Today's cars are packed with more features and amenities than ever, from luxury niceties to super high-tech multimedia systems. We test everything here at Roadshow, and while not every new car tech and convenience feature is something to be praised, the majority of them are.
But here's the thing: It's not always the latest and greatest feats of technological engineering that make the biggest difference from behind the wheel. Occasionally, small, simple things end up being the most convenient -- things that genuinely improve daily life.
To that end, we've picked out our favorite tech and convenience features available in new cars today. Scroll through the rest of this gallery to see what we love the most.
OK, so technically adaptive cruise is a safety system, part of the ever-advancing suite of functionality provided by a modern car to keep you from smacking into another modern car. But, for me, it's the ultimate convenience feature. I've always been an avid user of cruise control, both for its mpg-improving and ticket-avoiding benefits, and adaptive cruise just takes that to the next level.
Sure, it's not that difficult to kick off the cruise and manage the throttle in traffic, but it's so, so, so much easier with adaptive cruise. This is doubly so with the more advanced systems, like EyeSight in our long-term Subaru Ascent, which will bring the car to a complete stop and chime when the car ahead starts to move. Perfect for making gridlock a little less painful.
There are some negatives, the primary one being I'll often find myself following some slower car ahead and not realizing I'm going 10 mph slower than I should be. And of course there's the risk of over-reliance on a system like this, but when it comes to making a long highway drone from A to B, I'm much happier in a car that can take care of its own speed.
I know many people swear by seat heaters. While I like a warm backside as much as the next guy, seat coolers are where it's at for me. I'm someone who constantly fiddles with temperature and airflow regardless of how good a car's HVAC system is. I'll put on the chilled seats in a surprising range of ambient temperature conditions, whether I'm getting in on a stuffy, sunbaked summer day or just a temperate spring morning.
It's worth noting that not all seat coolers are created equal -- some barely feel like they're doing anything at all. Some have fans that are annoyingly loud in operation. Others are just right. Be sure to try out a prospective car or truck's setup to be sure it agrees with you, because you're probably going to be paying extra to have the technology whispering in your back pocket. I'm a particular fan of the industrial-strength units in today's Ford F-150 pickup -- they're powerful enough to cut right through your Carhartts.
It's worth noting that seat coolers not only cost a chunk of money, they add weight and complexity, too. I probably wouldn't buy a modern luxury car or SUV without them, but that's also why I probably wouldn't want to spec them in a lightweight sports car like a Mazda MX-5 Miata. On second thought, maybe I'd still like the option -- convertible cabins can get hot enough to tan your own leather.
I am a sucker for a good spa day, and having some massaging seats is like bringing the spa right to my car. The system in the Lincoln Navigator, for example, is so good I had to pull over for fear of being lulled to sleep.
Some massagers think it's OK to stop after a few minutes, like the ones in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. However, the company makes up for it with a variety of massage patterns to choose from, even a wave massage that puts pressure right on the tuchus.
Most people think massaging seats are mostly found in luxury cars, but they are available in the Ford F-150, standard on the Platinum, King Ranch and Limited trims. Now all I need are massaging pedals and I'll get a nice foot rub, too.
As someone that gets in and out of a lot of cars, I appreciate the consistency and ease of use that CarPlay provides.
I love that my most-used apps -- Audible, Overcast, Google Maps, etc. -- are all supported in CarPlay, and that they require no additional learning curve or extra attention to use while driving.
Most manufacturers have started to get the hint that customers want CarPlay (and its Android Auto rival) in their new cars, and are including it as standard. Only a few holdouts remain that don't offer it at all, and a few who charge for the privilege. Eventually, I expect that even those companies who have been slow on the uptake will join the crowd.
While I'm no Marie Kondo at home, I like the inside of my car to be as clean and clutter-free as possible. That's why I like wireless smartphone charging so much -- I can leave the USB cable at home.
Combined with Bluetooth connectivity for phone and audio controls, wireless charging means I can keep my phone's battery topped up while still enjoying the information on my phone. Plus, some carmakers are even fitting their vehicles with wireless Apple CarPlay, so I can use all of my phone's functionality without ever having to plug in.
Because smartphones come in different sizes, I understand charging pads need to be large enough to accommodate them all. Some chargers, like the one you see here, allow your phone to slide around, which is annoying. I prefer the setups employed by companies like Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz, where the phone rests diagonally in a cubby, so it stays in place while driving.
Heated seats have always been at the top of my list of favorite cabin creature comforts, but I've also grown to enjoy heated steering wheels, as well. After all, jumping into a frigid car in the middle of a Michigan winter and having to clamp onto an ice-cold, leather-wrapped steering wheel is not very fun at all.
Like heated seats, a heated steering wheel will warm up way before the car itself will. Even after everything is up to temp, a toasty steering wheel is still a nice and comforting feature to have, making motoring around through winter a bit more bearable.
Extra points go to steering wheels that are heated around the entire rim. Some steering wheels only have heating elements around the 3- and 9-o'clock areas, meaning you'll still be in for a cold surprise when grabbing onto other parts around turns.
Living in Southern California, outside temperatures are often 74 to 84 degrees. If I'm not windows-and-top-down soaking up perfect weather in a convertible, then you can bet I've got all my windows down in a vehicle with a roof. When it comes to fresh-air ventilation, I'm all or nothing.
There's a good reason for that. Ever notice when you only have your driver's-door glass lowered that the outside air aggressively blasts the left side of your face? The same happens when you put just the front windows down. But if you put the rear windows down, too, the wind pressure through the front glass decreases drastically because the outside air has more places to enter the cabin. This is a much more comfortable way to drive.
And that's why I love fully automatic, or express up and down windows. When I want maximum outside airflow, a simple two-finger poke on the front and rear window switches (and oftentimes a single tug at the sunroof switch) is all I need to get comfortable (and vice-versa to close everything back up). Without automatic windows, this same dance is more time-consuming and much less convenient. I realize complaining about having to hold my fingers on each switch for five seconds per row of windows may seem trivial, but that's time when I'm less in control with one hand off the steering wheel. Over years of car ownership, those seconds add up. If you're wondering why many new vehicles today don't have this feature standard, our man Brian Cooley sheds light on that in this video.
Having spent several days in the back of a van without USB ports as of this writing, it's astounding that way-back USB ports aren't totally ubiquitous.
Given humanity's addiction to screens, it's more than likely that families will have several people with even more devices, all of which may need to charge simultaneously. Why do without your Switch when you don't have to?
USB ports don't require a whole lot, just the port itself and some wires for power. More and more cars are finally getting with the times and including extra USB ports, but given the pace of non-automotive technology, the car industry might need to pick up the pace.
The car is your Fortress of Solitude for many, but as a driver who often shares a vehicle with others, I'm often annoyed when -- after taking the time to get all of my settings just right -- someone goes and changes things around. Driver profiles solve this problem by allowing me to keep my preferences discrete and separate from others.
The most basic driver profiles allow the saving of infotainment settings like radio presets, contacts and favorite destinations for navigation. GM's Infotainment 3 can save app logins, while many luxury cars can remember your preferred climate setting, seating and mirror position and more. Our long-term Volvo XC40, for example, is shared by drivers ranging from 5 feet, 8 inches, to 6 feet, 6 inches, so its driver profiles save us a lot of fiddling.
Choosing a profile can be as simple as using an onscreen menu, but the very best systems will allow a profile to be associated with a key fob or Bluetooth paired smartphone, so you can just hop in and go. The most cutting edge systems can even save your settings to the cloud, so you can bring your preferences from car to car. Whether sharing your ride with a bunch of Roadshow staff or just your family, driver profiles are extremely useful.