Touching the screen in your car to activate it is nothing new, but with Cadillac's new infotainment system all you need to do is reach toward the screen to bring your apps to life. It's called gesture recognition and it's just one of the many industry leading features in Cadillac's CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system which will debut in the XTS sedan early next year.

Cadillac has created an in-car experience that most mirrors a smartphone allowing you to pinch and expand, swipe and flick your way through songs, maps and phone numbers. The system also has an advanced voice recognition function, isolated to only giving you navigation, media and phone commands, eliminating those confusing basic car functions that other voice systems include.

Beyond the motion sensing, the system has a series of other firsts. For starters, completely customizable instrument panel gives you whatever combination of gauge you desire, along with navigation commands. Another feature called haptic feedback gives your fingers a physical pulse. And, a hidden panel under the dash safely and cleverly stores your smartphone.

Other features like weather maps with Dopplar radar, instant messages, emails, Pandora and Stitcher integration, along with the usual Bluetooth, XM, USB, SD and MP3 hookups make this system competitive with other luxury systems like BMW's iDrive, Audi's MMi and COMAND from Mercedes-Benz.

"CUE doesn't replace your smartphone or your iPod, said Micky Bly, executive director, Global Electric Systems, Infotainment and Electrification. "It allows you to channel the information through a central portal in your Cadillac, keeping hands on the wheel and eyes on the road."

But what makes this technology so impressive is its simplicity. Many complicated in car systems have received criticism for both inflexibility and complexity, but Cadillac found a process that seemed to curtail any unnecessary runaway engineering.

Given a blank slate to create the system three years ago, the Cadillac design team rode alongside 32 consumers for six months to study their driving habits. Although the age of these consumers was diverse, several were in the range of Cadillac's average aged buyer - 60 years old. It was only after this exercise that engineers were allowed to begin tooling away at the execution.

The resulting experience puts familiar icons on a central 8-inch LCD touch screen. The behind-the-wheel 12.3 LCD reconfigurable gauge cluster has a healthy combination of visual choices for speedometers, fuel gauge, navigation and entertainment.

By the way, don't worry about the gesture sensing getting you into trouble. Moving your hand in the area of the central screen simply causes more icons to appear. You have to actually touch the icon on the screen to activate any features.

Cadillac also assures us that the screens will be readable in all types of lighting since the screen has 24-bit color depth and it's two times brighter than an iPad and five times brighter than a laptop.

The CUE system will be featured at the upcoming LA Auto Show and will be first found in the XTS sedan in April followed by the ATS compact sedan and the SRX crossover later in 2012.

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Joni Gray is a long-standing member of the automotive industry and has worked on both the corporate and publishing sides of the business. Over the past 20 years, she has managed advertising and marketing programs at Mazda, Hyundai and Honda and has been an editor at both Kelley Blue Book and the Los Angeles Times.

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