Since we now live in the future, there are a few self-driving cars, a few cars that store things in the cloud and a handful of cars that go the extra mile to keep you comfortable. The problem is that while these features exist, they aren't standard yet. You have to pay extra, sometimes a lot extra -- like buying-a-whole-Bentley extra -- to get the coolest of the cool bits. But maybe, if we all wish hard enough, or if we buy enough Bentleys, or wait for these mysterious "economies of scale" people are always talking about to kick in, everyone can have cold air blowing out of their car seats and onto their fancy pants.
Heated steering wheels are nothing new; in fact, they've been around on high-end luxury cars for several years. But now they're finally filtering down to cars like the Nissan Maxima as options. A heated steering wheel is often regarded as unnecessary, something for the weak-willed driver, the delicate flower whose hands require literal kid gloves at any temperature below 55 degrees. Well, all it takes is one winter in a weather pattern known as a polar vortex, and suddenly there's not one person in the U.S., from the negative wind-chill survivors in the Midwest to the snow-bound drivers of the Southeast, who doesn't wish they had a heated steering wheel.
You know how you've always dreamed of driving a tour bus? You would welcome people on board, point out the highlights of your town and offer historical tidbits that are just salacious enough to make the old guys laugh and the old ladies purse their lips. But that's a pipe dream. You've got mouths to feed! That is, unless the Easy Speak microphone in the headliner of the 2014 Toyota Highlander were made standard. The driver talks, and everyone can hear it -- all the way back to the third row. Look kids -- Big Ben. Parliament.
There are two good reasons to want an integrated iPad as standard equipment in your car. The first: so that you can get stuff done while someone else drives you through traffic. The second: to keep your kids amused with their nine-thousandth viewing of "The Croods" on Netflix. A possible third, and equally important, reason might be so everyone in your family can play Candy Crush at a moment's notice. Bentley and Ferrari are swank enough to offer iPads as part of the rear-seat entertainment system, though Ferrari skimps with iPad minis in the rear seats of the LaFerrari. Maybe there isn't room for a full iPad back there?
Big vehicles, like full-size SUVs and hefty pickup trucks such as the 2014 Ford F150, have optional 360-camera systems so that you can see what the Helen of Troy you're doing while you maneuver these rigs. Sure, lots of cars have backup cameras so that you don't run over squirrels intent on suicide-by-rear-tire as you leave for work; however, an all-the-way-around system would keep you from curbing your tires when you parallel park, or scraping your front bumper on the sidewalk leading to IKEA's sliding doors. Now if we could just get a dedicated roof-cam so we could remember where we left our coffee before it spills down the back window ...
Call it global warming, call it climate change, call it never knowing what to wear anymore because the weather's gone insane -- the result is we have both crazy-hot summers and things called polar vortexes, which doesn't seem fair. But it does lead to wishing we had cooled seats more often than we used to. Many cars, including the Aston Martin Rapide S, have optional seats that blow cold air up through perforated seat cushions to de-sweat-ify your bum. Much like the first time you tried heated seats, you'll feel a little weird about this too. But later, you'll wonder how you were ever able to live without a fan blowing air up your keister.
Soon, cars won't even be what we think of as a traditional car anymore. They'll be mobile devices that we can climb inside. They'll drive us to our destinations while we check our e-mail. Or play Candy Crush. They'll talk to each other so we don't have to. In a perfect world, they'll also fly. While we wait for the future to arrive, though, the cars we already have are becoming mobile WiFi hotspots. All their business will be cloud-based, including navigation, music and anything else you'd normally store in an on-board hard drive. And once it's in the cloud -- there's an app for that. The BMW ConnectedDrive has already dipped a tire in the future with a WiFi hotspot system.
Carbon fiber is both light and strong. It can be molded into any shape that strikes a designer's fancy. It lightens the load of a vehicle and therefore increases an engine's efficiency, making it a smart choice in today's world. It's also crazy expensive -- and it looks completely bad ass. Car companies are adding optional carbon fiber packages to their sportier cars, like the Lexus RC F, because it looks so cool. Interior, exterior, as a tattoo -- this black-on-black weave screams "I may have four cylinders or I may have 12, but it hardly matters. Why? Because carbon fiber!"
Teenagers wreck cars. That's a straight-up fact. Ask any insurance agent. Not even bloody demonstrations featuring the local EMS and a donated car from the wrecking yard can convince teenagers not to drive like idiots. But you know what can? A nanny system like Ford's MyKey that limits the car's top speed, limits the stereo's top volume, blocks cell phone signals and requires the seatbelt to be clicked in before the radio can be turned on. It'll even send parents notifications if the car goes above a certain speed via an app.
End the endless "Are we there yet?" whine by taking a page from the Ferrari FF playbook, which puts a screen in front of the passenger that will tell them at a glance if we are indeed there yet. It tells the passenger the car's current speed, average speed, top speed, rpm, gear, travel time and mileage. You can even make the whiner's life a living hell by making it into a word problem: "If we're traveling to Grandma's house at 90 miles per hour (144.8 kilometers per hour), and she lives 180 miles (289.7 kilometers) away, how long will it take us to get there?" Although, until this tech is made standard, if your whiner is going to Grandma's in a Ferrari FF, a word problem is not necessarily going to make his life a living hell.
Perhaps you live in one of those bike-friendly cities everybody likes to make lists of. As a driver in that city, perhaps you live in fear of having to cross a bike lane to make a right turn -- so much so that, unlike the fabled UPS drivers who only make right turns to increase efficiency, you only make left turns. Well, if cameras in the passenger-side rearview mirror, like the one in the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, were standard, you could make right turns again. It's intended to be a blind spot assist, but it works so well for a quick bike lane check -- throwing the image from the camera up into the center console -- that it should probably be standard equipment on any car in any city that makes one of those bike-friendly lists.
Are laser-powerered headlights too intense for other motorists? Read about laser-powered headlight technology at HowStuffWorks.
Author's Note: 10 Car Features We Wish Came Standard
As an automotive journalist, I have driven a lot of cars. A lot. And often, car companies give you the most loaded version of a car they've got. They want you to like it. They want you to marvel over it. They want you to write about how you liked it and marveled over it. So I've had a lot of cold air blown up my butt in my day. I've also had a lot of heated steering wheels, blind spot warning systems, leather seats that make a girl melt, and even a collision avoidance system that did indeed save my butt.
But as a regular old human who has to buy a car and afford the payments, I don't have many bells and whistles in my car. I've got fog lights; that's cool, right? I had to upgrade my stereo to get a USB jack. I do have a lot of windshield wiper settings, which I appreciate; but that's hardly a driverless car, now is it?
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- BMW. "In Tune with the Times." BMW.com. (Feb. 6, 2014) http://www.bmw.com/com/en/insights/technology/connecteddrive/2013/connectivity_technologies/index.html
- Ferrari. "FF: E-Brochure." Ferrari Media. (Jan. 28, 2014) http://media.ferrari.com/en/cars/ff/ff-e-brochure/
- Ferrari. "The LaFerrari Unveiled at Geneva." Ferrari Media. Mar. 5, 2013. (Jan. 28, 2014) http://media.ferrari.com/en/cars/events/auto-shows/2013-auto-shows/the-laferrari-unveiled-at-geneva/
- Ford. "2015 F150." Ford.com. (Feb. 6, 2014) http://www.ford.com/trucks/f150/2015/
- Honda. "2014 Honda Accord Hybrid: Safety and Driver Assistive Technologies." Honda News. Oct. 10, 2013. (Jan. 28, 2014) http://www.hondanews.com/channels/honda-automobiles/releases/400e4c10-fc5f-4348-9403-b465ca30e3c0?query=mirror+camera
- Joseph, Noah. "Lexus RC F resurfaces with Carbon Package." Autoblog.com. Jan. 22, 2014. (Feb. 6, 2014) http://www.autoblog.com/2014/01/22/lexus-rc-f-carbon-package/
- Migliore, Greg. "2014 Toyota Highlander Review." Automobile. Dec. 15, 2013. (Feb. 6, 2014) http://www.automobilemag.com/reviews/driven/1312_2014_toyota_highlander_review/
- Nissan. "Nissan Maxima Image Gallery." NissanUSA.com. (Feb. 6, 2014) http://www.nissanusa.com/buildyournissan/vehicle-images/2013/MAX/XGC30NIC051C0/949cc0b34e0262516f7bbf9c2856f8df/Maxima/3.5-SV-w-Sport-pkg/Heated-steering-wheel/Interior