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Cooley On Cars
Episode 17, When your airbag is your enemyWe'll show you when an airbag can be your worst enemy, see if Acura can retake the top of car tech and look at the top 5 future car tech innovations.
-Can the original hi-tech car come back from the forgotten? If only car tech that can blow up in your face and steering-- you're doing it all wrong. Time to check the tech. We see cars differently. We love them on the road, under the hood. But also, check the tech and they're known for telling it like it is. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET on cars. -Hello, folks. Welcome to CNET on Cars. We're all about hi-tech cars and modern driving around here. I'm Brian Cooley. We're doing something interesting in this episode. We're going back to the roots of CNET covering car technology. The first car we ever reviewed was the 2005 Acura RL. Back then, it was like this portal into the future that you almost couldn't believe-- incredible technologies that are found in almost every car today. So the question is, can its descendant, the 2014 Acura RLX raised the bar again. Let's find out as we check the tech. May 2005, and CNET begins covering cars. The Acura RL was the first time we gave an Editor's Choice to a product that didn't fit through the front door. It had futuristic tech like Bluetooth, voice-command and GPS Navigation. We wrote, Acura has staked out technology as its territory and the 2005 RL is the company's deed of ownership. Well, that house got foreclosed on. Today, you get that technology when you rent a Kia, that's why we've got this guy. The all-new descendant, the RLX. Let's drive this 2014, it's loaded with the gills, see if they've caught up and check the tech. The main styling views are the standard LED headlights. You don't see those very often and this kind of kicked down belt line and this bodyline that gets you there. That's unusual and creates a little taller greenhouse than you normally expect. But other than that, it tends to make the front end look kinda bulky and the rest of the car just looks like 2013 car from Acura. Okay, first thing you notice in the RLX is something that no other car has not to this degree. Two LCDs both roughly in the mid-size class, navigation is what you see right now on the top. This is what's new where you would normally have this forest of Acura button. They've cleaned it up and giving you a constantly morphing contextually sensitive control panel on the second one. But that's where things start to get wondering and weird. The relationship between this screen and the one above-- it will change in ways that aren't consistent to my mind. Right now, I've got audio controls and some audio information here with climate at the bottom and awful lot like the physical climate buttons just below it. That seems a little redundant. But if I go to the audio mode, now I've got audio taking up the upper screen as well as the lower screen and again quite a bit of redundant information going on between here and here. Where this does succeed is a couple of places first of all only having contextually sensitive buttons means that you can have larger ones 'cause you only have the ones you needed at time instead of this little fiddly ones that Acura is known for. I also like this-- this is a shortcuts menu here that is sort of a clipboard. You can shortcut any number of vehicle settings or menus into this area. I will say that these two screens are beautiful-looking now. Acura has completely redesigned what they do on LCDs, except when you go here. That's the same map, basically, we've been seeing for 7 or 8 years in Acura Honda products which brings us to entering an address. Now, here's where things get goofy. I go to Nav, I go to menu, and hit an address. And you can see, I still have to enter things by bucket. Tell what the city. Then, tell what the street. Then, tell what the house number. And this is madness. Two alphabetic displays to enter the address. Ones qwerty, ones rolly-scrolly. This is absurd, which brings this to our audio settings. Now, just about all the major hits of current audio technology are in here. AM and FM was really clear indication of HD Radio, XM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, Pandora support is built-in, works really slickly, Aha is built in as well. I could never get it to invoke well off to my Motorola droid phone but that could be an Android thing. Now you've got 3 audio output systems to choose from. The bass is ELS audio, which used to be a premium rig. Then, you can go up to ELS studio audio which takes you to 588 watts and 14 speakers up from 10. But the really interesting thing is to go all the way to Krell audio which we have here and it is a brand new offering. You still have 14 speakers around the cabin but they're made of exotic materials, some kinda fiber that's stronger than Kevlar. You've got these metal grills on the actual speakers. They say they buzz less than plastic and what maybe the hottest looking triple driver cab that I've ever seen in a production car living back there on the back shelf. Never mind what it looks like. It sounds tremendous. Now, tell me-- we have 3.5 liter V6 and Acura's hardly new. But this one is all new. 3.5 liter V6 sitting sidesaddle driving front wheels only for now. We'll talk about all-wheel drive in a minute. Direct injection technology but normally aspirated. No turbos or blowers in this one. The numbers are 310 horse, 272 foot pounds of torque gets this roughly 3900 pound car up to 60 in a pretty spritely 6 and a half seconds while delivering 2031 MPG, not bad. The transmission is hardly a star though, it's a 6 feet automatic, that's garden variety of stuff these days. What's interesting about this engine as well is then it's got active cylinder management. So, [unk] through electronic and mechanical means go from 6 to 4 to even 3 cylinders and in between those configurations on the fly depending on how much power it needs. So, when you're cruising on the highway, you're not driving the V6. You could be driving a-- what a, V3. But this car does have it all four wheels that you may have noticed from that badge on the rear is 4-wheel steering. Honda is been into that for a long time but this is different. They can point the same direction as the front wheels for lane changes or opposite direction of the front wheels for cornering. When you jam on the breaks the rear wheels go pigeon tone. So, you're basically dragging the rear end instead of rolling it to help scrub off speed. And finally there's also agile handling assist which uses breaking, not steering on an inside wheel to help vector you in around a turn. And the first thing I noticed about the RLX is-- well, it's not overwhelming in any way on paper. I love this power terrain. This engine comes on with power when you step on the gas. I can't tell you how many cars instead, choosing to setup a committee of sensors and servos and semi-conductors to think about it for a moment. I also think part of what makes this car nice to drive is the effortless nature of it. I attribute a lot of that to this all-wheel steering technology no matter what you do whether it's a short turn like this or whether you're parking, you're doing a lane change. It's pretty effortless but it gets there without being over assisted. It gets there by being fleet of foot. Handling is a little tubby, I mean, here in this corner, I got too much lean and I have to come back around a little bit of slop going this way. You hit the sport button and you do not sport high the suspension. All you do is re-curve the power terrain response. It doesn't do anything for a body rolling suction. Now, let's go on the freeway and get a little taste of one of the most self-driving car as you can buy today. This guy-- I've got adaptive crews enabled here and that brings on lane keep assist. I'm gonna set my adaptive crew speed and now the car is handling the throttle, maintaining speed, maintaining distance, operating the breaks and it's also steering that just right the curve in the road, left now right. It is maintaining the lane that is not straight-- not neat. Now, by the way, to keep your hands off the wheel even though I was just an inch away for too long. It blasted a big old warning up there on the dash. It knows you're not driving by the lack of input on the wheel. So it's not encouraging you to do that. Now, pricing the 2014 RLX starts off at around 49,3 but don't get too excited. You don't hit CNET style to packing out at $12,000 on top of that, 2,500 for a Nav which is obviously navigation AcuraLink, 3,500 for the tech package that brings you studio audio, line spot technology 19-inch low noise wheels and fancier leather. Twenty-five hundred bucks for the Krell package, that's that great Krell audio system and oddly rear sunshades. Finally, at 3,500 on top of all of that to the advance package and that's gonna bring you the adaptive crews, lane keep assist and collision mitigating breaking system, basically, all the self-driving stuff that's also the way that you get heated and cooled seats and parking sensors. There's a lot of bundling going on here to bristle at. In the end, you're gonna get a car that has a lot of technology that's very ambitious but it's not cutting edge across the stack. You also have a very interesting drive train on this vehicle, but unfortunately, I can't say the same about the styling. And of course, you can find our full review on that RLX, as usual, over at cars.cnet.com. Now, you know about pirated DVDs and software even Swap Meet Louie. But how about counterfeit airbags. It's true. They've been showing up in the market and this is one kind of car tech that could blow up in your face literally if it's bogus. And that's a great interest to the smarter driver. Airbags blow when triggered by one of several G-Force sensors or accelerometers mounted around your car. And when they do deploy, it's loud and violent. It's something you want working absolutely perfectly. It's a little walk in that final lime between saving your life and making things worst. A counterfeit airbag could even fool the experts. It'll have the right materials, typically. It might have the right logo stamp on it or even the right serial number. But that's what the similarity to a real one and ends and can end dangerously. Our partners over at State Farm tipped us off for an investigation that was done recently by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and they are detecting bogus airbags in the market place. The basic idea is to offer one at lower cost. But that's not a good trade off you wanna make. The problem-- well, they may not deploy in a crash or not forcefully enough or they may deploy too hard and they can even send metal shrapnel flying around inside the car. Now, most insurance companies and any reputable body shop is not gonna hesitate to pay for and put the genuine item back on there. I mean, this is a critical part. It's not like you're replacing a piece of sheet metal. Now even if counterfeit airbags were easy to spot, this one is legit but, I don't know. I would to know if I have been told. How would you spot one of these? The same 3 mechanic doesn't play around with these things and for good reason, this is the business end. This is where there is that high explosive propellant that inflates those things in that fraction of a second during a coalition. You don't wanna be fooling around with this in crossing wires the wrong way. So, you'll leave this kind of thing to body shops and reputable repair shops. However, here's some tips you can use to make sure that the history of your vehicle or its future repairs involve real genuine airbags. For the most part, vehicles that have had an airbag replaced in the past 3 years by repair shop that is not part of a new car dealership could be at risk. Now, if you think your car may have passed through a sketchy repair shop after a past collision or has an airbag installed that was bought online, you're not helpless. Go to safercar.gov, that government website will hook you up with call centers that will let you work with the car maker to determined if you've got a legitimate airbag in your car that can often figure that out by doing a data read of some of the codes that come off the data bust in your car. It also says, if you bought a car with a salvage or similar title, or if you bought an airbag on ebay that was really cheap like under 400 bucks, those are also a red flags. Now, I'll grant you. This may sounds like a lot safety TV or rewarding over a part you never see and hopefully will never use. But airbags are unique in all the components of a car where the unique sort of dangerous edge to them. You don't want one that's working mostly right. Coming up. The most natural thing you do as a driver, and thanks for technology, you're probably doing it all wrong. We'll set you straight when CNET on Cars continues. Welcome back to CNET on Cars, I'm Brian Cooley. You know, most of us haven't thought about how we hold a steering wheel since what? The first week we learn how to do so. It's pretty automatic. But due to a slow of innovations going on inside the car, the last number of years you need to think about it again. That's why it's our Car Tech 101. Now, I'm guessing you were taught to drive with your hands 10 and 2. It's been driving school dictum for decades, kind of what I'm doing here. You got this big, leverage at the top of the wheel. And one of the things it was good about 10 and 2, is it gave you this big kinda cranking forceps here like you're sawing away at the wheel of a ship. But that was then. Starting in the 80's, cars begin to come with power steering almost universally. And that changes a lot of things about how you address the wheel. If anything, steering in the 80's didn't really matter where you put your hands starting then, you could operate the car's steering with the least effort. You could drape your wrist over the top. You could steer it down here with one finger, the classic kinda big American car thing. And people really got sloppy about where they put their hands. Too many of them just do this. Starting in the 90's, power steering evolves. It's not so numb and dumb. Its variable ratio that means, it requires a different number of turns to navigate the land and speed than when you're parking for example. -The steering movement from lock to lock is much smaller. This reduces accordingly. The steering effort required during the entire parking maneuver. -But the big change is, in the 90's we start to get airbags and they show up everywhere on the car eventually but the one that we're concern about is this guy. This high explosives steering you square on the face all of the time. This demands a new discipline of how you hold the wheel. If this airbag goes off while you're up here in the traditional 10 and 2, a whole list of bad things can happen including slamming this boney arms and hands of yours into your eyes, nose and face, de-gloving the flesh and muscles on your hands and arms, don't even ask-- and burns from your hands and arms being in this area and perhaps trap while this solid rocket propellant, basically, deploys this bag in 30 milliseconds. Let's get outta here. So, 9 and 3 or better, 8 and 4 is where you wanna run your hands on a modern high-tech car and notice most car makers prompt you to put your hands there with the wheel design. And look at the race footage, you'll find most race and rally drivers keep their hands here as well for the best find motor control and-- so they never obstruct the gauges as they work the wheel. And finally, with today's power assist systems which are often variable, you almost never have to turn the steering wheel more than about 3 quarters of a revolution. If you do, however, get in the habit of shuttling the wheel between your hands still in that virtual position not riding them up and down like this or even worse groping, I mean, doing this nonsense that leads to really clumsy sneering dynamics. And again, yours are on a dangerous place. And of course it goes without saying 9 and 3 or 8 and 4 keep your hands in position to use the steering wheel buttons and paddle shifters that are so common on cars today compared to 10 and 2 which puts your hands in a completely different [unk]. We dust off our crystal ball and predict tomorrow's car tech when CNET on Cars rolls on. Turns out cars have always been a pain to park. In 50's, some guy thought a spare tire should do its part-- -Watch how it works. -By deploying and acting as a dolly to swing the car in or out of a tight spot. -Even the worst driver can make the garage-- -Never mind misjudging using this technique would result in lots of sheet metal damage. Maybe he own the body shop. Today, automatic parking assist shows up in many cars, not just pricy ones, and it's really good. -So now, we can just let the car do everything. -Keep your hands near the wheel and people will think you know how to park. The newest Land Rover has flank guard which adds distance sensors to monitor those easily creased sides of the car when you park and Audi is developing the system which promises to give the generally public the willies lets the car act as its own ballet commanded by your smartphone tell him the car to put itself away or come and get you. And either direction, there's no tipping. Let's face it. We're kinda spoiled these days with the amount of technology in just about every car on the market. A lot of it would have been sci-fi 7 or 8 years ago. I mean, look at the self-driving tech in that Acura RLX we just saw. You didn't see that coming back in 2005, let say. And that begs the question, what looks like sci-fi today that you'll be driving tomorrow, and that's our Top 5. Number 5, bio-monitoring. From the Ford Evo concept we saw recently that can tell if you're having a health crisis to possible new federal regulations that might require passive alcohol detectors in all new cars, our vehicles have gained their virtual hands all over us toward the goal of safer driving. But, you know one day, it's gonna tell you, your fattening asses is killing its fuel economy. And then the next big car tech trend begins-- the hickey side. Number 4, partial autonomy-- that means, partial self-driving. The road to self-driving cars goes through the valley of semi-self-driving cars first. Today already, well-equipped Volvo and Infinities can roughly 70 percent drive themselves under many conditions, but Cadillac is gonna press the matter soon with something it calls super cruise control automating the accelerator, the breaks, steering, lane maintenance and adaptive cruise control. There's not much left for you to do except remain liable of the whole thing chokes. Number 3, LCD instrument panels. Let's face it. Dial gauges in the dash today are about as up-to-date as later [unk] in the board room. Jags and Land Rovers were among the first mainstream cars to go all LCD with air instruments but out of the reach of most of us price-wise. But today, when I stroll the car shows and I see the Chevy Spark EV or the new Cadillac CTS with gauge less instruments, the race is on to dial out the dials. Number 2 is apps. Now, cars with connected apps were exotic literally just 12 months ago. Now, it actually causes doubting murmurs at a car show when a new models introduced without them. Kia Soul, Ford Fiesta, Pria C, thy names spell App and not in rarified air. This is becoming a standard equipment. But the number one next big car tech innovation is natural voice-command. That's right. .One day, voice-command in cars will actually work. Car maker seemed to know their Systems are pretty lame compared to smartphones and they're making big strides not just because they love you by the way, but also 'cause they wanna keep the feds off their back and great voice command will help manage distraction. Take a look at BMW's iDrive 4.2. -350 Hudson Avenue. -Did you mean 316? -Okay. -Or Chevy and Honda first with an Apple Siri button on the steering wheel. All of this gets real close to just plane talking to your car without that weird tilted grammar you have to look up in the owner's manual. The more natural the conversation, the lower the cognitive distraction. I make this one number one because it makes almost everything else in the car better and safer. Thanks for watching this episode. If you wanna find more, we've got them for you. Head over to cnetoncars.com. We've been doing this for a while. A lot episodes you may have missed. And if you wanna get the new ones when they're fresh and hot, subscribe-- we've got our feed links there at the side as well for RSS and iTunes. And you know how to reach me, it's email@example.com. I get them all direct in my inbox. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time we check the tech.