The Next Big Things such as the Corvette Z06 tend to hog the media attention at auto shows, while the subtle refinements made by auto makers get pushed from the spotlight. Yet the majority of patrons parading through the auto show halls will be looking for practical to haul their families here and there. Below are some enhancements to vehicles meant to improve the convenience of the ordinary drive. On display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Jan. 18-26, some are new innovations, while other ideas have been adapted from different models or manufacturers.
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Cyclist radar: Volvo continues to push ahead with its city safety program, with the new XC60 now available with cyclist detection, as first announced last spring. Research indicated that pedestrian detection systems couldn’t adequately warn of the presence of a cyclist. With Volvo’s system, you will get a chime and a reflected message on the windshield if a bicycle enters the danger zone in front of the car and also for a 30-degree range to the sides.
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Front-seat consoles: New floating consoles – or centre pass-throughs – on both the Lincoln MKZ and the redesigned Chrysler 200 (pictured) provide a convenient alternative to tossing your electronics in a cup-holder or your purse on the floor. As first introduced by Volvo a decade ago, hollowed-out dead space beneath the radio and centre console can be used for storage. Chrysler has gone a step further to provide a double cup-holder that slides under the armrest.
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Pickup step-ups: The pickup and utility segment gets more user-friendly – and more posh – with each incarnation. GM introduced the rear step, a notch in each side of the rear bumper that accommodates a work boot, and a corresponding handhold at the top of the rear gate. No more slipping off, while trying to scale the dizzying height of some of these trucks. (GMC Canyon pictured)
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Good vibrations: Inside its full-sized utility trucks, GM is transferring a safety alert mechanism from the Cadillac XTS (pictured). With the take on the lane departure warning system, the driver’s seat vibrates if the vehicle strays – either on the left or right side – to indicate the direction you’re going off course. And, in tandem with the park-assist mode, the entire seat will rumble when there is danger of a collision.
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Fingertip control: With sales of the C-Class flat in the United States, Mercedes-Benz is introducing several new interior features, including a touchpad. Situated at your right hand, it enables a driver to give commands by writing letters and numbers – in any language. A heads-up display shines the car’s speed, speed limits and navigation directions onto the windshield.
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Workhorse add-ons: Integrated ramps being introduced on Ford’s popular F-150 pickup should make hauling bikes, ATVs, snowblowers – anything with wheels – safer and easier. The company is also introducing a remote tailgate release and a 360-degree exterior camera to help the driver with parking, transmitting to a 20-cm LCD screen on the dash.
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Puts the heat on for you: Porsche’s Panamera S Hybrid can heat or cool the interior to a desired temperature 30 minutes before you climb in. As first reported last summer, the program works in conjunction with the charging system, resulting in negligible loss of power to achieve the perfect climate. Still want more incentive to go green? Porsche’s new $845,000 918 Spyder allows you green plates, no doubt meaning you'll be the only car with 887 horsepower in the HOV lanes.
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Standard ski rack: Volvo’s concept XC Coupe is designed to accommodate sports equipment. An integrated compartment over the roof houses skis and snowboards. It operates like a Thule, with a sleek aerodynamic design and paint the same colour as the body. It’s uncertain whether the two-door, four-passenger vehicle will be produced, but the convenient sports package may find a home in other models.
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Compartmentalizing: In the Rogue, Nissan has found a way to organize rear cargo chaos. Multi-level platforms provide two levels for goods, and also allow you to lower the floor panel to carry taller items. You can adjust the floor panel and create vertical walls to keep groceries from sprawling.
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Integrated video: Available on the 2015 Corvette Stingray as a $1,000 option, the Performance Data Recorder captures hi-definition video through the windshield header, records conversations in the car, and monitors handling and positioning of the car with a GPS receiver. The device is mounted on the rear-view mirror. Intended to optimize time at the track, it will no doubt generate YouTube hits. The video footage can be saved to the SD card storied in the glove compartment, then played on the 20 cm dashboard monitor or loaded onto personal computers. Practical, maybe not. Fun, definitely.
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An EV with gas-tank range: Honda says its five-passenger FCEV concept car will answer the nagging issue with electric vehicles: range anxiety. How does 480 kilometres on a charge sound?