In order to remain competitive, automakers are finding themselves battling on just about every front, from comfort to power to fuel economy and technology. While huge gains have been made as far as automotive technology goes, the rate of advancement for consumer-style technology has made enormous strides and is now a big part of a car’s competitive advantage.
Kelley Blue Book, best known for its work valuing vehicles based on algorithms to determine a fair price, has sifted through the ocean of new available features that buyers can opt for when purchasing a new car, and came up with a list of the 10 options it believes are the most useful.
“To help cut through the clutter, we’ve detailed the latest and greatest tech features designed to make your driving experience more fun, safe, and efficient,” KBB said. “And whether you’re an early adopter or a staunch holdout, in-vehicle tech will almost certainly play a key role in your next vehicle purchase.
“Not only that, but the trickle-down effect applies to technology in all its forms, meaning the majority of features listed below are available on new vehicles costing less than $25,000.”
Here are the 10 functions and options that KBB thinks are the most useful to you, the driver.
1. Expanded Bluetooth
This comes standard on many cars now, and it is usually an option on the vehicles that don’t come equipped with it. “If you own an Android, Blackberry or Windows phone, chances are your device contains the Bluetooth specification called the Message Access Profile,” KBB reports. “MAP, as it’s commonly known, lets you compose and send text messages from a list of customizable canned responses or, in some cases, allows for on-the-fly messages through the use of off-board voice recognition (a dedicated Internet server that converts your words into text).” Apple users can use Siri Eyes Free, which performs many of the same functions. The advantage is that with Bluetooth audio, the controls are routed through the car’s audio controls, so the driver doesn’t have to keep fiddling with his or her device.
2. USB ports
The use of handheld devices has become such an ingrained part of our lives that most cars are coming equipped with USB ports to accommodate them while in the vehicle. “USB ports are a great way to charge accessories and listen to music through audio devices without a wireless function, such as older iPods, and USB flash drives,” KBB says. Using a USB port also provides better sound quality than Bluetooth (because it doesn’t compress the files), and it allows you to browse music via the vehicle’s audio display.
3. Keyless access and start
Keyless access and start functions are now available for most vehicles on the market; it uses a button or touch sensor on the door handle to lock and unlock your car without ever removing the key fob from your pocket or bag. While it doesn’t necessarily have a more practical function, if you’re someone constantly digging around for a keyring in your coats or bags or whatever, this feature will gladly save you the hassle.
4. App integration
App integrations are growing increasingly common on proprietary infotainment systems but are rarely offered as standard. The increased popularity in cars can be attributed to the growing needs and wants to be connected to data while driving, allowing apps like Pandora Radio or Bing Local Search, Stitcher Radio, The Weather Channel, Movietickets.com, OpenTable, Aha Radio, and Glympse location-sharing to be used from the car’s center console. Again, it’s an extra measure, so the driver doesn’t have to be navigating a cell phone while behind the wheel.
5. Natural speech voice recognition
“Interacting with first-generation voice-recognition software was an exercise in frustration,” KBB writes. “Luckily, many of today’s navigation systems incorporate advanced voice recognition processors that take the guesswork out of verbal requests.” The new systems can now interpret a multitude of varied requests, instead of only recognizing pre-determined statements. Like the Bluetooth plug-in, it’s meant to keep driver’s eyes on the road, with minimal interaction with the center console.
6. Remote vehicle management
With cars like the Tesla Model S, drivers are now able to experience a whole new degree of connectivity with their vehicles. However, the high-tech Tesla isn’t the only one — many companies are adopting apps that can help drivers interact with their vehicles through smartphones, with functions such as the ability to lock, unlock, and start your vehicle from virtually anywhere; control climate settings; view pertinent diagnostic data like fuel and charge levels; or transfer a business listing or address directly to your car’s navigation system, according to KBB.
7. Blind spot monitoring
Again, these systems are more often options than provided as standard equipment, but they are undoubtably useful. “Studies indicate blind spots are responsible for hundreds of thousands of accidents in the U.S. each year,” KBB reports. “In an effort to stop this epidemic in its tracks, many of today’s new cars now offer a sensor-based system designed to alert you to vehicles in your blind spot with either a lighted icon located in the side mirror, an aural warning, or both.” Some systems will also alert the driver of crossing traffic when the car is being reversed out of a driveway. Fancy.
8. Lane assists
Alongside blind spot protection, lane assists rely on sensors to detect if the vehicle is moving between lanes unexpectedly, helping negate the risks of accidentally cutting someone off or running off the road. “Systems found in recently updated Acura, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi models take lane departure mitigation to the next level with corrective action,” KBB notes. “If you drift out of your lane without signaling, the system will gently tug the steering wheel and guide the car back into the center of the lane.”
9. Embedded telematics
To address the demand for more mobile connectivity in vehicles, automakers are now installing systems “that leverage a smartphone’s data connection and others with data connections built into the vehicle,” which will carry a lower operating cost than an integrated system with a built-in cellular modem that requires a separate data plan, KBB said. In addition to lowering data costs, the systems can also be used for automatic crash responses, stolen vehicle notifications, live concierge services, and roadside assistance, per KBB.
10. Adaptive cruise control and pre-collision systems
For many who drive routinely on the highways, cruise control is a wonderful thing. Adaptive cruise control takes it one step further and bases your speed on the car moving ahead of you. For some fancier cars, there can be a collision avoidance system that works with it, so if the car ahead slams on the brakes, your car will do so, too — without you putting a foot on the pedal.