Thanksgiving is about family, food, football, fall colors, and, if you’re brave enough, great deals. For us, it’s also about cars, the people that make them, the folks who drive them, and the tech that makes them more usable, quicker, or both. Before the carving begins, the members of Digital Trends’ car team are taking a minute to sit down and reflect on the cars and the industry trends we’re most thankful for in 2018.
Nick Mokey, managing editor
Aftermarket car tech
We’re living in a golden age of car electronics, and you don’t need to buy a Tesla Model 3 to get in on the action, or even spend very much.
I drive a 28-year-old van, but I added Bluetooth to my stereo for $45, vastly superior front speakers for $23, and keyless entry for $33. The entire van floods in colored light of my choosing thanks to $15 LED strip lights, and I can leave my doors ajar while I camp without killing the battery because I swapped the dome lights to LEDs for $5. Four blinding LED flood lights on my front bumper turn night to day on forest roads, and they collectively set me back $23. It’s only through restraint that I haven’t added a wireless tire pressure-monitoring system for $35 — my $8 digital gauge that’s accurate to a tenth of a PSI will suffice. It’s still fun to ogle the lane-tracking Pilot Assist in the 2019 Volvo S60, or the dynamic air suspension of Audi’s 2019 Q8, but damn, I love my van. And it’s fun to tack on 21st century tech without spending a fortune.
Now, if only there were a cheap way get more than 90 horsepower out of the engine…
The glorious return of the U.S. market wagon
After falling out of favor with Americans around the turn of the century, station wagons are making a big comeback. Without room to blossom as utility vehicles (SUVs still rule that domain), automakers are positioning their long-roofed models as all-terrain tools (Subaru’s Outback and Volkswagen’s Golf Alltrack), premium accessories (Volvo’s V90 and Jaguar’s XF Sportbrake), and specialized hot-rods (Porsche’s Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo and Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S Wagon).
Booming EV options
The slow trickle of pure electric vehicles is quickly turning into a raging river. Whether you credit Tesla’s market disruption or society’s increasing awareness of global decay, we have some seriously compelling EVs on sale and en route. Chevrolet’s Bolt, Nissan’s Leaf, and Hyundai’s Ioniq Electric will soon be joined by affordable models from Volkswagen, Mini, Ford, and Subaru. In the premium segment, Tesla will face competition from Jaguar, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and Audi. Most of these models are due in the next year or two, so if you don’t see something you like already, you won’t have to wait long.
Formerly forbidden fruits
U.S. enthusiasts once cast jealous gazes toward Europe and Japan, where many of the hottest performance cars were sequestered. This so-called forbidden fruit is rare these days. Sure, the U.S. misses out on some cool cars, but we now get the majority of the good stuff. Cars like the Honda Civic Type R (pictured), Ford Focus RS, and Nissan GT-R that were formerly out of reach are now within the grasp of U.S. buyers. Plus, we still get homegrown performance cars like the Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, and Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat.
Electric cars we actually want to drive
Tesla figured it out years ago, but now other automakers are catching on. Electric cars are necessary to combat climate change, but if the cars are boring, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The Tesla Model S proved that people don’t care what a car is powered by, as long as it’s desirable. The Jaguar I-Pace, Audi e-tron, and the upcoming Porsche Taycan show that other automakers are figuring that out as well. Here’s to a future of sustainable performance and luxury.
Cars that balance tech, power, and efficiency
Automakers are realizing electric cars don’t need to be boring, hybrids don’t need to be bloated, and state-of-the-art technology doesn’t need to neuter a car’s performance genes. The Jaguar I-Pace (a model which, unsurprisingly, made almost everyone’s list this year) is an excellent driver’s car in spite of its not-insignificant weight. Many recent additions to the hybrid car segment (like the Audi A6) offer the benefits of a gasoline-electric powertrain without looking or feeling like Toyota’s dowdy Prius. And, while the Porsche Panamera boasts an impressive array of tech features, you can drive it like you’re about to miss your flight (to use a polite expression) and have a blast behind the wheel without feeling you’re piloting a spaceship. It’s purely driver-focused, it doesn’t force its tech on you, but the features are there when you need them.
The proliferation of good sound systems
As a child of the 1990s, I remember when my family’s driving class used to spend a considerable amount of time and money to customize the sound system in their cars. The standard ones sucked, to put it plainly. Even the stereo in relatively high-end models left a lot to be desired in terms of sound quality. But, in 2018, it’s difficult to find one that’s truly, utterly awful. Hell, even an econobox on the far end of the Hertz lot now boast a setup that’s halfway decent. The best part is that this is how they come straight from the factory; there is no assembly required. Premium companies like Volvo, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz take sound to the next level with intricate systems that, through state-of-the-art technology, turn a car’s interior into the mosh pit at an Offspring concert with more leather and, hopefully, less sweat.
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