The modern motor is a far cry from the heavy, clunky and awkward dinosaurs that our parents and grandparents drove. Can you imagine parking a vehicle without power steering today? Or going on a trip to the seaside without air conditioning?
Writing for LV= car insurance, Leon Poultney spoke to the experts to unearth some of the cutting-edge tech that could be making your life on the open road more enjoyable – whether it's the latest infotainment kit or a raft of autonomous driving systems.
Can you believe that Ford first showcased its Active Park Assist functionality back in 2008?
Autonomous driving systems have moved on at pace since then. Research from Bosch, a supplier of advanced vehicle technology, found that 55% of new passenger cars registered in Great Britain in 2016 were equipped with some kind of parking assistance system – ranging from parking sensors to automated parking technology.
‘I'm lucky enough to test drive lots of different cars and the amount of driver assistance technology features on modern machines is amazing,’ explains Nick Francis, motoring editor at The Sun on Sunday.
‘However, many of my friends and colleagues don't seem to trust the systems on board,’ he adds.
Thanks to the computerisation of engine mapping, steering response and chassis dynamics that can now be changed with the flick of a switch, customers no longer have to choose between a sports car and a comfortable motorway cruiser.
‘Many models from the premium players, including Jaguar, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, feature adaptive driving modes that allow the driver to alter the character of the vehicle at the press of a button,’ explains Nick.
‘Sport mode, for example, will typically firm up the suspension, increase the throttle sensitivity and sharpen the steering response.’
It’s worth finding out exactly what these modes entail. Many manufacturers also include a button for adverse weather conditions, such as snow, ice and rain, which informs the traction control and stability control systems, and often reduces power sent to the wheels to avoid wheelspin or skidding.
The humble cassette player has largely been committed to the history books, and in its place now sits a plethora of touchscreens and interactive digital displays, which can do everything from offering navigational instructions to displaying a local weather forecast.
‘New European legislation came into effect last year that stated all new cars must have a SIM card installed so they can make SOS calls in the event of an emergency,’ explains James Day (@James_A_Day), tech specialist and editor of Stuff Magazine.
‘Most drivers should never have to use this function, but many manufacturers are now piggy-backing on this feature and bundling in more connected services, such as live traffic information, news headlines and even music streaming, to make things a little less monotonous on the daily commute – but this often comes at an additional cost,’ he adds.
There is a growing trend in the automotive world for digital displays and touchscreens, rather than buttons and dials, which allow users to interact with their car as if it were a smartphone.
‘We recently debuted the Volkswagen Innovision Cockpit in the upcoming Touareg,’ explains VW (@Volkswagen) interiors designer Indra-Lena Kögler.
‘It consists of a 12-inch display that sits behind the steering wheel and a 15-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The vehicle will even learn what settings motorists use most often,’ she adds.
Rather than opt for a large iPad-esque design, as seen in Teslas and in some new Volvo models, Volkswagen deliberately created a system that remains in the driver's line of sight to avoid distraction.
'Customers can also use a head-up display, which beams information on to the screen ahead,' explains Indra-Lena. ‘They can operate some of the system features with gestures.’
Gesture control enables drivers to keep their eyes on the road and, as most gestures involve moving just a finger, their hands on the wheel.
A connected car might be able to pull in information about local parking prices, but it can also feed valuable information back to a smartphone when you're busy shopping.
Jaguar's Remote app, for example, allows users to locate their car on a map, remotely lock and unlock a vehicle and even check how much fuel is left in the tank or the remaining range in the on-board batteries.
‘Innovative apps aren't just the reserve of futuristic electric and hybrid vehicles,’ explains James. ‘Plenty of owners don't realise they can connect to their vehicle via a smartphone application.’
There are also apps that don’t sync with your car but could still be useful. Keeping track of MOT dates, service intervals and tax renewal times can be a pain, which is where an app like Servicefy can come in handy. Users simply punch in vehicle details and the app will keep on top of any regular maintenance reminders.
The latest in digital tech and car SIMs are helping drivers stay entertained during their commutes, but also improving safety. With a little experimentation, you could make the most of your modern vehicle.