New car tech: great technology or just great marketing
It seems that when it comes to safety, the best measure of effectiveness comes from what technology the Government ends up mandating into new cars. Like traction control and airbags – you must have those in new cars or you can’t sell it, and there's no doubt they save lives. But there are other new technologies – some very sophisticated – that are yet to become mandatory. And some things just make life easier... or, at least, kind of.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
This little bit of technology has been a game-changer in bringing sophisticated mapping programs and audio streaming to mass-production cars.
Essentially, CarPlay and Auto offer better ways of using your phone handsfree, in most cases providing better integration than Bluetooth. Aside from making calls, CarPlay and Auto display phone apps on the car’s infotainment screen, like maps (Apple’s, Google’s or others), Spotify, Waze, Apple Music, WhatsApp, and messages, and can be used with Siri or Google Assistant voice control.
For most manufacturers, it also saves needing to implement and maintain navigation software, which makes the production of the infotainment unit cheaper.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
This is the latest, cutting edge tech that some manufacturers are just starting to make noise about… and yes, it’s a great piece of marketing. Given you're strapped into the seat for the journey and not walking around when driving your car, there’s hardly any reason you can’t have your phone plugged into the USB port.
Automated emergency braking (AEB)
AEB is both brilliant and a lifesaver. This technology isn’t compulsory in cars yet but likely will be. What it does is use cameras and/or sensors to detect cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and sometimes other objects in front of the car and automatically brake if the driver isn’t responding. There are a few isolated instances where manufacturers claim cars have AEB (such as BMW) that doesn’t bring the car to complete stop, or only works at slow speeds, so this is worth talking with the dealer about or speak with a Smartleasing car expert.
Dual-zone climate control
Do you really need two separate temperature controls for the left and right-hand side of a small car? This one is surely notched down as great marketing, because although it’s nice to have, it doesn’t bring much benefit at all, and the cost to add it (or step up a grade) can be considerable. And isn’t it all about the driver anyway?
Self-parking systems – or park assist - are becoming more common, from top-end Mercedes-Benz sedans to Hyundai SUVs. As ever with car tech, there are only a few suppliers of the system, so they’re all broadly the same and typically have two modes, allowing you to back-in or parallel park. But not all cars have both modes.
This technology – and we know some rusted-on enthusiasts will scoff – is actually quite nifty (although we recommend that any driver should know how to park themselves). If you do experience trouble parking, for example, where there’s a lot of traffic or vision is obscured, then park assist may be able to help. As Australians rarely have to parallel park, and when they do, it is into large spaces compared to say Europeans, parallel-park assistance may be of use to many.
Adaptive or Active cruise control
Active Cruise Control and Adaptive Cruise Control are one and the same (ACC). An upgrade of normal cruise control, with ACC the driver brings the car to their desired speed and presses a button for the car to maintains that speed. The ‘active’ part is that your car will slow down if it detects another car in front travelling slower, which is handy for freeway driving, particularly in traffic, and on longer trips.
We can safely notch this down in the useful pile. Traffic jams are caused by inconsistent spacing and the speeding up/slowing down of traffic, but if everybody used ACC, the flow would theoretically be better. So it’s genuinely useful.
Lane departure warning
There’s a good case to say that lane departure warning is useful because it alerts the driver when leaving the lane, but with active lane-keeping now prevalent, lane departure warning is only a passive system. But we also think this isn’t just marketing fluff – it’s just that this next piece of technology genuinely changes the game.
Active lane-keeping assist
Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) is an automated steering system that will steer the car back into its lane without driver intervention, helping save lives. According to collision statistics, each year, around 30 per cent of all accidents involving a motor vehicle occurred when it left the road. That’s where vehicle technology like LKA makes a real difference.
Lane Keeping Assist displays a warning for the driver when a lane marking is nudged, and adjusts the steering, so the vehicle returns to the centre of the lane.
You can turn LKA off, but most systems work very well and should be left on.
Keyless entry and push-button start
Do we need to even mention what this is? This is a great convenience but one you can easily do without, though we’ll make a small concession to the next generation of keyless entry coming which will let car owners use just a smartphone to open and start the car. This means that you’ll be able to send a limited use (or permanent) keycode to anyone to use your car while you might be away travelling - or perhaps to your mechanic - and then it expires. That’s pretty neat.