One of the perks of buying a new vehicle is that it offers numerous features that promise a safer or more convenient driving experience. Some technologies have trickled down from luxury to mainstream segments, while others have been introduced quickly across the market. But which features are essential, either as standard equipment or options? Edmunds’ experts break down five must-haves features to look out for on your next car.
Parking is a tricky business, with the danger of curbing wheels, grazing poles, or bumping into parked vehicles. This is especially true of many modern vehicles that have sleek coupe-like rooflines but poor outward visibility. To reduce anxiety, surround view camera systems project a birds eye viewing angle onto the car’s infotainment system. From this perspective, you can maneuver your vehicle in tight spaces confidently.
More sophisticated versions of these systems offer several camera angles, including a front view and wheel close-ups. The most advanced iterations like those from Mercedes-Benz or Genesis can even generate a 3D model of your vehicle in 360 degrees. Towing-oriented surround-view camera systems are also available on some pickups such as the Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra to make the process of hitching up a trailer much easier.
Keyless Entry + Ignition
When the dealer salesperson hands over the keys to your new car, don’t be surprised to receive a plastic or metal fob instead of a physical key. This device can be used to lock or unlock the vehicle. Modern key fobs also have the ability to open the trunk, remotely start the car, or even help you park the vehicle while standing outside it. Once inside, drivers should be able to start the car with a button rather than inserting a key into the ignition.
Premium or well-optioned models also offer smart keyless entry. With the key fob nearby, you can enter a vehicle simply by pulling the door handle or lock it by pressing a sensor on the handle. No more fishing for the fob in your pockets, purse, or bag every time you want to access your vehicle.
Device Charging Variety
New vehicles boast a range of device charging options including DC, AC, USB, and wireless. DC, the oldest electrical current, is still used by some radar detectors and car accessories, but requires a 12 volt adapter and cable to power most smartphones. AC plugs are the same as a household wall outlet and are commonly used to charge laptops or car camping gadgets.
USB ports come in two varieties, USB-A and USB-C, and operate at varying levels of output and charge rate. Both ports require a cable to charge devices or connect them to on-board infotainment systems. Wireless charging takes up more real estate but cuts the cable clutter. Just slip your compatible smartphone onto the charging pad and be on your way.
Wireless Apple CarPlay + Android Auto
Smartphone integration in new vehicles has graduated from Bluetooth’s calling and media streaming to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto’s immersive platforms. These solutions integrate a phone seamlessly into a vehicle infotainment systems. Drivers and passengers can send and receive texts via voice command, listen to music and podcasts, follow turn-by-turn directions, or interact with a host of applications through the on-board display.
The most cutting-edge iterations of CarPlay and Auto are wireless, which is handy if your vehicle also features wireless device charging. Wireless CarPlay and Auto integration means reduced cord clutter and instant access to these systems the moment you start the vehicle. Though most automakers bundle both systems, some only offer Apple CarPlay, so do your research if you use an Android device.
Contemporary automotive interior design is best characterized as a vendetta against clutter. So much so, that we saw a phase of automakers eliminating useful buttons and knobs. Meanwhile, technologies and features are deepening. Fewer physical controls yet more settings can quickly lead to driver distraction and frustration, so a well-orchestrated user interface is critical. To their credit, a number of automakers listened to customer feedback and now include buttons for critical functions.
BMW’s iDrive system is an excellent example of operational redundancy. Users can touch the infotainment screen, control settings via a rotary dial and hot keys on the console, fiddle buttons on the steering wheel, or utilize voice commands. Audi employs haptic and auditory feedback on its infotainment touchscreens to give operators a cue that their input has been received — without visual confirmation. Most new vehicles offer a combination of some of or all of these tools, allowing drivers to use his or her preferred interface.