MARK TAKAHASHI: Back in June we released a video of the 10 design trends we disliked. And it seemed to get a lot of attention. As a counterpoint, we’re offering you the 12 features we absolutely love because who wants to be negative all the time? Like the last list, these aren’t in any particular order. And we’d also love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s just keep it civil, OK? My mom read these. As always, hit the Subscribe button below and head over to edmunds.com for all your car shopping needs.
MARK’S MOM: (LAUGHING) Mark sucks.
MARK TAKAHASHI: First up, adaptive cruise control. Ask most people what part of driving they like the least, and you’ll probably hear traffic. Bumper to bumper traffic used to be a way of life here in LA. It was a soul-sucking exercise in patience and frustration. Thankfully there is a feature that alleviates a lot of the tedium. And it’s widely available. Adaptive cruise control uses sensors upfront to judge how close you’re following to the vehicle ahead. As traffic slows or speeds up, the system automatically adjusts, maintaining a gap that you usually set. Adaptive cruise has been in development since the 1990s with Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and GM all working on it independently. The early systems weren’t all that great, with some rather excessive lurches when changing speeds. But they’ve gotten a lot better. Now many systems operate just as smoothly as a typical driver. Much of the tedium and fatigue has been alleviated, both in traffic and on free-flowing highways. I also find myself being less stressed out and far more forgiving of my fellow drivers. Yes, it can be said that adaptive cruise control made me a better person.
And now that it’s available in more economical cars, perhaps it can make the whole world a better place. Adaptive suspension– sometimes I want a sporty suspension tuning that dials out body roll and increases cornering performance. Other times I want a softer and more comfortable ride. Adaptive suspensions allow for both in the same vehicle. There are a lot of different names given to this– adaptive dampers, air ride, magnetorheological. But they all function similarly. With a touch of the button or turn of a dial, you can pick the setting that suits your particular mood. In essence, you can switch between a ride quality that’s more in line with a grand tour, or a sports car. Two for the price of one? Maybe not, but you’re certainly getting a broader range of comfort and performance. Ventilated seats– full disclosure, I don’t enjoy exercise. And I don’t really take care of my body. As a result, I tend to run a little hot.
I hate getting stuck in a seat for hours on end if it’s a hot day and if the upholstery is stifling. Plus, I look like a disheveled slob when I get out. Ventilated and cooled seats are a godsend for me. They keep me pleasantly cool on long road trips and reduce fatigue. A word of caution, though, ventilated seats typically pull air through the seat and blow it into the rear passenger space– something to keep in mind if you’ve eaten a lot of broccoli. Matrix beam headlights– you may not be that familiar with matrix beam headlights because they’re not yet approved for use on US roads. Come on, DOT. What’s the holdup? Word is, they may get approval soon. Matrix headlights use a lighting segment to eliminate a section of the road ahead. With all segments lit, they appear to the driver as a broad spread of light with the high beams on. As we all know, high beams are a problem for opposing traffic. So matrix beams automatically dim a section of the lights to avoid blinding your fellow motorists. In some case, it also dims sections for pedestrians. It’s a step up from automatic height beams and has the potential to make roads a safer place. It’s more expensive and typically reserved for luxury cars. But just as with any new technology, it’ll get more affordable and widespread at some point. Wireless phone integration– nowadays, staying connected is critical for many people. Unfortunately, staying connected can be distracting when you’re operating a vehicle. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have made great strides in reducing distractions with familiar interfaces and lots of voice controls. The next steps are more incremental. Wireless versions of each are now becoming more common, which means you don’t have to buy a BMW just to get it. Kia has begun offering it, too, among a few other manufacturers. My issue is you still need a cord to charge it. That’s why I really like when wireless phone integration is paired with a wireless charging pad. It’s great. You just drop your phone in the pad and go. Most systems will also remind you to take the phone with you when you park.
AUTOMATED VOICE SYSTEM: Your cell phone is still in the vehicle.
MARK TAKAHASHI: Wireless charging pads are also evolving Audi has a signal booster built into some. And the Kia K5 has a built-in cooling vent. Configurable cargo areas– we pay a lot of attention to cargo capacity, especially for family-oriented vehicles. Just as important as the sheer volume of stuff that you can cram back there is how versatile that space can be. One of the best examples is in the Volvo XC40. The floor of the cargo area can be used to section off parts to better hold smaller items. That means you can have all your grocery bags behind a partition hanging from hooks. If you’re parked uphill, you won’t have to chase down an errant orange or cantaloupe when you open the liftgate. The Lincoln Navigator also has a sectionable cargo space that is well suited to its split liftgate. You can position a shelf to allow access through the glass section up top and have more storage underneath for the full tailgate. Versatile tailgates– those SUV liftgates with separate glass openings get an honorable mention on this list. Somewhat related are the new versatile tailgates on pickup trucks. Years ago, Ford introduced the Man Step to the F-Series trucks. And it made perfect sense, especially for those with mobility issues. GM mocked the idea, right up until they came out with their own MultiPro tailgate on the GMC Sierra. Ram has their own multifunction tailgate version, too. The GMC version not only has a step function, but can also be flipped up to better secure cargo back there. The Ram tailgate is split like barn doors, which can be especially helpful in some towing situations that won’t allow bed access without unhitching the trailer. Reverse tow assist– I’m pretty comfortable driving in any condition. But if you really want to see me uncomfortable, have me reverse a trailer into a parking spot. I mean, I’m getting the cold sweats just thinking about it.
I know, I know, some of you are pros at it. And there are tricks to doing it. The fact of the matter is I rarely trailer stuff. And when I do, it’s a small motorcycle U-Haul trailer. With more practice, yeah, I think I can get the hang of it. But I have more pressing issues in my life. That’s why I love reverse tow assist. It’s not particularly new. But it works perfectly. With the Ford system I tested, you just stick on some positioning stickers, set up the system, and go. You steer with a dash-mounted knob, while the actual steering wheel spins madly to maneuver the trailer right where you want it. HUD– no, I’m not talking about the Department of Housing and Urban Development or a classic Paul Newman movie. We’re talking about a head-up display. No, it’s not heads up display. It’s head-up display. It’s singular for some reason. Pedantry aside, head-up displays were developed during World War II to help fighter pilots. In the decades since, HUDs have evolved dramatically, delivering a ton of essential information to pilots without forcing them to look down at the instruments. Cars have less sophisticated versions, but are equally adept at information delivery. You get the basics, like, speed. But sportier cars will show engine speed and G-Forces, too. Others include turn-by-turn navigation and audio information.
Most will reflect the image into the windshield, which is preferred. But some less expensive alternatives from Hyundai and Mazda have employed a plastic flip-up screen. It’s not as good, particularly if you’re on a bumpy road, but it’s a nice touch to include, nonetheless. Smart inflate– if you want to get the best fuel economy or range from your vehicle, one of the easiest things you can do is to ensure your tires are properly inflated. Unfortunately, it can be a pain sometimes. Do you have a tire gauge? Is the one at the gas station even accurate? Nissan introduced a clever new feature a few years ago that uses systems already built into the car. The tire pressure monitors in each well would let you know when the correct pressure was reached by softly beeping the horn. Other manufacturers have followed suit. I love this kind of repurposing of existing tech to create a new feature. It’s like using GPS map data to maximize fuel efficiency for hybrid vehicles, or log lap times on a race track. Sport exhaust modes– I love the sound of a rumbly V8, or the shriek of a V12. But sometimes I’d rather fly under the radar.
Why, no, officer. That wasn’t me making all that noise. Sport exhaust modes have not only made my life better, but also my neighbors’. If I’m sneaking out for a drive before the sun comes up, I’d prefer not to shock the entire block awake with a 7 liter explosion of fuel and fury. The quiet start mode in some Mustangs and other vehicles solve that problem. They even made it smarter by allowing you to set a time range for the quiet start just in case you forget. Once you’re out of earshot of anyone who knows you, hit the binocular button and enjoy that glorious howl echo off the canyon walls and scare the hell out of anyone in the tunnel.
Thigh extenders– here’s one for the taller drivers. Having a good amount of thigh support helps with overall comfort and reduces fatigue over long distances. BMW was early on the scene with thigh extensions on the seat cushions, allowing short and tall drivers alike to find a position that best suits them. Some are manual. Some have power adjustments. Most don’t offer them at all. If this is a problem for you, definitely pay attention to this feature next time you’re on a test drive. In the same area, but not necessarily related is something I’d like to share with you from the previous video, where I ranted about flat bottom steering wheels. You, our wonderful commenters, have shown me the light. I now fully appreciate the merits of a flat bottom steering wheel for larger drivers who like a little extra room when getting in and out of the car. See? My opinions can indeed evolve with the right kind of motivation.
That’s your cue to let us know in the comments below what your favorite features are, or disagree with the ones I included. Also, feel free to suggest topics for future videos, so long as it doesn’t involve me taking a long walk off of a short pier. Thanks again for watching. Hit that Subscribe button below. And head on over to edmunds.com for more in-depth information.