5 Techie Features for Winter Driving
The latest gear for keeping Old Man Winter at bay, and the cars that have it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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All I can say is that if you're willing to cough up the extra $ for a heated steering wheel you better not be bitching every time gas goes up a few cents.
Interesting that only the high end cars have these features. By the way, you forgot to mention GMs OnStar which has weather included. Guess the rest of us aren't supposed to get around in the snow? Too bad, we are the job holders that feed those who buy the high end cars.
Americans are gettin' so soft 'n lazy, that it's gonna be embarassing, soon! Man up, America!
Old_Jim, you are sppot on! People shoud use their vehicles for proper winter gear, instead of carrying only dead air around in the trunk and/or back seats.
Are they kidding, do they think we can just go out and buy a 60K+ car with all these features? Let's start at the front and work back. Silver Star Head lamps and bulbs. Plastic Hood Protector if the snow doesn't make a nice arc over the windshield. Install Battery Protectant kit from Walmart, this is the spray and washers. Pull Battery and clean with baking soda and warm water, before using kit. Stick on oil pan heater pad. Stop your wiper blades in mid run by switching ignition off, check the running pattern too, to see if you can use longer wipers. Buy Silicone blades availiable on the internet. Run RainX windshield wash. Lube Door Key locks and gaskets with Silicon Spray. New Felt Chalk board eraser for fogged up inside windows. Put old Blankets in car.
LED flashlite with Lithium batteries, suggest 3 AA cell minimag. Water and survival food. New Silver Star Tail, Turn, Break Lamps. BTW if your lamps are more than three years old they are smoked up and could put out as little as 25% of their light.
Yeah, all these fancy, advanced features on cars are great, but what about adding something extremely beneficial to any engine and its driver? What I'm writing about are engine block heaters. They've been around for years, are easy to install, and warm the coolant surrounding the engine well enough so it starts up like it's summertime, gets up to operating temperature quickly (saving a lot of engine wear and fuel), and warms up the interior before you know it!
Just get an extension cord, plug it in, and the engine is warmed up sufficiently in only about 2 hours, even in the coldest weather (you can use a timer to turn it on 2-3 hours before you plan to drive, saving electricity). No way should you "warm your car up" by starting it and leaving it sit. It takes forever to get up to operating temperature since there's no load on the engine (causing wear due to the rich fuel mixture), and of course wastes fuel. Check it out!!
They can be added to any vehicle.