Mainstream high tech features explained

High-tech safety, connectivity and fuel-saving technology is going mainstream in a serious way. Here’s what new car shoppers need to know.

In the time since you last bought a new car, the level of technology available in affordable, mainstream models has exploded. Technology is great stuff. During the last decade, it’s allowed mankind to land a space probe on a moving asteroid. It’s given us high-powered phone cameras that fit in our pockets. It’s enabled us to automate our homes, save energy, and track our fitness with ever-increasing effectiveness. And, in the world of the everyday automobile, it’s made for rides that are more powerful, safer, more efficient, and more connected than ever.  So, if you’re in the market for a new mainstream vehicle this year, here’s a primer on the very latest in new car tech that focuses on saving, connectivity, and safety.

Safety Tech: 

Higher-than-ever levels of safety technology are emerging at lower price points. Once the stuff of flagship models priced in six-figure territory, affordable access to outward-looking hazard detection systems are the name of the auto industry’s safety game today. Using cameras and radar, your next new ride can likely alert you of an elevated collision risk up the road, an unintended lane departure, a vehicle hiding in your blind spot, and more. Many models can even self-apply their own brakes to prevent certain types of low-speed accidents.

These systems and their functionalities are marketed under a plethora of different names, but they all share an ability to look outward into the driving environment, to keep drivers even more alert to the goings on in the world around them. Toyota is rolling out a barrage of systems like these as standard equipment on every single vehicle they sell, and other manufacturers are offering them up at ever-decreasing prices, too. These systems turn on whenever the car starts up and work to provide early notice about potential hazards nearby with audible or visual alerts. Nissan and Infiniti even flaunt one such system that can detect emergency braking, two cars ahead in traffic.

Backup camera systems are now mandated as standard equipment on all rides, too.

2018 Golf GTI Large 6700

Connected Car Tech:

Bluetooth hands-free calling has been around for ages—but this electronic communication language has now evolved to add more functionality than ever. In your next new car, Bluetooth may allow you to make hands-free phone calls, access your iPhone’s Siri voice assistant from a button on the steering wheel, or to stream music and media wirelessly from your handset. The Bluetooth connection, and your Smartphone’s cellular data connection, can also power a variety of in-dash apps, allowing you to check movie listings, fuel prices, weather forecasts and more, right from your ride’s central screen.

Some new models have built-in cellular and GPS connections for enhanced features that include in-car Wi-Fi and OnStar (GM products), remote Smartphone control of select vehicle functions (GM products and others), concierge services (Acura, Infiniti and others), remote vehicle monitoring (various), and plenty more. Got a young driver? Some new vehicles allow you to define a virtual “geofence”, and receive a phone notification if your vehicle leaves a pre-set boundary. Remote sending of destinations to your navigation system, and Smartphone powered remote start are common today, too.

Finally, look for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. These two interfaces effectively upscale your handset’s display, voice-command functionalities and numerous other elements right into the vehicle’s central command system. Drivers get full, voice-commanded manipulation of media, contacts, maps and plenty more—all while using the same interface and menu structure as their handset. Many cars also allow for mobile hotspots, either through the car’s own system or through connected phones.

Fuel Saving Tech: 

Big displacement engines? You’re on the bench. Downsized and turbocharged engines? You’re up. Smaller engines with turbochargers are powering more and larger vehicles than ever, as the auto industry works to deliver the efficiency and performance that shoppers (and governments) demand.

In many family haulers (Chevrolet Malibu, Kia Optima, Ford Escape, Hyundai Sonata among others), the V6 engine has been made obsolete by more powerful, more efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engines. Drivers typically get improved low-end torque for added responsiveness, and lower fuel consumption. Direct Injection, Variable Valve Timing, and higher-than-ever compression ratios are making today’s engines more efficient than ever.

Other popular fuel-saving technologies include AutoStop, which is marketed under various names, and works to effectively switch the engine off when it would otherwise idle wastefully. With AutoStop, the engine restarts in fractions of a second when the driver releases the brake pedal, and all accessories continue to function as normal when it’s off.

Many vehicles offer up a driver-selectable ECON mode too—which trades away a little responsiveness and recalibrates various vehicle systems at the touch of a button to help save even more fuel. The latest transmission technology also helps save fuel and increase performance, with automatic transmissions increasingly offering up 7 to 10 gears for lower cruising revs and improved acceleration.