CHICAGO | Tap on a touchscreen, identify restaurants, find out what reviewers have to say and make a reservation through OpenTable – all while driving at 60 mph on the interstate and never lifting your eyes off the road.

That's the convenience and connectivity automakers are touting at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show. The dashboard is becoming an extension of the smartphone as a growing number of new vehicle models feature interconnected technology that let drivers use Facebook, Twitter and Yelp while keeping their hands on the 10 and 2 positions on the steering wheel. Drivers can ask their car where they can find gas, compare prices at nearby stations online and map out directions.

Voice commands allow drivers to search the Internet, hear what's on their Facebook feed, or listen to Internet radio. They can control such apps on 8-inch touchscreens on the dashboard, more traditional dashboard knobs or buttons on the steering wheel in many of the new models on display.

Another high-tech innovation showcased at the McCormick Place convention center automates the home, and can be connected so the lights come on and music starts to play as the car pulls into the driveway.

"Think about it, you want to tether your smartphone all the time," said Peggy Smedley, editorial director of Connected World Magazine. "Now you can sync your iPhone and Android devices to your car and download things at fast speeds."

Ford allows wireless connections through SYNC. GM has IntelliLink, Chrysler has Uconnect, and Nissan has Connect. The technology – which involves plugging smartphones into a USB port in the dashboard –  is supposed to keep drivers wired but also safe. The car, for instance, will read them their text messages or Facebook updates.

Safety features also are becoming increasingly high-tech in new models, which commonly feature systems that warn drivers if they are about to rear-end another vehicle, if they are drifting out of their lane and if another car suddenly accelerated into their blind spot. They can check cameras that provide 360-degree coverage to see if they are close to hitting anything.

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"I like to see all the new technology," said Highland resident Alex Opach, who took the South Shore Line train to check out the new models.

He drives a Mazda 6 and was interested in seeing the new redesign because he might soon be in the market for a new one.

He went with his brother-in-law, Demotte resident Henry Liss, who has gone to the auto show every year since the 1960s. He marvels at how much the exposition has grown in size since it was held at the International Amphitheatre at 43rd and Halsted streets.

"I just go to bang some doors," he said. "It's interesting to see the new cars, both the ones that make it and the ones that turn out to be costly mistakes."

Highland resident Kevin Brakley has been going to the Chicago Auto Show every year since his father took him as a kid. He worked a late shift until 3 a.m. Tuesday and then caught the train into the city later that morning. The trip cut into his sleep, but that did not dampen his enthusiasm. He was particularly interested in seeing a lime green Viper and concept cars.

He once bought a Saturn he fell in love with on the convention floor, and is always interested in seeing automakers' new offerings.

"I start looking forward to it as soon as they start talking about it on the news," he said.


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.