The future is here: Autonomous, Internet-capable cars are in showrooms now

Erinn Hutkin%%GateHouse News Service
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Not long ago, Andrew Stoy and a fellow journalist were test-driving a 2013 Infinity JX Crossover, a car with technology that allows it to stop when it detects an oncoming auto or if the driver is about to back into another vehicle.

At one point during the drive, when the Infinity halted at a stop sign, the journalist in the car with Stoy turned to him and pointed out, “You know, I never touched the brake pedal.”

As digital editor for Auto Week Media Group, Stoy and others who report about the industry have gotten firsthand glimpses of – and experience with – some of the latest gadgets to grace autos in 2013.

New features serve a variety of functions – from adding safety and comfort to simply upping the cool factor of your vehicle. Here’s a look at a few new gadgets and features that are available in autos or are slated to be installed soon.


 Heated steering wheels. Stoy called heated wheels “the next big thing.” Vehicles such as the Dodge Dart and Nissan’s Sentra and Altima already come with wheels that warm, Stoy said, while Jeep, Chrysler, Audi and Ford also offer the feature. In addition, Stoy said, at least one manufacture will soon release heated arm rests. He admits he thought heated wheels were “gimmicky” at first, but as someone who lives in Detroit, “it’s rapidly become one of my favorite luxury features.” 

On the other hand, Stoy said Ford and several German luxury manufactures will release cars with seats that cool themselves: “You can have your leather seats on this hot summer days.”


 Autonomous cars. Simply put, these are cars that drive themselves. Lauren Fix, a journalist known as “the car coach” who reports about autos for AOL,  The Weather Channel and the Buffalo News, said Audi even got a license for driverless vehicles in Nevada, while Nissan and Ford have also developed this type of car. However, Fix jokes the auto has potential to make people “lazier than they are.” 

“You might as well get a car service,” she said.


 WiFi in cars. It’s a feature Fix said is “very hot right now” that’s offered by Audi, Porche, Chrysler, GM and Ford. She said some models allow up to nine devices in a car to connect to the Internet at once. However, she warns that users are “going to be paying for the connection.”


 GPS/radar detection systems. First there were radar detectors. Then, there was the GPS. Now, said Fix, devices such as Escort Radar’s Passport combine the two into one -- at a cost of roughly $500. 

Meanwhile, she said, Garmin developed navigation devices that give directions based on landmarks. For instance, Fix said, drivers might be told to turn left at a bank or business, which she said can be easier when street signs are hard to find or are blocked from view.


 Diesel redefined. In the past, Fix said, diesel was “negative, negative, negative.” 

“It was vibration, it was black, it was smokey, it was gross,” she said. 

But now, manufacturers have revamped diesels to make them more fuel-efficient and better for the environment. 

For instance, she said the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze 2.0 TD gets 680 miles to the tank, while the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee goes 730 miles on a tank of gas and the 2013 Porsche Cayenne diesel can travel 760 miles before refueling.


Perfect parallel parking. While the person behind the wheel must operate the gas and brakes, Ford’s Fusion and Escape offer the Active Park Assist feature to parallel park. Stoy said the technology scans for a parking spot to fit your car, then guides the car into the space. He said similar technology also exists in models from BMW, Audi and Lexus.


 Plug-in hybrids. While the Chevy Volt used to be the “only animal in the jungle” when it came to plug-in hybrids, Bill Visnic, senior editor at, said new models such as the Ford Fusion Energi, the Ford C-Max and the Honda Accord are expected to make hybrids more accessible to mainstream buyers looking for family cars.