At every auto show, car companies trip over one another to tout the latest tech wizardry debuting in the machine of the moment. It's hard to parse the game-changing innovations from the sea of tricks, misfires, and half-baked duds. Over the years, I've seen great ideas that don't stick (four-wheel steering), good ideas poorly executed (BMW's original iDrive system), and gimmicks that never live up to their promise (voice-control systems, all of which seem to require fluency in some obscure Klingon dialect). But once in a while, there's the rare golden idea, like the intermittent windshield wiper or the stability-control system, that quickly proves to be indispensable and becomes standard issue. A little more than 10 years ago, the Lexus RX 300 wore a "VSC" badge to brag about its stability-control system. By 2012, every car sold in America had one. The question is, which of the new cars are rolling out the next must-have feature, and which ones are peddling the 2012 equivalent of Subaru's hidden center headlight from the eighties? I've identified five current tech features that are offbeat but should be ubiquitous a decade from now. And if they're not, feel free to key my flying Honda. Launch Gallery >>
Lots of cars self-prime the brakes when they sense an impending collision, so you get full stopping power before you even ask for it. We're already getting autonomous braking – the Volvo XC60, for example, will actively brake to avoid a collision – and several companies offer adaptive cruise-control systems that brake you down to a stop. Once found only in high-end Benzes and safety-conscious Volvos, brake assist is standard across the board on the redesigned 2012 Dodge Charger, where it's called "ready alert braking." People who have watched 'The Matrix' too many times might worry about ceding control to the machines, but anyone who's ever had an attention lapse that led to a minor rear-ender will love these systems.
Credit: Illustration by Larry Jost