As 2011 rolls to a close, we look back at the cars we've reviewed over the last year to see which one should earn our Tech Car of the Year Award.
This year's nominees come largely from the luxury market, where automakers are pushing their best cabin tech and most-advanced driver assistance features. Connected features are also starting to appear, with online search available in navigation systems. All of these vehicles use advanced engines, but the Volt pushes the boundaries the furthest.
Please vote for the car you think should be the 2011 Tech Car of the Year, and discuss it in the comments. The Car Tech staff jury will place its own votes, voting closes on December 19, and we will announce the winner on December 21.
Audi has been unstoppable lately, pushing the tech envelope in the cabin and under the hood. The A7 is the first car we've seen with a dedicated Internet connection, powering such features as Google Earth navigation. Audi also brings in a first-rate audio system and a very innovative cabin tech interface.
Embracing fuel efficiency, Audi puts a direct-injection 3-liter V-6 under the hood, using a supercharger to pump up the power. The latest version of all-wheel drive, with torque vectoring, ensures superior handling. The A7 is a near-perfect tech car.
At long last, BMW updates its X3 SUV, and it benefits from all of the company's latest technology. Like the Audi A7, the BMW X3 gets connected features, such as Google search integrated with the navigation system. BMW gives the X3 a wide, 8.8-inch LCD, making it easy to display a lot of information.
The X3's direct-injection engine uses BMW's innovative Double-VANOS fuel delivery system and an eight-speed automatic transmission to help fuel economy. A twin-scroll turbocharger ups the power without causing turbo lag. The X3 is an excellent showcase for efficiency and connected features.
The Chevy Volt came in too late to be included in last year's Tech Car of the Year contest, but it comes on strong this year with the most innovative power train of our 2011 nominees. Driving the front wheels with an electric motor, the Volt relies on a battery pack with stored electricity and a gas engine acting as an electricity generator.
But the Volt's innovations don't stop at the drivetrain. Chevy fitted the cabin with plenty of technology as well. Through an OnStar app, owners can set charging times remotely. The center stack uses touch buttons, which seems like something from a concept car. The Volt may have faced a year of criticism, but most owners seem quite happy.
For a long time, Nissan promised to launch its own hybrid system instead of merely licensing Toyota's. It is finally here, deployed in the Infiniti M, turning this big sedan into a powerful and economical driver. This next-generation hybrid system uses a lithium ion battery pack to turn waste energy into electricity.
Infiniti has also been very strong on driver assistance features, such as crash prevention technology that automatically hits the brakes in the M and keeps it from drifting across lane lines. With all this tech, the Infiniti M Hybrid should remain dent-free.
Mercedes-Benz hit a solid balance between an efficient power train, cabin tech, and driver assistance features in the sleek CLS550. The navigation system shows beautifully rendered 3D maps, while the Harman Kardon system delivers excellent fidelity. The Mbrace smartphone app gives drivers remote-control features and concierge service.
A new engine lowers displacement from the older V-8, using direct injection and twin turbochargers to be more efficient and make up for any lost power. Driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control, which can bring the car to a dead stop, and blind-spot detection.