Car buyers have a long list of choices when it comes to selecting convenience and technology features. Not necessarily gimmicks, but systems that add a lot to the use and enjoyment of a vehicle. What was once only available in high-priced luxury cars, the technology has since trickled down to vehicles that are more affordable to buyers on a modest budget. Here are five features and options that will make life with your car much easier and safer.
Heated steering wheels might be of little value to people in the southern states, but for drivers in colder climates, it is the next best thing to a heated seat and warm cup of coffee. Even drivers in the sunny state of California appreciate a heated steering wheel on a chilly day. Wearing gloves is an option for people who think this creature comfort feature is truly unnecessary, but grip is compromised if wearing the wrong type of glove and it makes using infotainment touchscreens and small buttons really difficult. Plus, you would be surprised to find that this handy feature is available in cold weather packages for affordable models like the Kia Optima, Jeep Renegade, and Dodge Challenger.
Adaptive cruise control (ACC) automatically adjusts the speed of the vehicle — slower or faster — to keep pace with the vehicle ahead of it at a predetermined distance. After the driver sets the car’s maximum speed, a front-facing radar sensor monitors the speed and distance of the car ahead of it and changes the speed to stay 2, 3, or 4 seconds behind the leading car. If a car merges into your lane while ACC is engaged, your vehicle speed will automatically be adjusted until the correct distance is obtained. Cars that have pre-collision warning systems will also warn you of an impending crash and often begin braking to avoid an accident.
A full ACC system is ideal for rush-hour traffic as it controls speed and braking from 60 mph to a complete standstill. Expect to pay around $2,000 to $2,500 for technology packages that include full-range adaptive cruise control. There are partial ACC systems that work at speeds 25 mph and up, which are significantly less expensive.
Intelligent park assistance. The stressful and often frustrating task of parallel parking is now as easy as pressing a button. Vehicles equipped with intelligent park assist systems use ultrasonic or sonar-based sensors to find an open parking spot, calculate the available space and the distance to the curb.
The driver simply pushes a button upon approaching the parallel parking area and the system figures out the rest. When a suitable spot is detected, the park assist system tells you to put the car in reverse or drive. Using the electric power steering system, the computer turns the wheel and perfectly steers the vehicle into the parking space. Your job is to shift into the proper direction, then softly feather the gas and brake pedals since the system only controls the steering wheel.
Some OEMs have updated their intelligent park assist systems to perform perpendicular parking in addition to parallel parking maneuvers. Manufacturers that offer intelligent park assist systems are Toyota, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Lincoln, Range Rover, Jeep, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Cadillac, and Volkswagen.
Keyless systems allow the driver to open the car simply by pulling on the handle and can even remind the driver if the key fob is still in the vehicle when he or she exits. The ability to quickly and easily open doors with one hand makes a world of difference. Especially when trying to load a car with hands full of groceries, rowdy children, over-eager pets, oversized bundles, or the latest home project. When paired with a power trunk or rear lift-gate, this shuffle is even easier.
More advanced systems can start the car remotely before entering the vehicle. A nice touch that can begin to warm or cool the cabin if the car is equipped with automatic climate control.
Backup cameras are fairly common on many models today and are really useful when inching backward towards the front bumper of the car behind you. Camera technology used in cars have gone far beyond showing the driver what is behind the car. When combined with rear cross-traffic alert, the system emits a warning if it detects another vehicle approaching from the side. Very handy when backing out of a parking space and spotting any oncoming traffic is difficult.
Quick tip: Always be sure that you’ve physically checked behind the car before backing out of a driveway or parking spot. There are some objects that the backup camera may not detect, especially if they are close to the ground or under the car.
A few automakers realized the potential of camera technology by offering a 360-degree birds-eye view around the car. Pushing the camera button visually confirms the vehicle’s position relative to lines marking parking spaces and adjacent objects. The virtual 360-degree view processes video from four cameras, displaying the composite footage on the screen as if there is a single birds-eye view camera right above the vehicle.
Infiniti was the first to introduce this technology on the EX35 and has since migrated to nearly a dozen Nissan and Infiniti vehicles. BMW also utilizes this type of camera technology and offers it in their cars as well.