I've been doing some thinking about all the new technology on cars today — some of it great and enhancing to the driver experience, as well as a harbinger of things to come. Other stuff is just cool and goofy. Here are a few of my favorite new options:
1. Honda Lane Watch: I recently spent time in the new Honda Accord Hybrid, and discovered that it’s an intuitive thinker. When I make a right turn, Honda Lane Watch automatically turns on a tiny camera embedded in the right-hand mirror that gives me a view four times greater than the mirror alone.
2. Cadillac ELR’s Regen on Demand: On the new ELR, the upscale version of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid heading for the market now, the driver can generate electricity with a touch of a finger. The car has left-and-right steering wheel paddles, and when the driver pulls back on either one of them when coasting, the regenerative feature turns on. Having driven many cars with regenerative braking, I can say the effect (which uses the vehicle’s momentum to recharge the batteries) feels like you’re applying the brakes lightly — it slows you down, but doesn’t bring the car to a stop. The new Volkswagen e-Golf was also supposed to have a paddle system like this (dialing in four distinct regen modes), but I didn’t see it on a supposedly production version at the Detroit Auto Show.
3. Volvo S80’s Blind Spot Information System: Volvo has had something like this before, but what the company calls BLIS is now radar-based (instead of cameras). BLIS looks for vehicles in the car’s known blind spots, and also informs the driver (via warning lights) when someone is rapidly approaching from the rear. As cars get more aerodynamic — and headrests and other modern innovations impair vision — blind spot problems are getting worse. I know I’ve missed cars that turned out to be almost alongside me.
4. Mercedes S-Class' Scent Diffuser: I was at a Benz dealer last night, looking over a 2014 S550 (below). The features on this car go on and on, but I was struck by this one. What other car has dial-up aromatherapy? Sports (young, green leaves), Nightlife (a heavy leather armchair in front of a fire), Downtown (transparent floweriness with a subtle metal effect, and pleasantly sexy) and Freeside (citrus, without any rough edges) are your choices. The scents are atomized from a unit in the glovebox, and apparently don’t hang on after the system is turned off. There are also six different massage seat settings, including one that mimics a hot stone treatment. And, oh yes, the car has heated door panels and armrests, too.
5. Telsa’s Supercharger Network: At its Detroit Auto Show press conference, Tesla showed a map of its U.S. Supercharger network, which is tantalizingly close (a few more stations left) to offering cross-country electric car travel with 20-minute fast charging intervals in between. Co-founder Elon Musk (you know, the Hyperloop guy) is planning to drive from Los Angeles to New York as soon as the network is done, and tweeted, “At 1.5 hrs/day, we will only ever need to charge when stopping anyway to eat or sightsee, never just for charging itself.” The latest information is that Tesla has 81 480-volt Superchargers worldwide (14 of them in Europe), and has charged 6.8 million miles so far.
6. Ford’s F-150 Aluminum Body: The F-150 has been America’s most popular vehicle for 32 years, so when it switches to an all-aluminum body for 2015, saving 700 pounds, it’s a big deal indeed. With the most fuel-efficient Ecoboost 2.7-liter turbo V-6, drivers should see 30 mpg on the highway and more than 20 in combined driving. You still get 320 horsepower and 370 foot-pounds of torque, so it shouldn’t be a slouch on the road.
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