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 >>
Once the province of high-performance cars with fighter-jet pretensions (see Corvette), a heads-up display function was one of the pleasant surprises I discovered in the four-cylinder Buick LaCrosse with eAssist that I drove recently. I found myself thinking, "Why doesn't every car have this?" Soon, Pioneer will sell a system that you can install in any car. Mercedes and Audi are working on gesture-based displays, and GM is tinkering with a system that uses lasers to augment the reality beyond the windshield. (Looking for a chalupa? There's a laser-outlined Taco Bell right over there!) But frankly, all we really need are the basics, as delivered by current systems from GM, BMW, and Audi: speed, navigation, radio stations. Projecting that kind of basic information on the windshield helps refocus your attention to a place where it increasingly isn't: the road. If most new gadgets tend to distract you from the act of driving, it's nice to have at least one that serves as the antidote.
Credit: Illustration by Larry Jost