These are the things to look for when buying a new car. Regardless of price point, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a vehicle that has many of the following technologies that are popular with car buyers today.
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 vehicle in front of you, meaning you don’t need to hit the gas and brake quite so often 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. Some systems go further. Cadillac’s Super Cruise driver assistance features for automated lane change functionality, which will allow the hands-free system to change lanes on compatible highways when requested by the driver and certain conditions are met.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Though they are reluctant to admit it, many manufacturer infotainment systems — the do-it-all screens that control the audio, navigation, and climate control — aren’t very user-friendly. That’s why we like Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. Connect your smartphone, and it takes over that big screen, replacing it with something that looks a lot more familiar and easier 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. Every manufacturer has promised support for at least one or both of 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.
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 collision entirely.
The auto industry agreed to make AEB standard in cars by 2022, but many vehicles have it available today. The systems are excellent, 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 incredibly alarming when the system does engage. While Apple CarPlay and smartphone apps are essential, this one could save your life, so it’s worth making this one a high priority on your shopping list.
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 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 Canadian winter morning.
Make sure to ask if there is a monthly or yearly subscription fee for the service, as it can vary from automaker to automaker.
Exit Warning to Protect Cyclists
Cyclists in congested urban areas are often as concerned with parked vehicles as they are with the cars on the road — an unexpected opening car door spells doom for bike riders and injury for helpless passengers. Automakers are beginning to address this common danger with rear-looking sensors that detect approaching bicycles and traffic.
The systems are engineered to work for several minutes after the engine has been turned off. If the sensors see an approaching bicyclist or close vehicle, they alert the passenger with a series of bright lights. If the warning is ignored, the most advanced systems will physically lock the door to prevent it from being swung open into the path of the approaching object.
Lane Departure Warning
Distracted driving happens. Whether it’s a 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 lifesaver if you were heading into opposing traffic.
Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
Parking lots are prevalent sites for low-speed — but pricey — car crashes. Backing out of a parking spot, even with a rear-view backup camera, can be a dangerous 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.
Stolen Vehicle Tracking Software
Police reported about 85,000 vehicle thefts in 2017, according to Statistics Canada, and about five out of every six are recovered. Much of the credit goes to innovative technology that automakers are building into their vehicles, such as the ability for the stolen car or truck to tell law enforcement its current location.
The technology is bundled into the vehicle’s assistance and security systems, such as BMW’s ConnectedDrive or General Motors’ OnStar. While those advertised features allow effortless diagnostics, concierge, and post-crash notification for summoning rescue services, they may also be used by law enforcement to pinpoint the exact location of a vehicle that is no longer in the owner’s possession. Criminals beware.
Teen Driver Technology
Handing over the keys to your teenager can be a nerve-wracking experience, but some smart new tech might ease your mind a little bit. Several cars have built-in, teen driver limitations.
Chevrolet’s Teen Driver system can notify you if the car your child is driving goes over a certain speed, disable the stereo if seatbelts aren’t buckled-up, and even keep the stereo from being turned up past 7 — never mind full blast!
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 smart 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.
These 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 may find it invaluable.