It used to be the case not that long ago that added features on vehicles included things like multi-unit CD changers, power door locks, and leather. Well, the automotive industry has come a very long way, and there are standard and available features that we never would've imagined, and they're not just for the pricier vehicles but have trickled their way down to more affordable cars, crossovers, and trucks as standard equipment.
We're at the point where features that were once only options on higher-end vehicles are expected on every car such as power windows, automatic transmissions, and Bluetooth audio. How times have changed, and we're all beneficiaries of the improvements in the industry. We take a look at seven great features that offer convenience and/or safety that you might love to have in your next vehicle.
1. Blind Spot Monitoring System
Which came first? Drivers no longer looking over their shoulders to check their blind spots or the blind spot monitor? It's like the chicken or the egg. Well, whatever the case, this feature has become ubiquitous in the industry and for good reason. As a car approaches your blind spot from behind, the system activates and gives you a visual cue, typically somewhere in the side mirror or nearby. If you use your turn signal to change lanes and start moving the steering wheel, some systems will flash a light and send an audio warning, too. For most lower priced vehicles, this feature is optional, while some pricier models include is as standard equipment.
The A5 Coupe's blind spot monitoring and warning system is visually one of the easiest and safest. It uses a bright LED in the arm of the side mirror that stays illuminated when a vehicle is in your blind spot and flashes brightly when you're signaling to change lanes if there's a vehicle there. It's so visible, you can see it your peripheral vision, a great feature.
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2. Hands-Free Power Liftgate
We were pretty happy when you could open your trunk with your key fob, but of late there have been plenty of new vehicles that allow you to open the trunk/liftgate without your hands. Ford and Honda let you use your foot in front of a sensor located at the base of the vehicle, while Hyundai opens the back if you stand behind the vehicle with the fob in your pocket/purse. Either way, you no longer have to put down your packages or bags to gain access.
Hyundai's Hands-Free Smart Trunk is one of the easiest to use because it automatically detects the presence of the driver's key fob. When you approach the rear of the car, and it starts to beep. After the fourth beep, the trunk opens automatically. In this case, you don't even have to lift a finger (or a foot) to make the trunk open.
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3. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Not all infotainment systems are created equal. Some, like FCA's Uconnect and Ford's SYNC3 are spectacular. They're easy to view, operate, and the level of responsiveness is very good. Then there are more frustrating systems that could use a helping hand. Thankfully, more vehicles are getting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, streamlining your ability to go from your smartphone to your car without a hiccup. They also open up the opportunity for you to send hands-free text messages and use apps not found on your car's system, making life on the road that much more tolerable.
The Forester is a brilliant choice for a number of reasons. Even the base model for an affordable $24,295 base MSRP comes standard with Subaru's great Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Those are all great additions, especially when those features are optional on comparably priced models from other manufacturers.
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4. Adaptive Cruise Control
Sure, regular cruise control is great for long drives when there are hardly any cars around, but you pretty much never use it on a daily basis. Adaptive or intelligent cruise control uses radar connected to your car's computer system to regulate acceleration and braking, as well as adjust the distance between you and the car in front of you. Couple that will stop-and-go functionality, and you have the right way to mitigate painful commutes. These systems save you the hassle of constantly braking and accelerating, prevent collisions, and generally reduce your fatigue. Many cars now have it available, but brands like Toyota are making it standard on even their lower-priced cars.
The new Corolla Hatchback is a fun little five-door to toss around, and it looks better than any Corolla has a right to be. The exterior is sleek, and the interior has a sporty and practical look that's better than more expensive Toyota's of prior generations. But it's still hard to believe you can spend just a little bit and get the adaptive cruise control standard. We've used the system, and it works remarkably well even in the busiest of traffic conditions.
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5. Automatic Emergency Braking
Yes, this is a thing. It's not just forward collision warning that sends audible and visible warnings to the driver. If a vehicle comes equipped with automatic emergency braking (AEB), the system has the ability to detect a potential collision, and if it senses a latent or insufficient reaction from you (by hitting the brakes, the system will intervene and actually brake for you. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has collected data that shows rear-end collisions actually drop by 50 percent for vehicles with Automatic Emergency Braking combined with Forward Collision Warning.
The QX80 is many things. Big, luxurious, shockingly fast, and also very well appointed. It comes with a slew of standard safety features, one of which is an Automatic Emergency Braking system that has pedestrian detection, so it'll stop for objects smaller than a car in case you're not paying attention in that busy parking lot. For a vehicle this large with a tall hood, it's a huge plus.
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6. Heated/Ventilated Seats
The fact that we live in Chicago makes us favor vehicles with heated seats. But summers can get pretty out of control here, as well, so we love us some good ventilated seats to keep our sticky back's moisture free and cool. Though heated seats have heating elements in them, ventilated seats actually use fans to blow cool air, and some incorporate a function that pulls moisture/sweat from your body for a couple of seconds before turning on the fans.
The 2019 Tucson has been tweaked inside and out for a sharper look, a better drive, and greater creature comforts. If you get the base SE, you do get a lot, but you have to upgrade to the next level Value trim to get standard heated seats. The rest of the lineup (6 trims) get heated seats standard, and the top trim Ultimate that has just about everything you'd want in a small crossover also benefits from having ventilated front seats that work great in the dead of a Chicago summer.
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7. 360-Degree Camera
If there's one feature we love when it comes to tight spaces, it's the 360-degree camera. Using a series of cameras to create a picture of your surroundings, the tech is ingenious and very practical in day-to-day usage. Pulling in or out of a parking spot (especially for those pesky curbs that can easily damage your wheels) is a breeze with a surround-view camera. Now that rearview cameras are standard, there might just come a time in the not-too-distant future where we'll see this sophisticated tech as standard equipment on every vehicle.
If you're looking for a full-feature family sedan that also happens to be superb to drive and about as luxurious as many of the more expensive European cars out there, take a look at the Mazda6 in top Signature trim. For $35,100 base MSRP, you get great handling, beautiful styling, and one of the best interiors in the business. It also has the new and punchy 2.5-liter turbocharged engine for more power. On the safety side, it's got a slew of great tech including blind spot monitoring, emergency braking, and radar cruise control, just to name a few. Its 360-degree camera is also standard, giving you peace of mind at no extra charge.