That’s the question Road and Track asked in a recent story. Where’s the line between the dashboard* display that shows how the stock market is trending instead of your speed (ok, that we made up. Well, we think.) versus something cool AND useful (and safe)?
Here’s a sampling of what made their list. See how it compares with yours:
Number One for Road & Track is the back-up camera. And even if that one isn’t high on your list, we’re all going to be using them eventually – because every passenger car sold in the U.S. now, is required to have one. (And yes, that “thanks” you hear, is from your rear bumper.)
Remember cruise control? Switch that on for a long highway drive, and you can give your right leg a break (plus the steady speed is excellent for fuel efficiency). The addition of radar puts this on the R&T list. Now cruise control can adjust to the car in front of you, and keep you at a set distance behind. You’re still steering though, so all eyes on the road.
Next up, let’s take a couple of under-the-hood items:
Limited-slip differential. Yes, we had to look that up also. Say you hit a patch of ice, and one front wheel starts slipping. The differential sends more power to the other front wheel that still has a grip. It’s been around since the 1930s, but what lands it on this list is the addition of electronics – which make that power shift faster and more precise.
If you’ve ever felt the road a little too much, this one is for you: magnetic adaptive suspension. These shock absorbers use a liquid polymer (yes, we like that) – and little zaps of electricity to make that polymer thicker or thinner, to react and cushion any bump in the road – in a few milliseconds. So by the time you know you’ve hit that pothole, your suspension has got your back. Literally.
Finally, R&T did call out a couple of features that aren’t cool at all – in fact, they’re warm: the heated steering wheel and the heated seat. Readers in our northern states, you don’t need us to tell you why that matters. (Though if you’re south of the Mason-Dixon line, that heated seat is also ventilated – cool, when your car’s been sitting parked in the summer sun.)
Not all of these are on every car, of course – but you can see all thirteen of Road & Track’s top tech for cars, and what cars have them, plus weigh in with your own favorites: Which New Car Tech Features Are Actually Good?
*And just in case you’re wondering, like we did, WHY is it called a “dashboard”, here’s the answer: Back in the days before the “horseless carriage” (aka, the car), the dashboard was a piece of wood or leather, put in front of you and behind the horse(s), to keep mud being “dashed” up onto your lap. Then, in the earliest cars, it would have protected you from whatever the front wheels kicked up (those cars were more open). Later, it separated you from the heat of the engine – and finally, it just turned out to be a good place to put car instrumentation (once that was invented) – the speedometer, gas gauge, and such. But while its purpose changed over the years, the name never did.