Trees are getting lit and the pumpkin spice is flowing, and that can only mean one thing — holiday season 2015 has arrived. It’s a time of festivity, family bonding, and rampant consumerism, but whatever you’re celebrating, there’s a lot to be thankful for.
Today, we’re keeping our focus narrow and highlighting some truly amazing automotive tech that we often take for granted. There are cars on the road right now that can effectively drive themselves, park without any human intervention, and even update themselves wirelessly without ever leaving the driveway. Call us old fashioned, but that’s pretty incredible.
For this list, we’re focusing on common car features, with a few obscurities thrown in for good measure. Here are 10 car technologies we’re thankful for this holiday season.
Heated and ventilated seats
Heated seats have been around for quite some time now, but that doesn’t make them any less awesome. Few sensations rival the warm embrace of heated leather around your backside in winter, except perhaps a cooled one in summer. Add in a massage function and you’ll be happy as a clam.
Though the 1972 Saab 99 is sometimes credited with offering the first heated seats, Cadillac actually made the feature available on the Fleetwood luxury car in 1966. The option was quite rare, though, and warmth was distributed via carbon-cloth heating pads. Whomever is responsible, our lower backs collectively thank you.
Adaptive cruise control
The next feature we’ve chosen to honor is much more modern one — adaptive cruise control (ACC). Systems can vary from automaker to automaker, but all ACCs use some sort of radar/camera system to track the vehicles ahead and adjust speed accordingly. While regular cruise control holds the car at a steady velocity until the driver intervenes, ACC will speed up or slow based on the position of the cars in front, reducing fatigue. Some will even bring you a complete stop when necessary, allowing the driver to set off again with a quick touch of the “Resume” button. For best results, pair with lane keeping assist for a stress-free ride.
Completely autonomous cars are still years away, but semi-autonomous features like this are a glimpse into a driverless future.
Backup cameras/parking sensors
There was once a time where, in order to see what was behind you, you actually had to turn your head and look. We still think it’s a good idea, but when entry-level cars like the $15,790 Honda Fit come with a backup camera as standard, you don’t really have to. In fact, rearview cameras will be required on all vehicles under 10,000 pounds come 2018.
The benefits of these devices are obvious. With a high-resolution image to reference, it becomes much more difficult (though not impossible) to run over the recycling bins at the end of the driveway, and with parking sensors enabled, backing into a tight spot has never been easier. Has a backup camera saved your bumper before? Let us know in the comments.
The 2013 Ford Escape is the best car in the world – If your hands are full of groceries in the pouring rain, that is.
The automatic liftgate, aka the hands-free liftgate, was first introduced on the aforementioned Escape crossover for the 2013 model year. Though the “foot-activated” system didn’t always work properly — leaving frustrated commuters kicking their cars like an angry Michael Flatley — it did pave the way for one of the most convenient and smart technologies out there.
Thankfully, modern examples of the automatic liftgate don’t require Taekwondo training to operate. Simply walk up to your vehicle with the key fob in range and the car will sense it and automatically open for you.
Ambient interior lighting
Ambient interior lighting may not be very high-tech, but boy is it fun. Normally found on high-end luxury cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, LED lighting can generally be adjusted to different colors and levels of brightness, making drivers and passengers feel like they’re in a high-end club rather than a car. You can even channel Star Trek by putting the cabin into “Red Alert” mode, but you’ll have to make the sounds yourself … if you’re into that sort of thing.
Non-luxury automakers are clearly recognizing the value of this feature, as ambient interior lighting has made its way downmarket. For instance, the 2015 Kia Soul offers mood lighting in five colors, the brightness of which can change based on the intensity of your music.
Keyless entry and push-button start
We’re approaching a time where old-fashioned car keys will go the route of the floppy disc — obsolete, clumsy, and forgotten. Most new cars offer an electronic key fob as opposed to a standard key, which allows drivers to lock, unlock, and start their vehicle from afar. And with their proximity sensors, fobs can automatically unlock a car’s door when the driver touches the handle, which is handy when you have bags, children, animals, or bags of children and animals in your hands.
Once inside, you’ll find yet another function made possible by the key fob —push-button start. Not only is keyless ignition the biggest advancement in vehicle starting technology since, well, the key, it immediately increases the perceived value of the car. Just hit the switch and go.
In-car navigation has sure come a long way. When the first GPS units starting showing up in the 1990s, they were laughably slow and inaccurate, often taking several seconds to respond to simple commands like zoom in or zoom out. While car manufacturer systems still lag behind smartphone navigation in many ways, they’re certainly getting better, and they’ll still get you out of asking for directions.
Modern navigation technology can search for local points of interest, download traffic data, automatically detour in case of an accident, and much, much more. What’s next? Smarter head-up displays, holographic windshield projection, more Cloud connectivity, and cool gizmos like Jaguar Land Rover’s 360 Virtual Urban Windscreen.
While we’re on the subject of navigation, let’s move onto one of our favorite topics here at DT Cars — smartphone integration.
The marriage between cell phone and car used to be limited to USB ports for charging and Bluetooth connections for calling and music, but the options today are much more plentiful. Products like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto allow motorists to use nearly all of their mobile’s functions from the driver’s seat, including messaging, music, podcasts, and a variety of applications completely hands-free.
Automatic emergency braking
We’re thankful for some of the features on this list because they’re cool. For others, we’re thankful because they can save our lives. This one happens to be a little bit of both.
Automatic emergency braking uses similar sensors to those found in adaptive cruise control systems, only here they’re used to stop the vehicle autonomously when danger presents itself. It could be a pedestrian jutting into the lane or perhaps the car ahead suddenly slamming on the brakes, but either way, automatic braking can respond quicker and more efficiently than the human brain can. Some systems even bounce radar underneath the car in front to read the vehicle two places ahead, and can warn the driver of impending danger. Cool and safe? We like that.
Active exhaust valves
One of these is not like the others. Active exhaust valves may not be the first things that come to mind when talking about cool car tech, but they’re techie nonetheless, and definitely cool.
When a button is pressed inside the cabin, cars equipped with this function open (or close) special butterfly valves inside the exhaust, unleashing or quelling the full sonic fury of the powerplant on the other side. This is especially helpful on loud cars like the Jaguar F-Type R, which can easily set off car alarms with its throaty V8 soundtrack. Simply hit the switch and the car quiets down to civilian levels … at least until the next straightaway.