As the end of the year closes in, the Car Tech staff takes a look back at the cars we have reviewed, challenged with the task of determining the best tech cars available. As the preliminary stage in coming up with the Tech Car of the Year for 2013, we picked out five nominees from a year's worth of reviews. For a car to qualify as a Tech Car of the Year nominee, we had to have given it a full review, with plenty of drive time and exploration of cabin tech features.
One trend that stood out for us this year was autonomous driving. No production car currently allows fully autonomous driving, but many come with driver assistance features leading in that direction. We also looked to connected tech in the cabin, a big consideration in previous years, and general excellence in cabin electronics. Drive systems, from the engine bay to transmission and suspension, also came under consideration.
Check out our list of nominees and editors' comments, place a vote for your favorite, and discuss the cars in our comments section. Our CNET jury will place their votes, and we will announce the winner on December 18. We will also be announcing the Car Tech 10, a set of 10 other awards for notable achievements in the automotive space.
2014 Acura MDX
Acura updates its MDX crossover for the 2014 model year, giving it direct injection for engine efficiency, LED headlights, and a driver assistance system that keeps it centered in its lane. App integration comes through the AcuraLink app, and a rear-seat entertainment system can mirror a smartphone's screen.
Brian Cooley: Acura's new dual LCD screens in the dash need some refinement, but it is shedding its Honda roots in that respect and continuing to impress with self-driving tech.
Antuan Goodwin: Sampling the MDX's advanced suite of driver aid technologies -- in particular the EPS-powered Lane Keeping Assist -- is like getting a taste of the future where cars drive themselves. It's a bit off-putting at first, but leaps forward in technology can be that way.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV
Chevy may have bet heavily on its
Brian Cooley: Too often electric cars are either half-baked or twice as expensive as most of us can afford. The Spark EV has great motive, cabin, and interface tech at a normal price.
Antuan Goodwin: What really grabs my attention here is Chevy's tech-forward approach to this low-end dashboard. Kiss the CD player goodbye -- it's finally dead -- and say hello to standard smartphone integration. While you're at it, bid expensive tech options farewell and welcome $50 BringGo navigation app mirroring.
Wayne Cunningham: The Spark EV felt balanced and drivable, while its big torque number made for a little bit of fun, and it certainly didn't balk at San Francisco hills. Chevy uses OnStar for advanced telematics, giving the car a connected edge.
2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Ford's attractive midsize sedan employs a solid array of driver assistance features, from adaptive cruise control to lane departure prevention to automated parallel parking, and adds a hybrid drivetrain rated at an average 47 mpg. Cabin tech features are anchored by the Sync system and the best voice command system in the business.
Brian Cooley: Most green cars go brown when you run the numbers on how long it will take to earn back their price premium. The Fusion Hybrid earns its keep in about two years while being really enjoyable to drive and look at. It's also a star for its self-parking tech. MyFord Touch still needs work, though.
Antuan Goodwin: All right, so MyFord Touch isn't winning any popularity contests, but the hybrid sedan that surrounds that dashboard is not only very efficient and darn good-looking, it's also quite the value. It's the most accessible vehicle on this year's list.
Wayne Cunningham: The Fusion Hybrid follows Henry Ford's philosophy of cars for the common man, bringing many features only found in high-end luxury vehicles to a middle-class buyer. The array of driver assistance features bests many cars above the Fusion Hybrid's class, while fuel economy scores are in the stratosphere for any midsize sedan.
2014 Mercedes-Benz S550
Mercedes-Benz updated its flagship S-Class with many of the company's latest technologies, but then invented more. Adaptive cruise control and the new Steering Assist feature essentially drive the car autonomously in low-speed traffic. Popular apps are integrated into the dashboard, and a new Burmester audio system creates audiophile sound.
Brian Cooley: Mercedes-Benz rescued the S-Class from its own country club roots with a car any techie would love to own (could he or she afford it!) thanks to connectivity, a rich interface, and smart use of LCDs and LEDs everywhere.
Antuan Goodwin: This big Benz has a ridiculously long list of pros, but about the only con that I think of is that I don't have nearly $130,000 lying around to spend on a loaded one of my own.
Wayne Cunningham: With the new S550, Mercedes-Benz not only updated its flagship sedan, it launched a new standard for other luxury carmakers to equal. Performance tech is impressive, as are the driver assistance features. The app integration shows great potential, but currently takes far too long to load.
2012 Tesla Model S
Last year's winner makes a return visit to the nominee list based on its drive architecture, giving it exceedingly long range for an electric car, and general drive characteristics that compete with anything in its price class. Cabin tech in the Model S includes natively connected features shown on a massive 17-inch LCD.
Brian Cooley: The car everyone was asking me about all through 2013. No new car has created so much interest in new ways of motoring in at least a generation.
Antuan Goodwin: It's got a next-generation drivetrain that's ninja-silent and ox-strong. It's got a Web-connected touch screen in the dashboard that's probably bigger than the display you're reading this on. The Tesla Model S is the very definition of a "tech car."
Wayne Cunningham: Its popularity among the Silicon Valley set makes the Model S the iPhone of automobiles, the must-have tech accessory of the times. But there's good reason for that, as its electric drivetrain gives owners a sense of the future of driving, in which gas stations are a thing of the past.