21 November 2014

Smaller cars with really cool technology

The world of technology steams ahead so quickly, with new versions of smartphones, digital TVs and all kinds of other stuff released faster than most people can keep up with. Car manufacturers are constantly developing brilliant new technology and features, too, to give drivers and passengers improved connectivity, entertainment and safety. Focussing on smaller cars, we wanted to have a look at some of the cool in-car technology out there, so let’s get started.

More like a giant phone on wheels!

Using your mobile phone whilst driving (including when you’re sat in a queue or at a traffic light) is illegal, but Apple and various other firms have been quick to team up with the car industry so that drivers can use many of their phones’ functions by using their cars’ dashboards.

MINI and their parent company BMW provide gorgeous colour screens displaying your iPhone or Android via their MINI Connected and BMW ConnectedDrive systems. The BMW system is available from their smallest 1-Series upwards and can be specified with a clever digital radio that learns your music tastes, and the system also provides news and weather updates, Google search and the ability to surf the whole internet (whilst stationary).

You can do very similar things in a funky Vauxhall ADAM using their IntelliLink system, which displays your phone on the large touchscreen, so you can even watch videos on the dashboard. You can also mirror your iPhone or Android smartphone on the dash’ of Peugeot’s new 108 city car, whilst in a Ford Fiesta, the latest SYNC 2 system allows you to compose and send text messages with your voice and then it reads out messages you receive. Apple’s Siri Eyes Free system is being enabled in most makes and models from 2015 on and means you can use your voice to add calendar entries, make notes, ask your phone where the nearest cinema is and what time your film is on, and all kinds of other phone functions.

Smaller car tech - 1

Safety can be kind of fun, too

When it comes to safety, loads of fantastic new systems come fitted to a wide range of smaller cars nowadays, too. The sat nav systems in many models from Ford, BMW, Toyota and other manufacturers come with road sign recognition, so you never have to worry about what the speed limit is. Lane Departure Warning systems are commonly offered as options now, too, which vibrate the steering wheel or alert the driver in some other way, if they are veering off-course on the motorway. Another safety feature that can come in handy for new drivers is where a light flashes on the wing mirror if another car is in your blind spot, which can otherwise be a little scary.

Hill-hold type functions prevent a car from rolling backwards if your clutch control isn’t so great, whilst many cars come with stop-start technology to do their bit for the environment – these cars often providing economical driving tips and scores on the dashboard. Some Volvos are fitted with pedestrian detection systems and with the new Focus, Ford are introducing skid prediction technology, using computers to reduce accidents. Another safety system commonly provided monitors the car’s behaviour and if it thinks you’re tired, displays a flashing coffee cup symbol or vibrates the steering wheel.

Making driving a doddle

Most cars having large colour touchscreen displays these days means that many of them can be specified with reversing cameras which make parking much easier and safer, and Nissan’s Note and other models can be fitted with a 360-degree camera and a moving object detection system. And talking of parking, you’ll either think this is really cool or a bit frightening, but many manufacturers offer assisted parking technology, which means the driver just controls the accelerator and brake…and the car does the steering for you, making parallel parking a doddle! Obviously driving instructors will still need new drivers to be able to parallel park, do 3-point turns and other manoeuvres without assistance, but once you’ve passed your test, some of you might feel cosy knowing such aids are there to help you.

So there’s our recap of the most common in-car safety and infotainment technology out there at the moment. Who knows what the future will bring, with drivers perhaps being able to interact with their internet-connected home from their car, so the central heating, hallway lights and kettle are all on when you park up in your driveway. Go on, use your imagination and tell us what you’d like to see in cars in the future!

Oliver Hammond

Written by Oliver Hammond

Oliver is an established freelance motoring writer, published journalist and automotive copywriter based in Manchester. He regularly reviews cars and covers events and launches as editor of petroleumvitae.com and his articles appear in various magazines each month. No relation to Richard from Top Gear, he’s got a weakness for luxo-barges, proper 4x4s and oddball cars.