Which 2012 Cars Have the Best Tech?
The technology in these vehicles makes life easier and more entertaining on the road — not more complicated.
It's become common these days for automakers to load up dashboards with tons of high-tech bells and whistles — everything from sophisticated stereos and Internet-connected navigation systems to the ability to use a smartphone as a remote control or to run applications such as organizing social media feeds or managing your business contacts and calendar. But while the overall appeal of these gadgets is apparent in our tech-crazy, constantly connected world, their implementation in the automobile often leaves a lot to be desired. Operating a slick touch-screen on a smartphone or other electronic device while standing still is one thing, but doing it at speed, in a moving vehicle, is another. That can be frustrating at best and dangerously distracting at worst.
But the bells and whistles in these 10 2012 vehicles are examples of car tech done right. In various ways, they help make your drive more entertaining, more productive and safer — and sometimes all of the above.
The Grand Cherokee may be the original old-school SUV, but the recently refreshed version contains some of the best tech in the SUV segment. Its Bluetooth hands-free phone system works consistently in combination with accurate voice activation. The optional rear-seat entertainment system allows backseat passengers to access any media source in the vehicle — DVD, CD, radio, a connected iPod, music on an in-dash hard drive — and to listen on wireless headphones while everyone else enjoys the standard 10-speaker, 500-watt Alpine sound system. The available forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection watch your front, sides and rear.
Expensive cars used to get all the cool electronics. The Ford Fiesta SEL, with the Sync system as standard, is a perfect example of how that old paradigm no longer applies. Sync works with any Bluetooth phone to give the driver easy voice-activated access to make and receive calls, access contacts and even receive and reply to text messages. Sync can also download voice-guided turn-by-turn directions and traffic conditions, and it can alert you to local businesses and services such as restaurants and gas stations along the way. It can even call 911 if an airbag deploys in an accident. And it's all free during the first three years of ownership.
The minivan segment is highly competitive, and automakers tend to throw their best bells and whistles into these living rooms on wheels. While the Honda has some tough competition in terms of tech from Japanese rivals such as the Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest, the Odyssey is the only minivan with an HDMI input for plugging in a portable Blu-ray player or other high-definition video source. The 16.2-inch split-screen rear monitor can simultaneously display HD programming as well as video from an onboard DVD player. The backup camera displays an equally impressive picture by providing multiple viewing angles via an in-dash monitor to help the driver avoid backing over anything.
Infiniti's infotainment interface stands out by providing four separate and easy ways to access the features you want, whether from a connected portable device or from embedded electronics. Choose the touch-screen, dashboard controller, steering-wheel switches or voice commands — or some combination thereof, since they all work in concert. If you get distracted and drift off course, the lane-departure prevention in the Infiniti M will automatically steer you back on track, while blind-spot intervention will do the same if you don't notice another vehicle in the next lane. The navigation system scouts ahead and issues weather alerts along your route, and it can give a three-day forecast for your location or anywhere in the United States.
The German approach to technology can lean toward over engineering. But done right, Teutonic tech is simple and straightforward. The in-dash display and command center for the infotainment system in the Tiguan is a mere 5 inches. But once you get the hang of its icon-based system, the interface is a snap to operate on the fly. The navigation system uses crisp graphics and the most realistic icons this side of a 3-D map. So that you don't have to glance down at the dash, important infotainment information is also shown in an instrument-panel display. One downside is that like with other German interfaces, such as BMW's iDrive, a few features are buried in submenus of the in-dash display, when a simple switch would do.
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You can call Kia's Uvo system "Sync lite," since it mimics many of the features of Ford's successful portable-device connectivity platform — and that would be a compliment. It includes the kind of voice activation that doesn't make you say things twice and an intuitive touch-screen interface that doesn't give you fits trying to figure it out. The Optima is also available with one of the best-sounding, low-cost premium audio systems around (from Infinity), and it has Bluetooth audio streaming in case you lose the proprietary iPod cable that comes with the car or don't own an Apple product. Add to this an optional HD radio and heated and cooled seats, and you have a winning combo wrapped in head-turning sheet metal.
You'd expect a lot of tech in a Mercedes S-Class sedan, and this entry-level turbodiesel model doesn't disappoint. It includes Mercedes' unique SplitView in-dash monitor, which can display two different images depending on the viewing angle, allowing the front-seat passenger to watch a DVD movie and listen to it on wireless headphones while the driver sees only navigation or audio info. The navigation system provides Zagat reviews to help you find good food and topographical maps to help you find your way. Mercedes' Distronic Plus with Pre-Safe Brake automatically slows or even stops the vehicle to avoid a collision, while Night Vision Assist Plus with Pedestrian Detection allows you to see better in the dark.
While the 2012 Camry doesn't radically depart from its predecessor, Toyota's new Entune system represents a new era of Internet-connected content for the car. Pair a phone containing the free Entune app with the system, and MovieTickets.com lets you find out what's playing at the local cinema, at what time, and even offers the option to buy tickets. Or you can check out restaurant reviews from OpenTable.com and make a reservation. Entune also has Bing local search onboard so that you can find what you want while on the road. Cloud-based entertainment options include Pandora and iHeartRadio to tune in a plethora of music and other content.
Classic muscle cars were never considered high-tech back in the day. But that was then, and the impressive electronics in the rejuvenated Dodge Charger are now. A massive 8.5-inch in-dash screen makes accessing music sources, Bluetooth hands-free controls, navigation from Garmin and other onboard gadgets easy and straightforward. A USB port is provided for connecting a portable music player, and the Charger has Bluetooth music streaming if you prefer to go wireless. An SD card slot makes even more digital music files available. And the available Beats by Dr. Dre audio system makes the most out of all these sound sources. You can also add Autonet Mobile's Wi-Fi modem if you want to add Internet access in your muscle car.
Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system sports sharp and clear icons on a 7-inch touch-screen interface, and you can configure the home screen so that it includes the features you use most often. If you have Pandora and Stitcher Internet radio apps on your smartphone, IntelliLink lets you access them through the car's touch-screen controls. Download the free MyBuick app for iPhone and Android devices and you can set parking reminders to help you find your way back to your car using Google Maps, locate nearby auto dealers, access a digital copy of the owner's manual and schedule dealer service.
Doug Newcomb has been writing about automotive-related topics since 1988. His work has appeared in Consumers Digest, Road & Track, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal and many other publications. His book, Car Audio for Dummies, is available from Wiley Publishing.
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You hit the nail on the head ! Tech. has done more than it's share to ruin life as we once knew it. I am 83 years young
and I see the world going to pot with each passing day. Glad you said what you dif. God Bless.
me?... just give me the cheapest ( with a sunroof, its a must) and a mannual tranny.
the rest like sound system seat and outher crap i can install my self.