In the first article of this series, we take a deeper look into each of the features you find in modern cars. We include some insights into the most popular car tech around in a new or used car.
Cars aren’t the simple beasts they used to be. Step in, belt up, turn a key. In fact, in most instances now, you might not even need to bleep the key or get it out to drive—not a great feature for us girls whose handbags have numerous pockets in which to lose the damn thing, eh! Still, it helps to know what a car tech feature is, to know if such a feature should be in your personal must-have, nice-to-list or do-without columns. Don’t be intimidated by the acronym soup—the letters might be different, but they mean the same thing in most instances.
Car Tech Feature: Bluetooth Connectivity
Synonyms: BT Connect/Connected
What it does: Allows you to pair your phone for handsfree calling and additional audio choices
What we think: A must-have to keep you safe and as least distracted as possible behind the wheel
Which models to look out for: Since the turn of the century, Bluetooth has become ubiquitous with most models offering some level of connectivity. In efforts to ensure drivers aren’t distracted, manufacturers like JEEP and Fiat, Mazda and Hyundai won’t let you drive and pair via Bluetooth—even if it’s the passenger doing the pairing, so you’ll have to get into the habit of doing this before you set off.
Car Tech Feature: Reversing camera
Synonyms: Rear camera, parking camera, 360-degree birds’ eye camera
What it does: The reverse camera is something most drivers come to recognise they’ve lived without for too long. Displaying the view from the rear of the car on the centre console screen, drivers can now get a less obstructed and more comfortable view than twisting their neck and relying on the wing mirrors. Manufacturers have augmented parking lines, cross-referenced with the angle of the wheels to aid drivers in getting a better park. The 360-degree camera, giving a birds eye view of the vehicle’s positioning, proximity to its immediate environment is truly impressive and helpful.
What we think: Rear vision, a must-have; 360-degree a nice-to-have (though you won’t step back once you’ve had one.)
Which models to look out for: Nissan’s 360-degree camera is one of the best we’ve tested in the market, though most models are now offering some level of reversing camera.
Car Tech Feature: Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Synonyms: Electronic Stability Program (ESP), dynamic stability control (DSC), anti-skid control (ASC)
What it does: Electronic Stability Control is a technological way of managing skidding. Ideally, you’re the kind of driver that brakes before a bend or corner and not in it. Braking when cornering can cause the car to destabilise, since the force being exerted on the car at speed is coming from different directions. The back end of the car might wobble and slide, but ESC is designed to reduce the wobble, so the driver can retain control.
What we think: The button can be switched on or off, but unless you’ve exemplary rallying skills, or you’re trying to escape a snow drift, we’d advise it stays on.
Which models to look out for: Every modern car has a form of ESC
Car Tech Feature: Adaptive cruise control
Synonyms: Intelligent cruise control, advanced cruise control
What it does: Cruise control is a basic feature whereby the driver can set the speed and take their foot off the accelerator. On our busy roads today, it’s difficult to use the basic package, as we once did, though it still saves some ankle-ache and stiffness on longer journeys. Adaptive cruise control raises the stakes, relying on the car’s radar to maintain a preset distance from the vehicle in front. This really helps with the flow of traffic, since you travel at whatever speed the car in front is. Advanced adaptive cruise control is less likely to be offered on used vehicles, but this combines the radar, with Lane Keep Assist technology (see below), making your motorway ride much more comfortable.
What we think: It depends on how much motorway driving you’re doing—if it’s a lot, it’s a must-have.
Which models to look out for: Not all manufacturers have reliable cruise control packages. The pick-up can be laggy and it’s worth bearing in mind that adaptive cruise control is usually only available on models with automatic transmission.
Car Tech Feature: Lane Keep Assist
Synonyms: Lane-Keeping System, Lane Keeping Assist, Lane Assist and LKAS (!)
What it does: Lane Keep Assist (LKA) uses the front camera and the white lines on a road in order to maintain the car’s position in a lane. While it’s intended to reduce drifting and will temporarily disable when the indicator is on, some drivers have reported instances where the car is fighting the driver to stay in a lane and this can be alarming if unexpected. The younger, often cheaper (if not offered as standard) is new safety feature, Lane Departure Warning (LDW). This also has a raft of mnemonics but essentially, a beep will sound to alert the driver if they are drifting.
What we think: LDW is a feature intended to keep you safe, even if it’s irritating (like the beep to remind you to put your seatbelt on.) Annoyed but there for a very good reason, thus a must-have. LDA is more of a nice-to-have. Coupled with Adaptive Cruise Control, it really does take a lot of effort out of driving longer journeys, but if you’re a nervous driver, having the vehicle fight for control might unsettle you.
Which models to look out for: Hyundai, Kia, Ford and Nissan all have decent LDA and LDW features, but since this technology is so new, it’ll be a little while before it trickles down to the used market.
Car technology has come a long way in recent years. Keeping up to speed with what’s what will help you decide what’s for you and if you’re prepared to dig a little deeper to have that feature in your motoring life. Check out part two in this series for a rundown on keyless entry, heated and cooled seats, and more!