10 Best Automotive Technologies of 2018
New car buyers would do well to spend less time looking under the hood and more examining all the technology in the car. Of course, the powertrain still matters, but more important is how the driver and vehicle occupants interact with today’s increasingly sophisticated automobiles. That's why we've come up with our 10 Best Automotive Technologies of 2018.
These are the things to look for when buying a new car this year. You may not find them all useful, but regardless of price point it shouldn't be too difficult to find a vehicle that has most of them. If you want to see the best of the best, find out which two all-new cars took home our 2018 Best Auto Tech Awards.
1. Connected Mobile Apps
It's no exaggeration to say that the smartphone has changed everything, including how we interact with our cars. Most carmakers offer some sort of connected smartphone app, but some are better than others. Look for one that lets you remotely lock and unlock the doors, check the status of things like fuel and tire pressure, and even remotely start the car to warm things up on a cold winter's morning.
Make sure to ask if there is a monthly or yearly subscription fee for the service, as it can vary from carmaker to carmaker.
2. Teen Driver Technology
Handing over the keys to your teenager can be a nerve-wracking experience, but some clever new tech might ease your mind a little bit. Several cars have some kind of teen driver limitations built in that can notify you if the car is driven over a certain speed, disable the stereo if seatbelts aren't used, and even keep the stereo from being turned up past 7 — never mind full blast!
Chevrolet's Teen Driver feature also offers a Report Card that will tell parents if safety systems like ABS or forward collision alert have been triggered while Junior was behind the wheel.
3. Adaptive Cruise Control
Commuting is no fun. But advanced driver assist systems like adaptive cruise control can take a lot of the stress out of the experience. By using an array of sensors built into the car, adaptive cruise control can match the speed of the car in front of you, meaning you don't need to be constantly hitting the gas and brake in highway traffic.
Some systems even allow the car to be brought to a complete halt and then resume automatically, making stop-and-go traffic considerably less frustrating. It might make you uneasy handing over some amount of control to the car, but we promise: use it once, and you'll never want to go back.
4. LED/Xenon Headlights
Headlights are the only thing between you and a crash when driving at night, so we think better headlight tech is essential. Whether it's LED bulbs that never need replacing or older but still-excellent xenon systems, illuminating the road is the best way to avoid nighttime collisions.
Many luxury cars have "swiveling" bulbs that turn with the road to illuminate around corners, while auto-high beam systems will keep you from blinding other drivers but maximizing your view of your surroundings. A nighttime test-drive to check out the headlights may be worth considering before you make final buying decision.
5. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Though they loathe to admit it, many manufacturer infotainment systems — the do-it-all screens that control stereo, navigation, and climate control — aren't very user-friendly. That's why we like Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. Plug in your smart phone and it takes over that big screen, replacing it with something that looks a lot more familiar and easy to use.
You'll get a simplified control scheme to access your music, maps, and your phone's built-in voice-control features while avoiding the unnecessarily complicated system that comes with the car. Basically every manufacturer (except Toyota/Lexus) has promised support for at least one or both Apple and Google's systems, but not all trim levels will support them. Make sure to verify your car has the right options, and that it matches your mobile devices.
6. USB Ports
A car full of people is a car full of devices, and everyone needs to keep their battery topped up. So, check and see how many USB ports your car has. Pretty much every new car comes with one or two, but some — like the Chrysler Pacifica, which has nine (in a minivan that only holds seven passengers) — come with many more than that.
Figure out how many you might need, and then check to see if they're in useful places in the car. Expect family friendly vehicles to include a bunch in the back for the kids, while some vehicles are even coming with the same 110-volt power outlets that you'll find in your home.
7. Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
Parking lots are extremely common places for low-speed—but pricey—car crashes. Backing out of a parking spot, even with a rear-view backup camera, can be a perilous exercise. That's why rear-cross traffic alert is so useful.
Thanks to sensors built into the rear of the car, the system can alert you to approaching vehicles, shopping carts, or pedestrians who might wander behind your car without you noticing. Loud beeps are standard with these systems, but some cars can even automatically brake before a collision occurs.
8. Lane Departure Warning
Distracted driving happens. Whether it's a quick glance at the stereo to change the channel or a child urgently asking for your attention, sometimes we pay a little less attention to the road than we should.
Lane departure warning systems use cameras to determine if a car has drifted across a marked lane line, giving a visual or audible notification (or even a vibration through the seat or steering wheel) that you've moved too far out of your lane. The system turns itself off when you use a directional, so there's no fear of accidental engagement.
More advanced tech, sometimes called Lane Keeping Assist, can even help nudge you back into the proper lane, which can be a literal life-saver if you were heading into opposing traffic.
9. Automatic Emergency Braking
Automatic Emergency Braking or AEB uses a variety of sensors to determine if a forward collision crash is imminent and automatically applies the brakes to diminish the severity or avoid a crash entirely.
The auto industry agreed to make AEB standard in cars by 2022, but many vehicles have it available today. The systems are extremely good, though you absolutely shouldn't rely on it to stop you—it's meant as a last resort for when the driver isn't paying attention, and it's extremely alarming when the system does engage. While USB ports and smartphone apps are important, this one could save your life, so it's worth making this one a high priority on your shopping list.
10. 360-degree Camera
Insurance claims from low-speed crashes are some of the most common in the industry. Usually occurring during parking, a 360-degree camera system can make life a lot easier for folks who might not realize just how big that new SUV is.
By combining cameras on every side of the car with some clever computing power, your car's display can show a virtual top-down view of your surroundings. It can show the sides of your garage, whether you're lined up in the parking spot at the grocery store, or provide invaluable assistance while parallel parking.
The systems are getting cheaper and cheaper, and are available on even moderately priced cars these days. If you're in the market for a small hatchback, you might not need this one as much—but a big SUV? You could find it invaluable.