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Must-Have Automotive Technology for 2017

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2016

As you've probably already realized, automotive technology has continued to get more and more advanced in recent years. This year, shoppers interested in buying a new car should expect a lot of cool new gadgets and features in their vehicle, even if they aren't spending a fortune or buying a high-end luxury car. To help you figure out what to get and what to expect when buying a new car, we've rounded up some of our favorite must-have technology features for 2017 -- items that are increasing in popularity and starting to find their way into a growing number of new cars.

Advanced Self-Driving Capabilities

Advanced Self-Driving Capabilities

What Is It?

These days, systems like forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control aren't enough. Automakers like Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Volvo are rolling out self-driving systems that can put it all together in one far more advanced package.

Why It's Cool

Even the most die-hard auto enthusiasts generally agree that they'd like to see self-driving cars for the boring parts of driving, like commutes or long, monotonous highway trips. The latest autonomous driving systems are certainly taking us in that direction. The most advanced is Tesla's Autopilot, while Volvo's Pilot Assist system also offers an impressive look at the future.

Is It Worth the Money?

That depends. If you don't spend much time commuting or traveling by car for work, it probably isn't. But if you're stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic every day, a car with autonomous capabilities could help keep you sane.

Adaptive Suspension

Adaptive Suspension

What Is It?

Formerly restricted to ultra-high-end sports cars, adaptive suspension systems are starting to find their way into other models. These systems allow you to custom-tailor your car's suspension based on the experience you want to have, with modes like "comfort" and "sport."

Why It's Cool

Adaptive suspension systems are getting so advanced that even the least sensitive drivers can now easily distinguish between comfort and sport modes on most vehicles. These systems are cool because they no longer force automakers to choose one suspension setup and forsake the others. In the past, if your car's ride was too harsh or too soft, you had to live with it -- or choose a different car. Now, you just flip a switch in the center console and dial in the suspension to your liking.

Is It Worth the Money?

For drivers who often find themselves critiquing a car's ride or spend a lot of time navigating rough roads and managing tight corners, adaptive suspension is definitely worth the money. It can allow you to change your driving experience with the push of a button.

Autonomous Safety Features

Autonomous Safety Features

What Is It?

Autonomous safety features are no longer restricted to high-end luxury cars. Many vehicles now offer a suite of autonomous safety tech, including lane-keep assist, automatic forward-collision braking and adaptive cruise control. Nissan even has a feature called Predictive Forward Collision Warning, which allows your car to respond to a perceived incident two cars ahead.

Why It's Cool

It's mostly cool because it means you no longer have to spend a fortune to get autonomous technology in your new car. These days, you can order a Honda Civic that will stop itself in the event of an impending collision, a Hyundai Elantra that will steer itself back into its lane if it starts to drift out or a Mazda3 that will slow down and speed up based on the position of the car in front.

Is It Worth the Money?

Almost always. Not only are these systems increasingly cheap, they're also commonly grouped together, as is the case with models from Subaru, Honda and several other automakers. The result is that this autonomous technology is getting cheaper and, of course, better -- and it could help prevent you from getting in an accident.

Car Care Apps

Car Care Apps

What Is It?

Gone are the days when you needed to have the date and mileage of your next oil change stuck to your windshield. Many cars now deliver this information in an app, making it easier to keep track of everything.

Why It's Cool

Although this one might not be "cool" per se, it certainly makes life easier, and it's a natural advancement in automotive technology. A feature like the Hyundai Assurance Car Care App, for instance, tells you when your vehicle needs its next service and can even schedule it for you.

Is It Worth the Money?

Car care apps are appearing rapidly, and most are available at little or no cost. They're certainly worth the money -- and they're worth using, too.

Gesture Control

Gesture Control

What Is It?

Gesture control allows you to control various features of your vehicle by using gestures rather than pressing a button, touching a screen or even using voice control.

Why It's Cool

Because it's the future! Imagine a world where you don't have to find the windshield-wiper stalk and figure out what setting it should be on. Instead, you just make a wiping motion with your hands, and -- POOF! -- the wipers come right on. While BMW is currently the only automaker to offer this feature (and only on the high-end 7 Series), expect this to reach more vehicles in the coming years.

Is It Worth the Money?

Probably not, since you can only get it in a pricey BMW 7 Series, and it's more novel than functional at the moment. But gesture control could someday be a common feature in a wide range of new cars.

Larger Screens, More Screens

Larger Screens, More Screens

What Is It?

These days, simply having an infotainment screen isn't enough. The most advanced cars have big screens -- huge screens, really -- that take virtually all functions away from gauges and buttons.

Why It's Cool

The coolest huge new screens are offered by Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Volvo, and they encompass just about everything that was formerly relegated to gauges and buttons. Many modern touchscreens are also ultra-sensitive to touch -- rather than highly delayed, like screens in past years -- which means they can be operated just like a smartphone. And screen technology lets you reconfigure many items, so drivers and passengers can access more information. If you want to see a map in your gauge cluster instead of an oil-temperature gauge, a gauge cluster screen lets you do just that; an earlier model would have had a fixed screen with no ability to configure what information is displayed.

Is It Worth the Money?

We (along with the apparent majority of drivers) generally believe that bigger is better and more is better when it comes to screens in cars. While we sometimes worry about the future reliability of a giant screen instead of simple buttons, today's touchscreens have cleaned up their formerly complex automotive controls -- and an easy-to-use infotainment system is often better than many small, difficult-to-decipher buttons.

Electric Drivetrain

Electric Drivetrain

What Is It?

Although we've had cars with electric propulsion systems since the original Toyota Prius and Honda Insight came out in the late 1990s, the technology is just now becoming truly widespread -- and truly cool.

Why It's Cool

Electric drivetrains are becoming cool for several reasons. The primary one is performance: While electric powertrain technology was once seen solely as a fuel-economy benefit, it's now offered in a long list of performance vehicles, including most modern exotic sports cars, like the Acura NSX, the BMW i8, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the LaFerrari. That's because many automakers have figured out how to use electric powertrains to boost gas mileage and speed. Just as importantly, however, electric powertrains now give drivers the ability to travel on fully electric power without sacrificing much else -- as is proven by the sheer number of vehicles that offer some sort of plug-in propulsion system.

Is It Worth the Money?

It's hard to say, as everyone's needs and driving experiences are different. But with a growing number of plug-in and electric vehicles on the road, it's clear that many drivers find the technology fits their lifestyles.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Must-Have Automotive Technology for 2017 - Autotrader