If it’s been a while since you’ve bought a car — and even if it hasn’t — you might be surprised to learn about all the cutting-edge new technologies available in many modern cars. To show you what we mean, we’ve listed seven of today’s most exciting new features that you probably didn’t know you could get. We’ve also named a few cars where they’re available for less money than you might think.
Although in-car apps have been around for three or four years, drivers who haven’t bought a car in a while might not be aware of the feature. It’s exactly like it sounds: In many modern cars, infotainment systems have pre-installed apps that let you carry out various functions. While some apps are common — such as Pandora and Spotify — a few automakers take it a step further. Toyota’s Entune infotainment system, for instance, includes apps that let you make restaurant reservations and even buy movie tickets.
Automatic braking has been around for a little while now, and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t love it. Typically designed to help prevent low-speed collisions, automatic braking can often do what drivers can’t: react as quickly as possible to changing circumstances. The feature is especially advanced on modern Volvos, which can detect pedestrians and cyclists in addition to other cars. If a person or a biker walks in front of you, the system can quickly stop your car, potentially preventing serious injury or death to the cyclist or pedestrian.
Automatic High-Beam Control
Say goodbye to the days of turning your high beams on and off constantly so you don’t temporarily blind other drivers. Now, a feature called automatic high-beam control will do that for you. Available in many of today’s mainstream models from Mazda and Subaru to Toyota, automatic high-beam control uses sensors to monitor when lights are headed in your direction — other vehicles, for example. Then the system automatically turns off your brights so you don’t have to worry about doing it yourself. When the other car has passed, the system turns the brights back on, so you can have the most illumination possible at any given moment.
A head-up display takes certain important items — such as your speed or directions from the navigation system — and projects them onto your car’s windshield. Through some visual trickery, the display then appears as though it’s sitting in front of your car at all times. If that sounds distracting, don’t worry: The system can be turned off. But we suggest leaving it on, because it keeps the most important vehicle items right in your line of sight, meaning you don’t need to look down for vital details. Many modern cars offer a head-up display, including reasonably priced new vehicles such as the Chevrolet Camaro.
Heated and Cooled Everything
If it’s been a while since you’ve bought a new car, you’ll probably be surprised to discover the highly welcome trend of adding heating and cooling to just about every surface. Mercedes-Benz offers heated panels, such as for a center armrest, while many automakers from Kia to Subaru are adding heated steering wheels and heated rear seats. Best of all, it isn’t just heat: Cooled seats are starting to become far more common on a wide range of new cars. We happen to think that the feature can be just as refreshing as air conditioning on an especially hot day.
If you ever find yourself driving while drowsy or distracted, you may realize that you’re starting to drift out of your lane. Fortunately, many modern cars use new technologies to prevent this from happening, or at least alert you to the issue. Some Nissan and Infiniti vehicles, for instance, offer a system that can actually use the car’s brakes to help you stay in your lane. If they detect that you’re starting to drift, the system will slow down one wheel and guide the car back into your lane. General Motors has a different solution: It offers a vibrating seat that activates when you start to drift from your lane.
Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
We’ve all been there: You’re trying to get out of a parking spot in a crowded lot. It’s late at night. You’re inching backwards, but you’re surrounded by bigger cars, and there’s no way to know if anyone is coming. The solution: rear cross-traffic alert. Offered by several automakers, including Ford, Mazda and Toyota, the feature uses radar to check if anyone is coming from the side as you’re backing up. In repeated tests, we’ve found this feature to be excellent, and we think it can be highly useful for shoppers who spend a lot of time in tight parking lots.