New cars are not simple. They’re beginning to look and act more like electronics than basic transportation. Even basic commuter cars available for under $20,000 now boast high-resolution touchscreens with advanced smartphone connectivity and a host of cameras that feed systems that can steer away from obstacles or apply the brakes to avoid a collision.
Collectively, The Car Connection’s editorial team has put countless miles on every new car on the market. But our evaluations are about more than just seat time: we’ve poked, we’ve prodded, we’ve pushed buttons, and we’ve played with advanced features in an effort to determine what features work, what features don’t, and what features fall in between.
Read along for a look at some of our favorites. They range from simple reminders designed to make our lives easier to major steps on the road toward self-driving cars.
If you’re an Android user, the idea of inductive charging is nothing new. But with Apple’s decision to (finally) include wireless charging on its iPhone 8 and X models, automakers have no excuse not to install charging pads in their vehicles. We’re especially smitten with rubberized pockets GM puts in some of its cars that hold phones snuggly in place while juicing up their batteries.
In that same vein of going cord-free, BMW now offers wireless Apple CarPlay in some models and Alpine offers the tech on the aftermarket.. How nice will it be to say goodbye to charging cords altogether someday?
Taking a page from telecommunications providers, some automakers experimenting with subscription programs that combine elements of leasing, renting, and actually owning a new car.
Care by Volvo is like a visit to a T-Mobile outlet to pick out a new iPhone. Subscribers get the brand’s new XC40 crossover and Volvo for everything along the way (except gas and parking tickets). For $600 to $700 a month, subscribers pick their XC40’s colors and a few options, and Volvo handles insurance, maintenance, and wear-and-tear items like brake pads and wipers. A year into the plan, subscribers can upgrade to a new XC40 or they can keep theirs for another year, although they’re restricted to a lease-like 15,000 miles annually.
Cadillac and Porsche offer pilot programs in certain metro areas that work more like an upscale car-share. Subscribers pay by the month for access to a fleet of cars they can swap between as they see fit. The concierge services pick up and drop off freshly detailed cars with a full tank of fuel and there’s no mileage cap—but the services are much pricier than Volvo’s.
Democratized self-driving technology
Depending on who you ask, cars that can drive themselves are either imminent or they’re many years out. Our prognostication leans toward the former, especially since Cadillac and Nissan are now offering reasonably priced cars that can kind-of, sort-of drive themselves.
Cadillac calls its system Super Cruise and Nissan brands its as ProPilot Assist. They differ considerably in their details, but both systems take over steering, accelerating, and braking. These systems are Level 2 out of 5 on the self-driving scale. They’re similar to Tesla’s AutoPilot, except that a Nissan Rogue (one of the best-selling cars in America) with Level 2 self-driving tech costs under $35,000.
Don’t forget about the back seat
Life is busy, especially for families. GM and Nissan acknowledge this. To help ease hectic parents, both automakers remind drivers that they may have put something—or someone—in the back seat. On a hot summer day, it doesn’t take long for a car to become an oven inside.
GM’s system in its crossovers and SUVs sounds a warning chime at the end of a journey if it senses that the driver has opened and closed the back door before driving off. Nissan’s setup on its crossovers works the same, except that it honks the horn. Sometimes it’s the simple stuff.
Waze + Android Auto = Easy commuting
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are great in that they let drivers access commonly used apps safely from behind the wheel. They’re not perfect, but Android Auto has come one step closer with Waze integration that puts the app’s crowd-sourced road conditions information right in front of the driver.
Even if it’s making some city planners furl their brows, Waze’s usefulness is hard to deny.
Land Rover says goodbye to buttons
And sometimes it’s not the simple stuff. Land Rover’s SUVs are among the most complex vehicles on the planet. This year, the automaker’s Velar, Range Rover Sport, and Range Rover lose the bulk of their climate control knobs and secondary switches in favor of a pair of 10.0-inch touchscreen displays. The top unit handles infotainment—think audio and navigation—while the lower display is for just about everything else.
There are pros and cons to this setup in terms of usability, but we applaud Land Rover for attempting to declutter their SUVs’ interiors while still adding functionality.