As we look back at the best automotive technology of 2019, it’s amazing to see how far cars have come in recent years. Merely a decade ago, rearview cameras and Bluetooth were optional for most mainstream vehicles. Today, those features are mostly standard, and, for a lot of car buyers, so are many more amenities. A number of popular brands even provide standard comprehensive driver-assistance packages. These can combine tech features such as automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning. As for the latest luxury vehicles, those can almost drive themselves. (They can’t, though, so always keep your hands on the steering wheel and your attention on the road.)
Here’s what some of 2019’s top technology can do to make your life a little easier.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can make it easier to use your phone in your car, but what about your passengers? Those are the folks you want to be distracted while you’re driving, and mobile Wi-Fi is the answer. It can allow multiple devices online at the same time so that everyone can visit their favorite websites, stream video or catch up on office work or homework. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from using the hotspot when you’re not behind the wheel. That opens up the chance to bring online connectivity to the job site or campsite. With vehicles such as the Chrysler Pacifica, mobile Wi-Fi can be integrated into the rear-seat infotainment system so rear-seat passengers can watch movies and videos right on the vehicle’s own display screens.
Electrically Enabled All-wheel Drive
It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a fuel-efficient all-wheel-drive powertrain seemed like an oxymoron. However, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 can earn fuel economy grades of 41/38 mpg city/highway with all-wheel drive. For comparison, the most economical all-wheel-drive RAV4 of 2009 was rated at 21/27 mpg city/highway. That newer model also makes 40 more horsepower than the comparable 2009 RAV4.
The secret to the RAV4’s s newfound blend of traction and efficiency is a hybrid powertrain with two electric motors. As is the case with similar setups, both motors get their power from a large onboard battery that’s charged via regenerative braking. There’s usually just enough juice from these systems to let you travel a short distance without gasoline, as you would in an electric car.
In normal conditions, the RAV4 operates in a hybrid mode, with the first motor helping the gas engine power the front wheels. The second motor kicks in to handle the rear wheels. However, that only happens when the powertrain system detects the need for extra grip. It’s like getting the best of both worlds.
Camera Systems that Create Transparent Trailers
The 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD, which went on sale in 2019, shows how you can find cutting-edge technology in some surprising segments. In the Silverado 2500HD, that means a comprehensive camera system that can provide 15 different viewing angles from all around the truck. The highlight is an “invisible trailer” view. This relies on two cameras, one on the tailgate and an accessory camera you put on the trailer itself. The system stitches together a single video stream that digitally erases most of the trailer. The results are displayed on your infotainment screen. You end up essentially seeing through the trailer for an impressive increase in rear visibility.
Rear-facing Driver-assistance Technology
Recent design trends have made a few of the common safety features especially important for 2019. The issue is that vehicles as different as the Chevrolet Camaro, Mazda Mazda3 and Nissan Murano have at least one thing in common: They may look great on the outside, but the rear view from the inside is seriously compromised. So it’s nice to know that advanced rear-facing safety features have reached the mainstream. The Murano is a perfect example. The upper trim levels are available with not just a rearview camera, but also blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic reverse emergency braking. In certain situations, the last technology can automatically apply the brakes if it detects a person or obstacle behind you.
Head-up Displays that Help with Navigation
Navigation systems deserve a place in the Technology Hall of Fame, if only for saving countless people from having to stop for directions. On the other hand, the typical navigation system requires that you take your eyes off the road if you want to see map directions. A digital instrument panel for that navigation info is better, yet you have to shift your glance. Automakers such as Mercedes-Benz address the issue with technology borrowed from sophisticated jet planes. With a head-up display, your next navigation instruction can be discreetly projected onto the inside of the windshield. You can adjust the display’s position so it’s right in your line of sight. The head-up graphics also can include key vehicle information such as your speed and adaptive cruise control settings.
Smartphones as Car Keys
Back in the day, you had to rely on actual keys to lock and unlock your car doors, open the trunk and start the engine. Remote keyfobs came next, so you could handle locking and unlocking with a press of a button. Push-button start and proximity entry came along soon after. At that point, you could unlock your doors and turn on the ignition without ever having to touch either a key or a keyfob. The next step is the Lincoln “Phone as a Key” system. Another technology from the 2020 model year that’s available for 2019, this is exactly what it sounds like: After downloading an app, you’ll be able to ditch the keys and keyfobs alike and use your phone instead. This includes for unlocking and locking the doors, opening and closing the liftgate, putting up and down the windows and, yes, for starting your car. Also, if your phone is lost, stolen or out of power, you can use a special ignition code on the vehicle’s exterior touchpad. The first model with this technology is the all-new Lincoln Aviator that’s on sale now.