2019 Best Auto Tech Awards
Where driving dynamics, comfort and safety are concerned, modern vehicles are steadily marching down a path toward parity. As such, technology has blossomed into one of the last great differentiators among competing models, and we at Kelley Blue Book have constructed an awards program around the cars that continue to push the digital envelope.
Winners are divided into two distinct categories: a mainstream set emphasizing the highest degree of tech-for-dollar, and another honoring the luxury car with the most innovative yet useful tech currently available.
Though many cars today offer loads of cutting-edge technology at increasingly attainable prices – as detailed in our most recent list of 10 Best Automotive Technologies – there are two vehicles that went above and far beyond the offerings of the competition, not only with the amount of features they offer, but the quality of execution.
The 2019 Tesla Model 3 uses technology to enhance the car’s luxury appeal – making connectivity and the use of driver assist and infotainment systems seamless. The 2019 Ram 1500’s technology makes towing safer, adds power while improving fuel economy, and enhances the truck’s already forward-thinking, luxurious interior.
The systems featured in both models delivered on the automakers’ promise of enhancing the driving experience and safety quotient without adding complexity. And when distilled down to its essence, that’s what the best in-vehicle tech is all about.
Winner: Mainstream Brand
2019 Ram 1500
The all-new-for-2019 Ram 1500 exemplifies the use of technology to advance what a vehicle is capable of. Ram’s engineers used tech to improve fuel economy and the overall driving experience, make the interior the most luxurious available in a truck, expand the extensive list of advanced safety features, and make it safer to tow a trailer. And the manufacturer did all of this without sacrificing the pickup’s capability – in fact, the new Ram offers higher towing and payload capacity than the previous model.
Ram’s eTorque mild hybrid system, standard with the V6 engine and available with the V8, works with engine stop/start and cylinder deactivation (with the V8) to provide significantly better fuel economy, up by as much as 3 mpg in the city with the V6 and 2 mpg with the V8, plus a fuel range of up to nearly 500 miles. But it isn’t just a fuel-saver: eTorque also briefly adds torque – up to 90 lb-ft to the V6 and 130 lb-ft to the V8 – when accelerating from a stop, and smooths acceleration and shifting. It also makes the hybrid system’s regenerative braking feel seamless.
Another aspect of the Ram 1500’s tech is in the cabin, where you can enjoy the fourth generation of the company’s excellent, easy-to-use Uconnect system, which offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, plus USB Type-C ports. Also available is a stunning 12-inch reconfigurable touch screen, which can be used in a split-screen-type layout to let you control two different systems, or it can be used to show the map as one vibrant, crisp visual display that dominates the center stack.
In addition to the best-in-class infotainment system, active-tuned mass modules bolted to the truck’s frame and active noise cancellation in the interior make the Ram cabin wonderfully quiet. Between the well-crafted design and materials, the beautiful 12-inch screen, and the lack of interior noise, it would be easy to forget this is the interior of a pickup truck.
The 2019 Ram 1500 is available with more than 100 safety features, including advanced safety aids you would expect to see in a premium sedan or SUV: adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection, lane-departure warning, a 360-degree surround-view camera, and a guidance assist that helps when parallel parking or maneuvering into a perpendicular space. One of the most impressive, though, is something that’s tremendously helpful to truck owners who tow. Connect your trailer to the Ram and within seconds the truck automatically determines the length of the trailer. Once this calculation is done, the Ram’s blind-spot monitoring system also takes note of what is on either side of the trailer and alerts the driver if there is a vehicle or object there.
Ram uses technology to make the 1500 safer, more efficient, and more luxurious, all in a truck that’s more capable than the model it replaces. That this company made an excellent truck even better thanks to use of smart, intuitive tech is why it has earned our 2019 Best Auto Tech Award.
Winner: Luxury Brand
2019 Tesla Model 3
Technology and luxury vehicles go hand in hand. Logical, as the premium segment’s shoppers demand that their vehicles effortlessly communicate with their smart phones, provide innovative infotainment functionality, and offer the latest in active safety features. This is a considerable challenge for automakers — fail to seamlessly integrate technology within the vehicle and the driver will be dangerously overwhelmed and confused.
Tesla’s Model 3 earns the 2019 Kelley Blue Book Best Auto Tech award for Luxury Vehicles because it accomplishes all the objectives with a minimalist driver interface — a single 15-inch high-resolution touch screen mounted at the center of the dashboard — and logical, easy-to-use software. Even the three-spoke steering wheel is clean and uncomplicated, adorned with nothing but a single multifunction scroll wheel on each horizontal spoke.
But don’t think that Tesla skimps on features. Standard on every 2019 Tesla Model 3 is a comprehensive suite of digital technology that includes Wi-Fi and LTE internet connections (for automatic diagnostics and vehicle communication), voice-activated controls, and Bluetooth phone and media integration. In addition to a commendable all-around 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Tesla Model 3 boasts standard lane-departure warning, park assist, blind-spot sensors, and automatic emergency braking and collision avoidance technology. Speed Assist (a speed-limit warning) and range calculation (the vehicle continuously monitors the battery’s state-of-charge and proximity to a charging station) are two additional Tesla technologies.
Every Model 3 is also fitted with all the hardware needed for the vehicle’s optional Autopilot — Tesla’s semi-autonomous driver assist system. Standard are eight cameras (allowing a 360-degree view), forward-facing radar, and a dozen ultrasonic sensors engineered to ease the driver’s workload while navigating busy highways. The latest version of the Autopilot software not only automatically changes lanes (the driver needs to activate the blinker), but it also detects hard-to-spot lane-splitting motorcycles and suggests moving out of the passing lane if traffic conditions warrant.
Best of all, there is little worry about near-term technical obsolescence. Most automakers require owners to visit a dealership for updates and enhancements, but much of the technology on the Model 3 is kept current with over-the-air updates via Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Aside from minor services every two years (the electric vehicle only needs an infrequent brake fluid and coolant flush), there is rarely a need to visit a Tesla service center — technology makes the ownership experience much more convenient.
As expected, the unconventional — dare we say futuristic? — Tesla Model 3 does require a thorough walkthrough and familiarization process before the driver becomes fully acclimated to its technology, but even those without a tech-savvy demeanor will quickly adapt to the simple interfaces. The entire Kelley Blue Book editorial team drove the 2019 Tesla Model 3, and all of us were impressed with how effortless it was to operate — a solid confirmation of why it earned our Best Auto Tech award.