Car tech is exploding, and each new model year comes with a storm of new options. So which ones are actually worth the money? We take a look at the three tech systems that you shouldn’t miss in the showroom.
In the old days, a new car came with just a few options: manual or automatic transmission, a choice of engines, and the dreaded undercoating. Today, that trickle of options has turned into torrent.
On a fairly basic Honda Civic Si I recently tested, there were no less than 30 options on the list. A German luxury car’s extras list is even more daunting, as it may well run into the hundreds — and cost into the tens of thousands before customers even get to the floor mats.
Accordingly, we decided to highlight the three modern automotive tech options that buyers shouldn’t leave the dealership without.
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
Automakers call their own adaptive cruise controls systems a great many things. No matter the name or acronym assigned to them, they all basically work the same way.
Like any cruise control system, ACC sets the vehicle’s speed. Unlike classic cruise control, however, it uses a radar sensor to track the vehicle ahead of it. If that vehicle slows down or gets too close, the radar communicates with the throttle and brake systems to slow the car down. If the car ahead speeds up, so does the adaptive cruise.
The obvious place adaptive cruise comes in handy is on the open road. Everyone has been stuck behind the blue-hair in a 20-year-old Buick who can’t decide whether he or she wants to go 54 mph or 61 and, as a result, drift between the speeds. Smartly, adaptive cruise control means drivers can relax without having to read the minds of other drivers … or pull their hair out in exacerbation.
Yet the best place to have ACC isn’t on the open road, but on a congested urban freeway. Coincidentally, that’s where drivers seem to spend most of their time, and adaptive cruise control can go a long way to easing the burden — especially the burden on the drivers’ ankle — of the gridlock commute.
The only real problem is that automakers know that adaptive cruise is desirable. As such, they often only make it available as part of a large and expensive tech package. This is frustrating. In terms of improving the day-to-day experience of driving, however, few things make as much of a difference as adaptive cruise control.
Blindspot monitoring and reverse cameras
Many entry-level vehicles now come with reverse cameras and blind spot monitoring as standard. Luxury car buyers, however, might be surprised how often rearview cameras and blind spot monitors are only available as part of a several thousand dollar package.
The cost makes it tempting to go without, especially for older buyers who are used to doing things the old fashioned way. There is something more to consider; cars have significantly worse visibility than they used to.
A combination of improved aerodynamics and safety has led to thicker pillars and narrower windows. The worst offenders are crossovers where this combination can lead to massive blind spots.
Blind spot monitors don’t entirely solve this problem, as they can be fooled by guard rails and other roadside objects. They do make highway driving significantly easier and safer, though. Some companies are also introducing blind spot cameras that activate when the turn signals are activated.
Reverse cameras are becoming ubiquitous, but they are still worth talking about. On large trucks and SUVs, reverse cams are almost mandatory given the near impossibility of designing a vehicle that size with good visibility. But even on small cars, there are some tremendous advantages.
The new generation of birds-eye cameras is particularly fantastic. These systems use four to five cameras placed strategically around the vehicle create to a composite image of the vehicle as if the driver were looking down from above. This is the greatest help a bad parallel parker ever had.
Keyless entry and keyless start
Keyless systems have come a long way. The original entries were bulky and not very precise. In fact, on some of early systems, it was possible to start the car and drive away when nowhere near the key.
The most recent systems are words better. Not only do current keyless systems allow the driver to open the car simply by pulling on the handle, and even start the car without ever touching the key, they can even remind the driver if the keys are still in the vehicle when he or she exits.
The idea of entering and starting a car without ever having to use keys seems like the sort of gimmick that would quickly get old. Instead, once I had tried it, I was hooked.
The ability to quickly and easily open doors with one hand makes a world of difference, when trying to load a car with hands full of groceries, children, pets, live grenades, or live chainsaws. When paired with a power trunk or rear lift-gate, this shuffle is even easier.
The ease-of-use doesn’t get old. In fact, whenever it comes time to test a car that lacks keyless entry or go, I find myself getting angry.
Consumers certainly have a lot of choice when it comes to car purchases. Making good decisions can be challenging, especially because everyone’s situation is different. Choosing options is no different.
We can say that adaptive cruise control, reverse cameras, blind spot monitoring, and keyless systems seem to stand the test of time. Each of these systems adds a lot to the use and enjoyment of a vehicle — and, most importantly, they aren’t gimmicks.