There’s no such thing as a “stripped down” new car any more. Even some of the smallest and least expensive rides on the road come equipped with a modicum of features including air conditioning, an audio system and power windows and locks. What’s more, top-shelf items like a heated steering wheels and cooled seats, high-tech infotainment systems and sophisticated collision avoidance systems are fast becoming available on models in all segments for the pleasure of increasingly gadget-minded buyers.
And automakers are rolling out a bevy of new features that continue to push the proverbial envelope in terms of safety, comfort and just plain coolness to help differentiate their models in a highly competitive marketplace. Here’s a quick look at some of the niftiest debuting for the 2014 model year:
• Auto Lane Keeping. Models from Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz bring the self-driving car one step closer this year, thanks to available systems that leverage cameras and sensors to keep an electric eye on the road ahead, and can automatically make minor steering adjustments to help keep a car centered between highway lane markers.
• Automatic Brake Hold. The Acura RLX luxury sedan includes a system that’s able to keep the brakes engaged for up to ten minutes at a super-long stoplight or train crossing without the driver having to keep a foot on the pedal.
• HondaVAC. Developed in conjunction with the makers of the Shop-Vac, the 2014 Honda Odyssey minivan offers a built-in vacuum cleaner that’s housed in the rear cargo area, complete with a replaceable filter, canister bag, attachments and an integrated hose that’s said to reach into every corner of the cabin.
• Hidden Door Handles. For the sake of “design purity,” the new Jaguar F-Type sports car features door handles that remain flush with the bodywork and deploy when touched or the car is unlocked via the key fob. Once the car is driven off, the handles retract back into the doors to leave a sleek aerodynamic surface.
• Hot Stone Massage. The redesigned Mercedes-Benz S-Class coddles its occupants with available automated heated and cooled front seats that pack 14 adjustable air bladders for customized back support and to simulate a shiatsu hot stone massage (a technique in which the spine is covered with hot stones). As if that’s not decadent enough, the car also offers heated armrests on the doors and center consoles and a fragrance dispenser that sends a choice of ambient scents throughout the passenger compartment.
• Hydrophobic Windows. No, they’re not afraid of moisture, as the name might imply, but rather the specially treated side windows of the new Kia Cadenza full-size sedan shed water like a duck to help preserve outward visibility in a downpour.
• i-ELOOP. Offered on the Mazda6 midsize sedan, this feature (borrowed from hybrid-powered cars) recovers kinetic energy that might otherwise be lost during braking and stores it to power the vehicle’s electrical components (including headlights, climate control and audio system) to help save fuel.
• i-Key. The 2014 Infiniti Q50 luxury sedan allows up to four motorists to customize a wide range of operating parameters, recognizing a user via his or her keyfob and adjusting everything from seat, mirror and climate control settings to radio presets and stored navigation destinations.
• Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with Full Auto Brake. The latest safety feature from Volvo can help prevent unfortunate encounters with those on foot and riding a bike. Available on the S60 sedan and XC60 crossover, the system alerts the driver if a bicyclist or pedestrian suddenly appears in the vehicle’s path in city traffic, and can automatically apply the brakes if the motorist isn’t reacting quickly enough.
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