Automakers are rolling out cutting-edge high-tech features and migrating last year’s hot new items more broadly across their model lines with increasing frequency these days. With the playing field being relatively level among most comparable models with regard to performance, comfort and quality, manufacturers are leveraging the latest technology to help their vehicles stand out in a crowded market and to help give motorists a reason to trade in their existing rides for the latest models.
An impressive array of totally new convenience, connectivity and safety features is debuting this year on model-year 2013 vehicles which we’re featuring in the accompanying slide show. These include such innovations as the first center-mounted airbags, a seat that “communicates” with the driver and a power liftgate that operates by the wave of a foot under the rear bumper.
Apple has made boatloads of money over the last decade convincing its customers that life is somewhat diminished without being able to avail oneself of the latest iGizmo features, and automakers obviously hope the same marketing mastery works for them.
Sometimes it only takes a few tweaks to add an engaging twist to an existing feature to grab a buyer’s attention. For example, Mercedes-Benz is offering what amounts to the world’s most sophisticated windshield wiper/washer system in its 2013 SL-Class hardtop roadster. Called Magic Vision Control, it squirts washer fluid onto the windshield via channels embedded into the wiper blade in both directions of travel to avoid – heaven forbid – any oversplash. Both the wiper blades and the washer fluid are also automatically heated in cold temperatures to help prevent ice and snow from building up on the windshield.
Advanced multimedia control systems are all the rage these days as automakers strive (not always successfully) to make advanced operations easier and free up dashboard space for additional functions. The latest such system is the CUE (for Cadillac User Experience) that premieres this fall in the new 2013 Cadillac XTS and ATS luxury sedans. It features an eight-inch color LCD display and works much like an iPhone or iPad screen, with multi-touch proximity sensing, gesture recognition and natural voice recognition operation.
To attract help younger and tech-minded buyers, what was once a humble car radio is being packed with increasingly complex features that connect owners and their gear to their cars and to each other. Subaru is rolling out the interactive platform Aha in its 2013 models that lets drivers interact with web-based content through their vehicles’ radios. The aforementioned Mercedes SL allows live Web browsing while the vehicle is stationary, along with access to apps such as Google Local Search, Yelp and Facebook, with software that can be remotely updated "over the air" as needed.
As if that’s not enough connectivity, the 2013 Dodge Dart compact sedan can be fitted with a dealer-installed Wi-Fi hot spot that allows users to connect electronic devices to the Internet, not only within the passenger cabin, but from as far as 150 feet away from the vehicle. Heaven forbid one goes without Netflix while on a picnic or camping trip.
Safety remains a paramount consideration among new-car buyers, with automakers continuing to develop advanced systems that leverage the latest technology and pass existing collision avoidance gear to a wider range of models. To that end, the 2013 Subaru Legacy sedan and Outback wagon’s new EyeSight safety system not only includes lane departure warning and collision mitigation systems, the technology will also alert a driver stopped in traffic when the vehicle ahead has moved if he or she doesn't react within several seconds.
While we’d like to say this is a great advance, usually the taxicab driver sitting behind us at a stoplight performs the same function by blowing his horn.
Jim Gorzelany is author of the Automotive Intelligentsia 2011-2012 Sports Car Guide, available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and the Apple iBooks Store. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.