Top five tech cars of 2011

Ride shotgun as we fill you in on the top five tech vehicles money can buy -- touchscreens, cruise control, cracking audio and more -- these cars have gadgetry by the bucket-load.

Automotive technology is moving at a pace quick enough to make your ears pop. Our roads are now full to bursting with cars that brake by themselves, park by themselves, drive by themselves and even talk among themselves.

The rate of progress has been phenomenal, to say the least, but not all cars are created equal. Here at CNET UK, we've witnessed first-hand the development of car tech over the years, and are therefore well-equipped to bring you a list of the vehicles that have shot onto the scene in 2011 sporting most impressive technology.

Ride shotgun as we fill you in on the top five finest wheeled gadgets money can buy, starting at number five with the Porsche Panamera Turbo .

5: Porsche Panamera Turbo

The Porsche Panamera Turbo makes our list for one reason and one reason alone -- it packs the best factory-fitted audio system in the history of sound. We'll repeat that -- partly because we've gone a bit deaf after listening to it on full-blast for too long, partly because we want to hammer the point home -- its audio system is the best. Got that? Good.

At £3,500 it's not the most expensive audio upgrade we know of (the Merc S-Class can proudly lay claim to that accolade) but its speakers, which combined, provide the largest diaphragm area we know of, crank loud and low enough to shatter your heart and turn the fragments to liquefied dust.

Porsche has thought long and hard about the car's rear seat entertainment package too, which is surprising as it's not a company with a great track record for thoughtful rear seat design (it usually leaves them out altogether). The Panamera has a pair of 7-inch TFT displays mounted in the rear of the front headrests, on which users can watch different media simultaneously. Unlike many, the screens are touch sensitive, meaning you never have to mess about with an infra-red remote control. Win.

4: Ford Focus

Most people consider the Ford Focus to be an ordinary runabout designed to get its occupants from point A to point B and little else. Most people, however, couldn't be more wrong about Ford's mid-size family hatchback, if they tried. It's one of the most competent, technically advanced vehicles on tarmac today.

First up, the thing damn near drives itself. Sure, we've seen similar sort of stuff before with adaptive cruise control systems that lock onto the vehicle in front, but the new Focus's front-mounted cameras and electronically controlled steering help it to guide itself between the lane markings if you happen to doze off.

Those same cameras are also clever enough to scan the road ahead for road signs, so you don't have to. If it spots any, it'll display them prominently between the speedo and rev counter, so you always have a handy reminder of any speed limit or no overtaking signs you may have missed because you're busy marvelling at how amazing the car is.

Want more? Of course you do. So how about some built-in automatic parallel parking gubbins that takes all the hassle out of slotting the Focus into a narrow space? All you have to do is push a couple of buttons, take charge of the braking and acceleration, and the Focus will deal with the rest.

3: Audi A6 Premium Quattro

The Audi A6 is one of the most cutting-edge cars on the market. There, we said it. What makes this car's tech so worthy of a place in our top five? Audi's handwriting recognition technology, mainly. While most cars ask occupants to enter data using a touchscreen or a fiddly twisting knob interface, Audi's mid-size marvel lets you scribble letters and numbers onto a touchpad-style interface that recognises your scrawl as proper words and whatnot.

We're also crazy in love with the fact the A6 comes with an integrated 3G modem that allows it to serve as a portable WiFi hotspot. This lets passengers -- and the driver if they have a death wish -- to surf the Web via an Internet-capable device such as a tablet or laptop while on the move.

The A6's navigation system is all types of futuristic. It's not quite as clever as the BMW 6 Series when it comes to avoiding traffic, but it offers detailed 3D maps with rendered buildings, topographical terrain details and Google Earth integration, so it can show satellite imagery of the area you're driving through. The effect is so good that at times it looks as if the nav is showing video footage shot in the heavens.

Throw in an automatic parallel parking system, a high-end Bang & Olufsen audio system and the ability to play audio and video from just about every source imaginable and you have an extremely thorough tech setup that most cars don't even come close to.

2: BMW 6 Series coupe

When designing a sports car, manufacturers primarily focus on geeky technology which make their car set forth like stink off a newborn's nappy. BMW's tech team is no different, but when it finished installing its crazy power-boosting gismos, it then set about fitting a bunch of awesome gadgets that we can fully nerd out to.

Take the active steering system on the 6 Series Coupe , for example, which not only steers the front wheels, but also the rear wheels in the opposite direction to help improve the car's turning circle. It feels a little weird initially (we felt like we were driving Bambi at first) but there's no denying it's a clever piece of tech.

More impressive than that is the 6's frankly incredible satellite navigation system. Yes, it gets you from one place to another like most sat-navs, but unlike many of its rivals, it'll get you there sometime this side of the 22nd century. It uses the car's built-in 3G modem to count how many other mobile phones (and therefore drivers) there are crawling along your route. If it detects a mass of mobiles moving really slowly in other cars, it'll suggest a less congested alternate route.

That 3G connectivity isn't used by the sat-nav alone. The Beemer also lets you browse the Internet, send tweets and update Facebook via a massive 10.2-inch display that's more reminiscent of a tablet PC than a car display. The car also sports a head-up display that beams your speed and navigation instructions directly onto the windscreen so you don't need to look down. Oh, and the package is rounded off by a thumpin' audio system that packs two subwoofers under each of the front seat. It is, in a word, thrilling.

1: Mercedes S-Class 

The S-Class Merc is one of the largest cars on the road, so it's no surprise the Germans have festooned the thing with more gadgets than a branch of Best Buy. First of all, there's a fridge between the rear seats -- yes, an actual refrigerator. It's not large enough to store your weekly shop, sure, but if you're the type of person that likes to keep a tub of butter handy for long journeys, you need look no further.

If you're also the type of person that, while driving, really likes to concentrate on things other than driving, then the S-Class has got you covered. It has the most awesome adaptive cruise control system we've ever tested. It uses radar and laser systems to lock onto the car in front and will follow that vehicle, accelerating, braking and stopping as necessary without you having to fart about with the pedals. Sure, you still have to steer, but it's an absolute godsend in traffic.

Equally impressive perhaps, is the car's night view assist feature -- or see-in-the-dark night vision in layman's terms. Infra-red beams in the headlights cast an invisible beam onto the inky blackness ahead of the S-Class, and cameras located at the top of the windscreen detect those images, reconstructing them on a display where the speedo lives. It doesn't work unless you've got the car's normal headlights activated at the same time, which sort of defeats the object, but by golly it's cool.

 

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