2013 Car Tech Awards: And the winner is...
The CNET staff has come up with its Tech Car of the Year for 2013, along with a raft of 10 other notable achievements in automotive tech.
2014 Mercedes-Benz S550
It came, we saw, and it conquered. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 shows forward thinking in every aspect of its being, and highlights the kind of technical advancement that gave the world adaptive cruise control. The new S-Class is everything Mercedes-Benz needed it to be to stay at the forefront of luxury sedans, but what really swayed us was its near-self-driving capability. Its advanced adaptive cruise control system works in stop-and-go traffic, and Mercedes-Benz added the new steering-assist system, which can drive the car hands- and feet-free in slow traffic. The rollout of these types of technologies is what will ultimately lead us to fully self-driving cars.
Other technical achievements include a powerful V-8 engine making use of direct injection and turbochargers, a comfortable air suspension, and one of the least annoying idle-stop features extant. The fact that the new S-Class does away with incandescent lighting completely in favor of LEDs is another step forward. A 3G data connection comes built into the car, and Mercedes-Benz has begun to bring well-known apps on board. The Burmester audio system is audiophile-quality, and topping the whole thing off is a built-in aromatherapy system.
The Car Tech 10
There was a lot more going on in the past year besides five really, really good tech cars. So that's why we have The Car Tech 10, a set of inconsistent awards for various achievements in automotive technology.
Future on a budget
Pricey battery technology has so far made even compact electric cars cost almost 40 grand, but the new Spark EV from Chevy delivers a fully electric drivetrain in a freeway-capable car for just over $27,000. Apply the full range of federal incentives, and that price can go below 20 grand. There are other fully electric cars available -- the was a runner-up here -- but we like the Spark EV for its outrageous torque figure, its CD-less infotainment system, and the fact that it was the first car to feature the J1772 Combo standard, which supports both regular and DC fast-charging from the same port.
Tech exec special
No car has more quickly become the darling of the tech company executive set than the Tesla Model S. By ZIP code, the were Atherton and Los Altos Hills, Calif., both just south of San Francisco. But you don't really need registration analysis to confirm the Model S' popularity among the tech elite. The car has become a common sight around Silicon Valley, with more and more taking up parking slots at the tech giants. Sorry, Audi, you are no longer flavor of the month.
Under its combined leadership, Jaguar and Land Rover have done an excellent job of sharing drivetrains between the vehicles, contributing to production efficiency. And both brands source their audio systems from Meridian, a suitably British maker of audiophile equipment. In the , , and , we were treated to glorious audio reproduction, a balanced and rich sound that brought out the nuances in music. Even in the confined spaces of a car, and fed a variety of digital audio sources, the Meridian systems shine brightly.
Analyzing which cars gained the most page views over the year, the winner is the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550, also our Tech Car of the Year. Mercedes-Benz is a well-known brand, and the fact of a new S-Class flagship sedan garnered the most interest among CNET readers of any car we reviewed over the year. Following on its heels were the and the .
As technology that will increase safety and make our lives more comfortable, self-driving cars show a lot of promise. Rather than grind your teeth in traffic during a boring commute, you could take care of e-mail or catch some extra sleep. Autonomous cars will let you get out in front of a restaurant or theater, and valet-park themselves. Their sensors will never get tired, and can see 360 degrees at all times, increasing safety. Automakers are hot on the trend, developing the technology that will make it happen.
This award could have just as easily gone to the Jaguar F-Type Roadster, but the Coupe variant that debuted at the 2013 LA Auto Show takes the F-Type's gorgeous design and sexes it up with a fixed glass roof that dips toward the tail end like an open-backed evening gown. That this model also debuts with a new "R" trim level that's even more performance-oriented than the S that we've tested makes the Coupe just that much more desirable.
You can get the award-winning Meridian audio system in the F-Type Roadster, but you probably won't get around to it because this big cat has an even better audio system to enjoy: the exhaust note. This Jaguar is loud, growling and barking like a muscle car when you're on the throttle and popping and burbling like a race car when you lift. Should you need to be even more ostentatious, there's an even louder exhaust mode available at the push of a button.
The Automatic Smart Driving Assistant takes technology that we've seen before, On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) monitoring, and makes it easy for anyone to use thanks to an easy-to-use interface and a polished smartphone companion app. Once it has set itself up in your car, Automatic automatically gives you fuel economy reports, driving-efficiency scores, and even automatic crash response.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the muscle-bound Volvo Coupe concept that debuted at the 2013 Frankfurt auto show is that the automaker seems surprised that everyone liked it so much and is considering further development. We love the idea of Volvo coming out of its "safe and dull" shell and building something exciting. Honorable mention goes to the that also debuted in Frankfurt, which hides a glimpse into the design of the next R8 supercar, albeit in off-road-ready guise.
Financially sensible green car
We've done the math and it's possible to recoup the cost of the 2013 Ford Fusion's hybrid power train in just about two years of driving. After that, the 47-mpg fuel savings go straight into your pocket. The Fusion also has the advantage of being reasonably priced, nationally available (as opposed to EVs, which often have limited availability), and smartly styled and tech-equipped.