The New York auto show saw the debut of no less than 10 new gadget-laden SUVs this year, which will compete against the more than 100 different crossovers and sport utility vehicles already on sale in showrooms.
As the market becomes increasingly crowded, auto makers are pushing new high-tech gadgets to one-up the competition. From air-ionizers, to face-tracking, to alarms that go off if you forget a child in the car, some of these features will be useful, others less so, and they certainly won’t all come cheap.
It’s only a slight exaggeration to say the feature list of your average new vehicle might as well be written in Egyptian hieroglyphs for all the vaguely named technologies with indecipherable purposes you’ll find there.
Modern cars are already complex, with bloated infotainment systems that can lead to driver distraction. The last thing you want to do is add to the problem by paying for optional tech you won’t use.
The SUVs unveiled at the New York show all touted interesting new features, which have the potential to be great, if they work as advertised and if they are easy to use. Those, however, are big “ifs.”
All-new for 2019, the Forester is in its fifth generation since debuting in 1997.
The new model’s most interesting new feature is called DriverFocus, which detects distracted or drowsy drivers. Subaru says it’s “like having an attentive co-pilot along for the ride, ready to give a helpful alert.”
The system uses driver-facing cameras and facial-recognition software – similar to Apple’s Face I.D. feature on the iPhone X – to monitor the driver for signs of distraction or drowsiness.
Distracted driving caused 27 per cent of fatal collisions in British Columbia in 2016, according to the Canadian Automobile Association. Any technology that helps to mitigate that danger is worth a look.
Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assistance system will be standard equipment in the United States, but optional on Canadian cars. The DriverFocus system will be optional as well.
Made in Canada, the RAV4 was the country’s bestselling SUV last year. The all-new model unveiled in New York features Toyota’s updated Safety Sense 2.0 system as standard equipment.
Its new Lane Tracking Assist feature warrants some explanation. Systems like this are also known as lane-centering, because they work to help the driver keep the car centred in a lane. The RAV4 uses cameras and radar to recognize lane markings and vehicles in front to track the road ahead.
By contrast, lane-departure warning systems only beep if you’re drifting out of a lane, and lane-keeping systems only jerk the steering back once you’ve already drifted to the edge of a lane. The new Lane Tracking Assist system only works on highways, and is simply meant to assist a driver, so don’t take your hands off the wheel.
Tesla, BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Cadillac have similar lane-centering systems, but having it as standard on a Toyota is impressive.
Cadillac is late jumping into the booming compact luxury SUV market, but the company is hoping the XT4 will nevertheless attract younger buyers to the brand.
Buried among the avalanche of tech features and gadgets piled into the XT4 – wireless phone charging, illuminated light blade, surround vision, near-field communication – is an in-cabin air ionizer, which improves air quality in the cabin. “It does this by generating negatively charged ions through an emitter and distributing them into the air through the heating ventilation and cooling ducts,” according to Cadillac.
The ionizer itself is hidden from view and runs automatically when the vehicle is on. Got to have those air ions.
The Aviator shown in New York is a prototype, a “teaser” the company says, of a coming three-row SUV. It will be Lincoln’s first plug-in hybrid, slotting into the lineup below the Navigator.
Should you forget your car key, the Aviator’s Phone as a Key system will let you get in and drive using only your smartphone. It works through the Lincoln Way app. You can use it as you would a regular key fob, and it can make the car chirp so you can find it in a crowded parking lot.
If your phone battery dies, you still won’t be locked out. A backup keypad on the door will let you in, and you’ll be able to start the car using the central touchscreen.
It raises security concerns, but Lincoln says that if you lose your phone you can disable the feature.
The all-new 2019 RDX made its debut almost simultaneously at the Vancouver and New York auto shows.
Acura is calling this the most extensive redesign of the RDX in a decade. The company hopes its new SUV will elevate the brand’s reputation.
It looks sharp from the outside, but the interior design may split opinion. The dashboard is a radical, alien-looking shape. At its centre is Acura’s new Intuitive True Touchpad Interface. You control the big central screen using a separate touch pad mounted on the centre-console. “To support intuitive and easy control,” the company says, “the touchpad is precisely mapped, one-to-one, with the action on the centre display.”
The idea being you won’t need to look down at the touchpad or at an on-screen cursor to control navigation and vehicle settings. Sounds nifty, but we’ll have to see how it works in practice.
Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai has sold more than 1.5 million Sante Fe SUVs in the United States, making this its most popular SUV. The all-new fourth-generation model should arrive in Canada this summer as a 2019 model.
Rear Occupant Alert is a new feature from Hyundai that warns parents if they’ve accidentally left a child in the rear seats. Yes, really.
The system uses ultrasonic sensors to detect movement in the back seats. The car will flash a message on the dashboard screen, reminding drivers to check the rear seats. Then, if the driver gets out and locks the door, and the sensors still detect movement, the car’s horn will honk. It’ll even send an alert to Hyundai’s app if you have it set up on your phone.
It’s unclear though how Rear Occupant Alert would help detect sleeping children or pets, but parents could probably use all the help they can get.