Your Next Car Will Be Smarter Than You Are
When my family made its epic pilgrimage across the country last month, our cars — a reliable Honda Fit and a mid-1990s I-can’t-believe-it’s-still-running Honda Odyssey van — did not make the journey with us.
We figured life in a new home in a new state deserved a new car. So we’ve been trying a few out, and it’s been an education on wheels.
The 2015 Ford Edge comes standard with a passel of driver-assist technologies — like adaptive steering, collision braking, and a 180-degree front camera — for around $32K. (Ford)
It’s been six years since we went shopping for a new car, but it feels more like 60. Automobiles are a lot smarter than they were just a few years ago, thanks to a raft of safety features that rely on cameras, radar, and other sensors built into the body of the car, as well as sophisticated software algorithms that can make lightning-fast decisions on your behalf.
Some of this technology is with us in cars this year, but in the next model year, these features will be entering the mainstream in a big way — inching us ever closer to the self-driving car that many of us clamor for.
Tech yo-self before you wreck yo-self
The safety tech goes by a variety of names, and the exact features vary depending on the car maker, but they generally fall into the following categories:
• Adaptive cruise control. When you’re zooming along the highway at 70+, this will automatically detect if a car ahead of you is traveling more slowly than you are and ease off the accelerator before you’re on top of it.
• Collision avoidance. Similar to adaptive cruise control, this is the “Oh my god we’re going to crash” sensor, which will either preset the car for maximum braking performance or do the braking for you, allowing you to stop before you plow into that stalled car that appeared to drop out of nowhere.
• Tailgating warnings. Sensors calculate the speed you’re traveling and the distance to the next car’s bumper, and then alert you via the dashboard when you’re getting too close. (They’re also a handy way to prove to one’s spouse that you don’t tailgate nearly as often as she claims you do. Just saying.)
• Blind-spot alerts. This was one of my favorite features of the Buick Enclave we drove across the country last month. Whenever a car entered the Enclave’s blind spot, an indicator in a corner of the side mirror would turn red. This removed much of my anxiety while changing lanes at 75 mph.
• Lane correction. Cameras detect lines on the road and warn you if you start to change lanes unexpectedly when traveling at freeway speeds. Some models will nudge the car back into place if you’re drifting or starting to fall asleep at the wheel.
• Cross-traffic warning. Instead of merely displaying what’s behind you on the rear-view camera, this alerts you if an object — like someone pushing a baby stroller — is about to enter the frame. With a Cadillac ELR we recently tested, the driver’s seat would vibrate if a barrier loomed into its view. (My wife kept saying, “The Cadillac is grabbing my butt again.” I think that’s one of the reasons she liked it so much.)
Safety at a price
What’s the catch? Money, of course. Odds are you’ll have to pay at least $30,000 for a car that comes with these features, says Ed Hellwig, executive editor at Edmunds.com. But you may be able to add a safety package to midrange cars for anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the model. Ford, for example, is offering many of these features as an option for 80 percent of its 2015 fleet.