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Must-Have Automotive Technology for 2015

The 2014 LA Auto Show is upon us, and that means that the show’s automotive technology showcase — the Connected Car Expo — is here, too. The Expo kicks off the festivities every year with conversations about where tech’s gone in the past year and where it’s going in the future. The hot topics this year are safety and entertainment. We’ve put together a list of six must-have automotive tech features that highlight progress on both fronts. For each feature, we’ve also picked out the car that currently provides the best implementation, taking both functionality and value into consideration.

Adaptive Cruise Control

What Is It?

Using a radar system embedded in the front fascia or grille, adaptive cruise control maintains a preset distance between you and the car in front of you. In some cases, it’s capable of bringing the car to a full stop in order to maintain that distance.

Why It’s Cool

Standard cruise control automatically deactivates when you apply the brake, so it’s only useful in low-traffic situations. With adaptive cruise control, it doesn’t matter how much traffic there is — you can just kick back and let the car do the work.

Is It Worth the Money?

Adaptive cruise control is worth the money if it’s not embedded in an expensive options package, which is sometimes the case. Once you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to go back.’s Top Pick: The 2015 Hyundai Genesis sedan’s adaptive cruise control is nicely executed. It adjusts seamlessly for slow traffic, and then gets back up to speed without the jerkiness found in some adaptive sytems.

Forward-Collision Mitigation

What Is It?

Typically, forward-collision mitigation systems monitor objects on the road ahead and measure the data against your own car’s speed and heading. If a collision is deemed likely or imminent, the system springs into action. The simplest type merely sounds an alarm, perhaps vibrates the steering wheel or seat as well. There are also more advanced systems that can automatically brake the car to a full stop.

Why It’s Cool

In the age of distracted driving, you never know whether the drivers around you are fully focused on the task at hand. These systems promise to limit or even prevent the damage that can result when drivers’ eyes stray from the road.

Is It Worth the Money?

Naturally, you can’t put a price on the lives that would be saved if forward-collision-mitigation systems were in widespread use. Since the systems are presently extra-cost options, and may only be available on fancier trim levels, they’re not always realistic for budget-minded shoppers. If you can afford the upgrade on your next car, it’ll be money well spent.’s Top Pick: The 2015 Honda Accord offers a reassuring warning system, while the new 2015 Subaru Outback’s EyeSight safety suite boasts an enhanced system with automatic braking — a rarity in its segment.

Touchscreen Infotainment

What Is It?

A central touchscreen that controls audio and other functions, including phone, climate control, navigation and vehicle settings.

Why It’s Cool

Touchscreens reduce button clutter, which can be a significant problem given how complex cars have become. They also enable far richer features than traditional layouts, including graphically rich navigation maps and album notes for songs.

Is It Worth the Money?

Measuring the worth depends on your priorities. For the average shopper in 2015, a good touchscreen’s features are going to be hard to resist. On the other hand, some may find a certain appeal in cars that just give you the basics, although they’re getting harder to find.’s Top Pick: Chrysler’s 8.4-inch Uconnect screen is one of the best at any price, providing iPad-like elegance and quick, reliable responses. If you’re looking at a model in the Chrysler family that comes standard with a smaller touchscreen, we strongly recommend upgrading to the 8.4-in version.

Parking Assist

What Is It?

The most basic form of parking assist is a set of proximity sensors (either rear or front and rear) that beep when you’re about to hit something. Increasingly, though, automakers are offering self-parking systems that can find a suitable space and park the car automatically.

Why It’s Cool

Just imagine looking down and seeing the steering wheel turning by itself as the car maneuvers into position. How cool is that? Plus, you’ll never have to worry about scraping a wheel on the curb, because these systems won’t let that happen.

Is It Worth the Money?

This is hardly a life-saving feature, of course, but it’s a serious stress reliever, and your kids are going to love it. If it’s readily available on the car that you’re considering, you’ll likely be glad you sprang for it.’s Top Pick: Ford more or less pioneered the self-parking system with its Active Park Assist, and it’s still our pick for value-oriented shoppers.

In-Car Connectivity

What Is It?

A data connection in your dash that powers Wi-Fi access for compatible devices.

Why It’s Cool

If you’re often on the road for work, you know what it’s like when you need to find an Internet connection — there’s not always a Starbucks right around the corner. With in-car connectivity, you are your own Starbucks (minus the Frappuccinos, unfortunately). Your passengers will dig it too, whether they’re kids with iPads in the back or colleagues with laptops getting work done on the fly.

Is It Worth the Money?

Absolutely. The Internet is the lifeblood of so many contemporary activities; it just makes sense to have it at your fingertips whenever you’re in the car.’s Top Pick: General Motors’ 4G LTE connectivity is now widely available across its brands, and we like it for two reasons: 4G means faster Internet (many rivals are stuck on 3G), and its flexible payment plans let you tailor the service to your needs.

Auto Stop/Start

What Is It?

A system that automatically turns the engine off when you brake to a stop and turns it back on again when you take your foot off the brake.

Why It’s Cool

Cars burn a lot of fuel unnecessarily when they’re idling, and with traffic getting worse in many of our cities, there’s more idling going on than ever before. Auto stop/start both improves fuel economy and cuts needless emissions. It’s a win-win.

Is It Worth the Money?

Yes, because it actually saves you money over the long haul. Plus it’s good for the environment. Look for this feature to be standard on most, if not all, vehicles in the not-too-distant future.’s Top Pick: The 2015 Chevrolet Malibu’s auto stop/start feature is pretty smooth with its transitions, and we like that Chevy offers the feature on a mainstream family sedan.

Thankfully, used and certified pre-owned shoppers can get in on the action, as well. Automotive technology changes rapidly, so while you may not be getting the most recent version of a particular feature, you can still find some pretty great tech on a used model that might be 5 years old. Toyota has offered adaptive cruise control on the Sienna minivan for many years, and some Acura vehicles have had forward-collision warning since 2008.

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