot assist systems are fairly simple,
using sensors located on the side or rear of the vehicle to alert the
driver if a vehicle is hiding out of view. These blind spots are often
located just to the rear of the driver on either side of the car. The
system typically lights up a visual display located near the sideview
mirror corresponding to the location of the unseen vehicle. Putting on
your blinker or attempting to make a move that would cause an accident
results in an audible warning and series of flashing light.
There are certainly low-tech options like extra stick-on blind-spot
mirrors or bringing along passengers that can help with their own
audible warnings. But the system is so helpful, especially in vehicles
that are notorious for poor rearward visibility. I would champion the
inclusion of blind spot monitoring in every car, truck and SUV. Owners
of many newer muscle cars and sports cars in particular would be
well-served by the system.
It wasn’t too long ago when the rearview camera arrived on the scene
offering a new level of safety and security. Rearview cameras work by
projecting the area near the rear bumper of a vehicle onto a screen
inside the vehicle, which is typically in the center stack. Not only has
the system saved countless abandoned suitcases, but many lives in the
process. As of matter of fact, rearview cameras are so helpful that the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will require all
vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds include them as standard
equipment by May 1, 2018. Additionally, a number of vehicles already
offer a standard backup camera.
Some manufacturers have taken the idea to the next level offering
surround-view systems that use a series of cameras located around the
vehicle to stitch together a 360-degree video feed of the cars immediate
surroundings. Going beyond the rearview images, the eagle-eye view
makes parking so much easier, especially in large SUVs that often feel
closer or further away from other vehicles or curbs than they really
are. While the cameras may not park the vehicle like other systems do,
they provide helpful information to the driver. I enjoy earning the
parking hero status that they offer in cramped spaces that should
probably be marked “Parking for Motorcycles Only.”
Adaptive Cruise Control
was an old infomercial that would play during the wee hours of the
night when I was kid. The host would whip the crowd into a buying frenzy
through some pretty slick marketing that included the seemingly nursery
rhyme inspired phrase, “Set it and forget it.”
Vehicles equipped with adaptive or radar cruise control compliantly
follow our infomercial hero’s advice. The driver simply has to set the
cruise control and forget about it, while a sophisticated radar camera
mounted somewhere on the front of the car lets the system accelerate and
brake, keeping the vehicle a set distance from the car immediately
Some adaptive cruise systems only work within certain speed
parameters, shutting off when the car falls below a set speed. Others
work all the way to a stop before requiring the driver to apply the
throttle or reinitiate the system before they move again.
Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up watching too many science fiction
movies, but I love the convenience and show-off technology that radar
cruise control offers. Long highway trips are less fatiguing, and having
an extra set of eyes that are never weary keeping watch goes a long way
to ease anxiety and stress. Bumper-to-bumper traffic that never quite
stops is a breeze, you set the adaptive cruise parameters to the speed
limit and the follow distance to the shortest setting and steer.
I’ll never forget the first time I introduced radar cruise to a couple of friends. We were in a new Hyundai Genesis
sedan riding along a lightly trafficked road in North Florida at night.
I set the cruise control to 60 mph, the roads speed limit, and let the
system do its magic.
The Genesis slowed to about 45 mph as we approached a little slower
moving traffic. About a half-mile down the road I spotted a traffic
light that had just turned yellow. The car ahead began to slow down to
stop at the light and the Hyundai
followed along continually keeping that perfect, safe distance. The car
just ahead stopped at the light and the Genesis applied the brakes
coming to a nice, controlled stop about 15 feet from the car’s rear
bumper. Everyone cheered. The technology is that cool and that
I debated on whether or not to even include the lowly USB port on my
list. With the more exotic Bluetooth technology allowing phones and
audio devices to wirelessly connect to the vehicles infotainment system
and wirelessly stream phone calls or audio, USB seems a little archaic.
But there are things that Bluetooth simply can’t do, like charge my
smartphone. Yes, inexpensive adapters can be had that plug into the
vehicle’s charging ports, which old folks like myself still call a
cigarette lighter, but the usefulness of a USB port should make them
standard equipment on every new vehicle, a practice that manufacturers
like Kia have already adopted.
Upping the USB formula, some manufacturers are offering more powerful
USB outlets that are capable of charging larger tablets and other USB
enabled equipment in shorter times. While many adapter technologies have
come and gone, the USB port has only grown in favor. Many devices don’t
even provide a way to plug into a standard wall outlet anymore, simply
providing a basic USB connector in the packaging.