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Must-Have Automotive Technology for 2018

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author photo by Autotrader December 2017

Automotive technology is only growing more advanced -- rapidly. That means if you're looking for a new car this year, you'll probably be surprised by exactly how many gadgets and features you can choose from. But we've rounded up some of the most interesting -- and most exciting -- technology you'll find in the automotive world this year, in order to give you an idea of what to expect when you shop for a new car. These features aren't in every car (and some are only in a few), but we expect to see them rapidly spread throughout the car industry in short order.

Digital Keys

Apps Replacing Keys

What Is It?

An increasing number of vehicles now come with an app that lets you honk the horn, flash the lights, or even start the car -- all remotely, without being in the proximity of the vehicle. The Tesla Model 3 has no key at all, just an app -- and Volvo says they're heading in that direction, too.

Why It's Cool

Imagine no longer having to carry around a giant keychain in your pocket, full of increasingly large car keys. Imagine lending a friend your vehicle and being able to lock or unlock the doors -- and start the car -- from anywhere. Imagine leaving your keys at home on a long vacation so you don't lose them, and starting your car in the airport parking garage with your phone, instead.

Is It Worth the Money?

Among the brands that offer these apps (including mainstream ones like Ford and Chevrolet), they're usually included at no charge or possibly with a small subscription fee. You probably won't realize how useful it can be until you really need it.

Autonomous Driving

Autonomous Driving

What Is It?

In past years, we've told you that must-have technology includes automatic steering or automatic braking -- but now, we're finally ready to say it: autonomous technology is reaching the real world. Tesla has received a lot attention (both positive and negative) in this area, but that's just one example of an automaker using it. Cadillac just introduced "Super Cruise," which offers full autonomous driving in many situations, Nissan has ProPilot, Volvo has Pilot Assist -- and more systems are coming.

Why It's Cool

Even if you love driving, it's easy to see the benefit of autonomous technology. You want to get out and enjoy your favorite back road? You can drive yourself. But who enjoys driving in a crowded city? Or in bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic on the highway? Or during rush hour? Autonomous driving is the future, and the future is closer than you might think.

Is It Worth the Money?

For most people, it probably is. If you frequently sit in rush-hour traffic or if you drive in crowded cities, autonomous driving technology will be a welcome relief to the grind of getting behind the wheel in unpleasant situations.

Cameras For Everything

Cameras For Everything

What Is It?

In the past, we've told you about backup cameras and 360-degree cameras that let you see outside the car. But now, cameras are being used for more functions than we ever expected. The latest Honda Odyssey, for instance, has a feature called "CabinWatch" that uses a camera to allow you to check on your passengers -- the theory being that you no longer have to turn around to discipline unruly children. Some Chevrolet models have an automatic dashcam that comes with "valet mode," allowing you to monitor a valet driving your vehicle. And in some Cadillac models, there's now a camera in place of the rearview mirror to eliminate blind spots.

Why It's Cool

We all knew backup cameras were an inevitability -- but several automakers are taking things much beyond simple backup cameras, adding them in far more situations for increased convenience and safety. The situations described above are all pioneering examples of what in-car camera technology can do -- and we suspect it's just the beginning.

Is It Worth the Money?

Do you need a camera to monitor passengers in your minivan? Is the valet really so dangerous that you may need a recording of what's been done to your car while you were at dinner? Probably not. But like much technology, it's helpful -- and it makes life just a little easier.

Digital Gauges

Digital Gauges

What Is It?

For years now, automakers have been replacing conventional instrument panel gauges (the speedometer, the tachometer) with screens -- but only in the past year or so has this feature started to reach its true potential. We're especially impressed with Audi's Virtual Cockpit, which is basically like a second infotainment screen -- only, this time, it's right below your line of sight, meaning you barely have to take your eyes off the road.

Why It's Cool

Anyone can make gauges. But the way many automakers have been designing gauge cluster screens is truly awesome -- with Audi's Virtual Cockpit standing at the very top, and giving you a full-screen navigation map with a bird's eye view oriented in the direction of the vehicle. These gauge cluster screens will only get more useful and more configurable, giving you far more than the typical readouts like your speed, mileage and fuel level.

Is It Worth the Money?

It depends on just how much you're ready to embrace new technology. But once you drive a car with a very helpful digital gauge cluster, you might find it difficult to go back to one that uses a regular ol' instrument panel with fixed gauges.

Easier Bluetooth

Easier Bluetooth

What Is It?

Connecting to in-car Bluetooth has gotten easier and easier over the years. But now it's laughably easy: The latest Honda Accord now comes with a feature that allows you to simply tap your (Android) phone to a spot on the dashboard, and, voila! You're connected. No pairing, no finding the device, no typing in a password. It's that easy.

Why It's Cool

In more and more cities and states, using your phone behind the wheel -- for any purpose -- is becoming illegal. But many drivers still do it to avoid the hassle of connecting to Bluetooth, especially for a short trip or if you're driving a borrowed car. With this feature, it becomes easier than ever to put your phone away and focus on driving.

Is It Worth the Money?

As this feature proliferates in other cars, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it -- and someday we'll look back on "old school" Bluetooth pairing and laugh about how they made it so difficult.

Steering Collision Avoidance

Steering Collision Avoidance

What Is It?

Cars aren't fully autonomous yet -- but they're getting there. Proof comes from a wide variety of active steering systems reaching the market, but especially ones that can steer you to avoid an accident. Both Volvo and Lexus have recently debuted active steering systems that don't just guide you in your lane, but also steer you around potential collisions.

Why It's Cool

Automatic braking systems are already impressive feats of technology, as they can stop you entirely before an accident happens. But stopping in time isn't always possible, and these systems go above and beyond by actually taking the wheel to reduce the risk of an accident even further. You want proof that autonomous cars are on the way? Here it is.

Is It Worth the Money?

Like many of these systems, the answer is an easy "no" -- until you happen to need it. Then it's worth every penny, and then some.

Wireless Charging

Wireless Charging

What Is It?

A growing number of vehicles are adding wireless charging pads to their center consoles and interiors. This means you can just hop in a car, put your phone on the wireless charging pad, and forget about it -- and it'll charge as you drive.

Why It's Cool

These days, everyone is always connected and using their cell phones -- and that means we always need to be charging. Get three or four people in one car, and that means you have a lot of charging cords -- and you need a lot of USB ports or power outlets. Wireless charging pads will eliminate the need for that stuff, allowing you to just set down your phone and forget about it.

Is It Worth the Money?

These devices usually aren't expensive, and they're often included with higher trim levels of certain vehicles, especially Toyota models, but increasingly cars from a lot of different brands. If you never find yourself running out of your phone's battery power, or if you aren't bothered by the ever-increasing number of in-car charging cords, you won't need this feature -- but we suspect most drivers (and passengers) will appreciate it.

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 2018 - Autotrader