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 >>
Ford wasn't the first to introduce the self-parking car, but it has the first system that actually works. Push a button and the car measures adjacent spaces as you drive past them. When it finds a spot, you shift into reverse and work the gas and the brake while the car steers itself into the spot. You wind up a few inches from the curb every time. Of course, I know how to parallel park for myself. I also know how to wash dishes, but I'd rather use a dishwasher. With the proliferation of electric-power steering and cheap electronic sensors, self-parking will only get more common. Ford offers it on cars as inexpensive as the Focus and the Escape, and Toyota now has a system on the Prius v. I'm pretty sure everyone else will figure it out soon.
Credit: Illustration by Larry Jost