Cars that drive themselves might still be decades away but some really cool technology is just around the corner. Here’s a Top 10 list of technology and innovations to look forward to in everyday cars in 2016.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Apple CarPlay (and the Android equivalent) will appear in more new cars this year. Suzuki and Volkswagen were among the first in Australia to bring smartphone apps to the radio touchscreen in the car dash in 2015.
With hefty fines for touching a phone unless it is in a mount, the introduction of Apple Car Play and the like to more models is welcome news.
Wireless phone charging
We will also start to see wireless phone-charging panels in the centre console of new cars. Jeep already has wireless charging on certain models and the new generation Toyota Prius hybrid has the technology available overseas.
Voice to text
Voice command technology will appear on more models in the near future. Certain Fords already have it and most cars can use Siri when paired to the latest Apple phone.
With the very latest iPhone6S range you don’t even need to touch the phone to activate Siri. After programming it you simply say, “Hey Siri”, and it wakes up the phone, ready to take a voice command to dictate a text or dial whoever you want to contact.
Auto high beam
A handful of luxury cars (and the top-of-the-range Toyota Camry) already have auto-dipping high beam. A sensor in the windscreen spots oncoming traffic and then cancels your high beam before you do.
The lights not only cancel out high beam when a car approaches, but also keep the area around the car illuminated.
To be frank, the systems we’ve tested so far on Audi, Mercedes and Toyota cars were a bit underwhelming. They get tricked by reflective signs and dip the lights even if there are no oncoming cars.
But the technology is getting better and the top-of-the-range version of the new Holden Astra, due in late 2016, has LED lights that not only cancel out the high beam when a car approaches but are so accurate they keep the area around the car illuminated.
The only drawback is that the technology is really expensive, so models equipped with the system might be dearer to insure.
An increasing number of cars automatically cut the engine when they’re stopped – a feature designed to save fuel.
Because the EU has strict emissions and economy targets, more cars are going to have stop-start engine shut-off technology. The good news is if it annoys you, there is usually a button to disable it – but it can’t be disabled permanently otherwise the car’s certification is invalid.
With rear-view cameras now standard equipment on a $14,990 Honda Jazz and a $15,990 Toyota Yaris, there really is no excuse for dearer cars to not have them (although vehicles such as the $50,000 Ford Ranger ute still lack them).
But there is a new type of camera that makes parking – and seeing obstacles around the car – even easier. Coming soon to more new cars are 360-degree cameras that appear to give a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle you’re driving.
The optical illusion is created by wide-angle cameras in the nose, the rear and under each side mirror. The images join to create a complete picture. Now there really is no excuse for poor parking.
Until now they’ve mostly appeared on 4WDs and SUVs, but they will start to trickle down to more affordable models as the technology gets cheaper.
Space-saver spares and repair kits
In their desperate bid to save weight, car makers are leaving out full-size spare tyres.
Skinny space-saver spares (they look like they belong on a wheelbarrow) and tyre inflator kits (they spray goop inside to get you going again, but are useless if you’ve a large split in the tyre) are primarily designed for Europe and Japan.
They don’t suit everyone in Australia because of the vast distances between places.
Tyre pressure monitors
In response to new laws in the US, car makers are fitting tyre pressure monitoring systems to detect a flat (or deflating) tyre before it’s too late.
The technology is already available on top end luxury cars and some performance models, but will become more widespread in 2016 and beyond. A flat tyre can lead to a crash or roll-over if the driver has no idea they’re driving on one, so this is one light on the dash that could save a life.
It takes twice as long to use the technology than it does to park yourself.
As cars get smarter and are fitted with more sensors, more of them will be able to park themselves. Kind of. You still need to press a button to make the car ‘search’ for a space. And you still need to gently operate the accelerator and brake pedals in most cases (the car merely adjusts the steering to ensure you make the spot).
Traffic jam control
This technology takes the grind out of the daily commute by creeping forward with the flow of stop-start traffic automatically. It uses cameras and radar systems to detect the distance to the cars in front and then applies the accelerator and brakes as required, even if it means coming to a complete stop.
Until now the technology has been exclusive to expensive luxury cars such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It’s also on the top-of-the-range Nissan Patrol. But as the technology becomes more affordable, we’re predicting it will be available in more models in 2016. Call it the gradual automation of the automobile.