Buying a modern car can feel like taking a trip into the future. Back in the days of the classics, your biggest decision was whether or not to hang a pair of fuzzy dice on the rearview mirror once you got the car off the lot. Today, you’re bombarded with a dizzying array of new car features that would have sounded impossible just a few years ago.
How do you distinguish between features that are helpful and those that are frivolous? Explore the most popular bells and whistles available before heading out to a dealership, and decide for yourself which extras will make your driving experience easier, safer and more comfortable.
Car Features That Keep You Safe
A true must-have for safety is automatic emergency braking (AEB). This technology helps prevent rear-ending and more serious accidents by detecting impending collisions and taking appropriate actions. If a car suddenly stops in front of you and you can’t brake hard enough to stop your own vehicle in time, dynamic brake support (DBS) kicks in to add extra force. Should another car take you completely by surprise, crash imminent braking (CIB) intervenes to reduce speed or to help stop the car before a collision can occur.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSA) reported in 2012 that 28 percent of all crashes, or more than one-quarter of auto accidents, are rear-end collisions. AEB, which has been available as an option on some vehicles since 2006, may help to reduce instances of these types of collisions.
Car Features for a Better View: Cameras and More Cameras
Other safety features designed to reduce the number of accidents are becoming commonplace. Backup cameras use a camera mounted in the rear of the car to display an image on your dashboard screen as soon as you shift into reverse. The display shows how far you are from objects behind you, making it easier to maneuver and park.
Traffic alert systems provide additional safety features:
- Rear cross systems detect moving vehicles behind your car and alert you with a warning tone and a light on the dashboard or rearview mirror.
- Blind spot monitoring (BSM) covers the areas that you can’t see when changing lanes and displays an alert light on your side mirror or window frame if another vehicle is present.
- Forward collision systems act as early alerts and can be used in conjunction with AEB to prevent serious rear-end accidents.
All of these features work to expand your field of vision and give you a better chance of reacting to potentially dangerous situations in time to avoid collisions.
Car Features That Keep You Informed: Infotainment Systems Just Got More Familiar
Nobody wants to be separated from their smartphones these days, even in the car. Fortunately for the tech-obsessed, both Apple and Android have created solutions that link mobile devices to the touchscreen displays now found in many vehicles. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available on select models and will begin appearing in more cars as time goes on. All you have to do is plug your smartphone in, and the functions you’re already familiar with on the device will appear on your car’s dashboard display.
Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be used with regular touchscreen commands, and CarPlay allows you to navigate options using knobs or buttons. Siri works with CarPlay as well, letting you dictate commands without looking away from the road. These systems also provide access to maps and directions, streaming music and your favorite apps.
Along with this technology comes the advent of gesture control, a feature that may be a little too futuristic to take hold just yet. Replacing dashboard buttons with touchscreens or displays that respond to movement requires drivers to learn new ways of accessing their favorite features, and this learning curve could create dangerous situations instead of improving safety.
Car Features That Make Life Easier: Heads-Up Displays to Keep Your Eyes on The Road
A heads-up display (HUD) puts emphasis on driving safely while making it possible to still enjoy your infotainment technology. When the HUD is activated, it projects a digital image onto your windshield to display any information you want to know about the car. This image has a transparent background so that it doesn’t block your view. Being closer to eye level makes it safer to check than traditional displays that require you to take your eyes off the road.
In addition to monitoring your speed, getting driving directions and looking at your current playlist, you can also link a HUD to your smartphone via Bluetooth to get alerts about texts, calls and other messages. This allows you to stay in touch without violating local laws regarding mobile device use or performing actions that may be dangerous while you’re driving.
Car Features That Might Be a Bit Over the Top: A Remote for Your Car?
If you ever wanted a life-size remote control car, new technology could make that dream come true. Both Mercedes-Benz and BMW have unveiled vehicles that include remote parking systems designed to allow drivers to maneuver their cars in an out of tight parking spaces without having to be behind the wheel. The Mercedes-Benz Remote Parking Pilot is controlled by a smartphone app, and BMW cars can be manipulated using a screen integrated into a key fob.
Range Rover is taking this several steps further with a prototype vehicle that can actually be driven via smartphone.
Designed with off-roaders in mind, the feature allows drivers to test various maneuvers on uncertain terrain. In everyday driving situations, the technology could be used in a similar way as remote parking. However, neither of these new car features offers the same kind of safety advantages as others and should be considered a luxury at this point.
Although these features may once have seemed like the “wave of the future,” they’re becoming commonplace in many new vehicles. Some may disappear as drivers discover that they’re not all they’re cracked up to be, and others will inevitably take their place.
Have you tried out any of these features? Which one interests you the most, and what would you like to see added in the future?