Trying to Start a Car in Cold Weather (© Belinda Images / SuperStock)

The days are definitely shorter. First snows have already blanketed many areas of the country, and the December solstice is nearly here: sure signs that the chill of winter is upon us. For motorists, the change of season conjures up thoughts of bone-chilling, subzero temperatures and long, uncomfortable waits while their car warms up. But thanks to some savvy automotive product planners, you can cheat Old Man Winter by using a few special, cool-weather bells and whistles designed to keep you warm when the mercury heads for single digits.

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Typical cold-weather options include heated seats and outside mirrors. Those looking to step it up might go for heated windshield-wiper sprayers, rain-sensing wipers, retractable headlamp washers and even winter tires. European automakers are keen to include ski bags on that list, as well. But those are the basics, and although they're thoughtful, they're not very high-tech or unusual. In fact, some are included on vehicles as standard equipment.

The following features, however, are not among the usual suspects and can make your winter driving experience much more palatable.

Bing: Cold Weather Car Care

Infrared 4-Zone Climate Control

Picture heat-sensing beams focusing on everyone's skin, ready to alert a central computer the moment the temperature drops. This technological development is not science fiction. The beam is infrared and the "everyone" is the driver and passengers in a vehicle equipped with a 4-zone climate control.

Lexus LS and LX models offer this advanced system, which monitors the skin temperature of rear passengers via a rear-seat infrared sensor array and adjusts the temperature per each individual's programmed setting. A similar system can be found in the Audi A8 and Q7, the BMW 5-Series and 7-Series, and vehicles from Jaguar and Land Rover.

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Onboard Weather Radar/Forecasting

Those having a deep need to know will appreciate the technology that turns your vehicle into a rolling weather station. Many specialized programs already are available for navigation systems, such as the Zagat Survey Restaurant Guide, which shows you where to eat, or XM NavTraffic, which shows you what roads to avoid. It was only a mater of time before the weather was dialed into the equation.

Acura's AcuraLink Real-Time Weather, available in the MDX, ZDX, RL, TL and TSX models, generates radar image maps that put the storm front in front of your face. In its M37 and M56 sedans, Infiniti offers XM NavWeather, a similar system that features real-time weather and produces radar images like AcuraLink but ups the ante with a rolling three-day forecast.

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Rear-Seat Heat

Don't leave passengers out in the cold; they deserve bun warmers, too. While you might think this is just a feature for the rich and shameless, it isn't. Sure, many luxury technologies emerge first in higher-end autos, but rear-seat warmers are different.

They are available in the $20,445 Hyundai Elantra Limited and in the reasonably priced Kia Optima EX. They can also be found in vehicles such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited and Cadillac SRX Premium. Lexus, BMW, Audi and other automakers offer it as standard fare.

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Heated Steering Wheel

Heated steering wheels have been around a long time, so it is surprising that they aren't part of all cold-weather option packages. They do, however, appear as a single-item option on many vehicles.

Heating elements grafted into the steering wheel help combat the numbing effects winter can have on the fingers. It's one of those features that you don't know you need until you experience it.

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Floorboard Protection

All-weather floor mats, usually made of rubber or plastic, provide much needed peace of mind when entering a vehicle while a storm rages outside. The mats' water-resistant, deep-dish design captures rain or snow, keeping the accumulated water away from the carpet. Some manufactures say their floor mats have the capacity to contain a spilled Big Gulp, which holds a sticky 32 ounces. These lifesavers are single-item options on most new cars and are also widely available from aftermarket sources.

Bing: All-Weather Floor Mats

What’s on the Horizon?

Manufacturers are surprisingly tight-lipped about future options they're developing to combat the cold. But with infrared beams already flying, you can only imagine what lies ahead — microwaves, retractable snowplows, retractable laser-heated snowplows, tires that pop out traction spikes James Bond-style — the sky is the limit.

Watch Video:  Getting Your Car Ready for Winter

Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compact tuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.

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