By Emily Hansen
With each passing model year, the technology available in your vehicle becomes more sophisticated. Long gone are the days when an in-dash CD player meant you hit the technology gold mine. Now, you look for technology that enhances your safety on the road or integrates your digital life into your car.
In 2014, what’s hot when it comes to cool car gadgets? Plus, did you know there are ways to get some of the most recent tech advances integrated into your late model used car? Read on.
What’s Your Gen?
Your comfort level with some of the newest car technology often depends on your generational perspective. While many Millennials are looking for ways to stay Web-connected in the car, slightly older drivers are often looking for ways to stay on top of their fuel-economy. Gen-X drivers may be focused on keeping kids safe in their vehicles while many Baby Boomers are looking for technology that makes driving easier and more comfortable. Many 2014 models have the gadgets and technology that will satisfy a variety of high-tech expectations.
Major technology trends can be found in a wide variety of price points and include these broad categories:
- Car Automation: Many car manufacturers have been focusing their research and development dollars on the idea that cars will be fully automated, requiring very little human driver interaction, within the next decade. While self-driving cars are controversial, the trend is clear. Short of driving themselves, cars are definitely starting to take on many tasks for drivers. Automation technology now available in 2014 cars (and others built in this decade) include adaptive cruise control (slows down as you approach the car in front of you), collision alert systems and lane-departure warning systems. Some other automation features include adaptive headlamps, blind spot monitoring, automated parking and traffic signal detection systems. Each of these features currently reside in the realm of driver assistance but can easily be grouped and adapted to pilot self-driving cars of the not-too-distant future.
- Backup Cameras and Sensors: Since 2007, car manufacturers have been anticipating federal regulations requiring backup cameras on all vehicles. However, it looks like those requirements won’t kick in until the 2017 model year, according to US News & World Report. In the meantime, manufacturers have been proactive in adding backup cameras to cars from their luxury brands down to even their value models. Many 2014 models have backup cameras, particularly SUVs, and those that do not often have sensors that warn of impending collisions with an auditory signal. There are hundreds of fatalities and thousands of injuries due to backup accidents each year, so adding a backup camera to your must-have car gadget list is a good idea.
- Bluetooth Connectivity: With smartphone use growing among all age and incomes, having a Bluetooth connection in your car now is almost as ubiquitous as having a radio. For most manufacturers, the vehicles in their model lineup (except maybe some base models) all include both a USB jack and a Bluetooth connection. Ease of use varies widely among manufacturers, but with a little persistence, connection to most smartphones and many other cell phones takes just minutes. After getting your Bluetooth device setup, use it for listening to music from your device or taking the occasional hands-free phone call.
- Integrated Internet Radio: Since sometime in the early 1930s drivers and their passengers have enjoyed having radio and music in cars. You have probably moved beyond carrying a collection of CDs in your car to simply connecting your portable device to the in-dash entertainment system. Well, the next wave has arrived in the form of streaming Internet radio. Many services like Pandora and LastFM have collaborated with car manufacturers to provide endless entertainment at your fingertips. Just launch your car’s Internet Radio app and follow a few steps to connect your smartphone. You can listen to the music YOU want until your heart’s content (or until your data limit is reached).
Some Shout Outs
Some vehicles have more gadgetry available than others do. Drivers who pride themselves on having the latest doohickeys will want to consider some of these choices:
2014 Chevy Impala: The 2014 Chevy Impala features a wide variety of features that are sure to thrill both casual users and technophiles. It starts with the MyMedia infotainment system, where up to three users can plug their devices into USB ports to combine forces for one giant road-trip worthy music collection. Residents north of the Mason-Dixon line will appreciate the long-range remote start key fob which can start the car from about 200 ft. away. If your fob does not have this feature, be sure to invest in an OnStar subscription and use the OnStar Remote app to start your car from just about anywhere with a cellphone signal.
Audi models with Audi Connect: The Audi Connect system is like Siri for your car. It features in-car Wi-Fi for up to eight devices and multi-input Google search technology for finding and mapping almost any location. It offers real-time weather and traffic information as well as up-to-date event and movie listings. New for 2014, Audi partnered with Inrix and the ParkMe app to find parking spots in major cities.
Siri Eyes Free Integration: Available in several 2014 BMW, GM, Honda and Lexus vehicles, Siri Eyes Free is exactly what it sounds like. It pairs your iOS smartphone with your car and allows you to use Siri’s features through your car’s sound system.
2014 Honda Odyssey: For the minivan buyer who also like the to run a tight ship, the 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Edition features a built in vacuum for cleaning up all the inevitable messes that come with having kids and pets in the car.
Aftermarket Bells and Whistles
Car technology enthusiasts who can’t swing a new car may want to consider some aftermarket accessories to satisfy their gadget cravings.
- Directed SmartStart: Anyone who has lived in a cold weather climate could tell you that having a remote starter on your car is pure luxury. For a few hundred dollars for installation and an annual subscription fee, add the SmartStart module to your car and access it through your smartphone.
- Zubie Key: A family-oriented driving tool that plugs into your vehicle information port and collects all kinds of data ranging from jackrabbit starts and hard breaking to speeding and battery charge level. (note: requires annual subscription in addition to the hardware purchase.)
- Navdy: Coming in late 2014 or early 2015, this gadget is an aftermarket device for using the features of your smartphone in the car. The Navdy is a unit that sits on your dash and converts your smartphone information into a nifty heads-up display that helps you keep your eyes on the road while looking at directions or answering phone calls. It uses simple hand gestures and voice commands to navigate through menus or reply to messages.
Remember, when shopping for a new or used vehicle that is loaded with gadgets, check for automated safety systems, backup cameras and smartphone integration features. Many of the best gadgets are buried within seemingly standard features like cruise control and your car stereo. Also, don’t forget to look for aftermarket tech gadgets if you decide to add current technology to your old standby.
Feature image of “car lashes” by Bob B. Brown via Flickr ccc.