The Best Car Innovations of 2016

“Siri, tell me how the best innovations in car technology will change how we drive starting in 2016?” It’s clear that we’re no longer driving just cars, we’re driving computers. How will that change the overall driving experience?”

“Ok. Let me have a look. I found a lot of information about car innovations in 2016. There are now cars that brake for you at intersections; cars that sync either an Apple or Android phone with your in-dash display; inexpensive trucks that are rolling hotspots; cars that watch how you steer; and cars that alert you if it thinks you’re getting tired and need a rest.”

Eyes-Free sync

In December 2015 Ford announced that Apple’s omnipotent traveling assistant, Siri, will be available in cars featuring the Ford Sync software. To use the feature, called Siri Eyes-Free, drivers only need to pair their iPhone with the car, and Siri will do the rest.

Using Eyes-Free, drivers will be able to do all the expected things such a make and receive calls, listen to playlists, and get directions. Drivers will also be able to navigate their apps just as they normally would, or they can use voice commands, which makes everyone safe.

And the thing that’s really cool? Ford and Apple say that Eyes-Free will be backwards compatible with Ford cars dating back to 2011.

Android and Apple in a Kia

Kia Optima is the first car to support both an Android 5.0 phone and an iPhone running iOS8. The Kia comes with an eight-inch touchscreen display. You can also manage the functions by voice.

The onboard computer will also help parents manage their teen drivers with apps that monitor activities such as geofencing, curfew, and driving score alerts. If the young driver is driving past preset boundaries, the geofencing app will kick in, and the parents will be notified. If the teen is out past curfew, the car will notify the parents. And if the teenager exceeds preset speed limits mom and dad will be alerted.

Virtually the best

At the Consumer Electronics Show Audi unveiled a virtual showroom where customers can checkout any one of Audi’s vehicles up close and personal through the use of virtual reality goggles.

Customers will be able to configure cars based on their individual tastes. They can pick from a range of internal options such as dashboard styles, sound systems (which they’ll get to hear via Bang & Olufsen headphones), and seats, as well as selecting exterior colors and wheels.

After making their choices, customers can take a virtual stroll around the car, check out the wheels, and even have a look under the hood using HTC Vive goggles. The first walk around version of the virtual showroom will debut at a flagship dealership in London. The Oculus Rift, or sit down version of the virtual showroom, will roll out at other dealerships later this year.

BMW set to raise the bar?

Hybrids and electric cars aren’t exactly new or inventive, but 2016 will be the year that more companies enter the market. For years the Toyota Prius has owned the hybrid market, but the BMW i3 is now making major in-roads. The BMW i3 is great for getting to and from work, and toodling around town.

Comparing the two, the Prius gets upwards of 40 mpg in combined city driving, while the BMW i3 gets about 80 miles per charge.

It’s speculated that BMW is working on a stronger battery that will increase the BMW i3’s range to 120 miles per change.

At the super high end of the electric car spectrum is the high performance Tesla S, which earns nearly 265 miles on a single charge. And when you talk about performance, the Tesla S reaches 60 mph in less than 4 seconds.

Lane changers

It's probably fair to say that among all drivers those who drive trucks haven't embraced technology advances as quickly as others. However, there's a new Ford F-150 that comes equipped with a lane keeping system. A camera mounted on the back of the rear view mirror monitors the driver. Should the driver drift in or out of his lane he’s warned both through the steering wheel, and the instrument display panel.

The lane keeping system only works when the car is going at least 40 mph. When the system detects that there’s been no steering activity for a time, it will alert the driver to take control of the truck.

iPad in a Jag

Jaguar has changed the navigation system in the Jaguar XF luxury sedan. Now the dash mounted device looks and operates like an iPad. The 10.2-inch screen lets you swipe left and right, pinch to zoom like you would on a traditional iPad. You can use voice commands to make calls, send texts, or play your playlist.

Braking for oncoming traffic

This summer, Volvo will begin shipping its XC90 model, which will look for oncoming vehicles when you are turning. If your car senses that an oncoming car might be on a collision course it will brake automatically. Volvo says it is the first manufacturer to deploy this technology.

New app for a smartwatch

Hyundai introduced a new smartwatch app called the Blue Link, which works with 2015 Hyundai Genesis. You can start your car, lock or unlock the doors, or find your car using the app on your smartwatch. The app works with most Android watches. However, there is no Apple Watch app at this time.

Computer eyes on the road

Sensors are everywhere. There are sensors that ensure you’re driving between the lines, and sensors that look forward while you're busy turning. The Subaru Legacy takes sensors to a new level. EyeSight in its Forester, Impreza, Legacy, Outback, WRX and Crosstrek models. Using two cameras that are mounted on the windshield, EyeSight monitors traffic and speed to avoid collisions. If EyeSight senses that there will be a collision it sounds a warning and will brake for you if you aren't aware of the situation. EyeSight also keeps an eye on “lane swaying” to make sure you’re not drifting too far out of your lane and into another.

4G hotspot

If you want in-vehicle WiFi capabilities you’re probably going to pay a bit because data plans can be expensive. If your intention is to create a rolling hotspot, and you happen to be looking for an inexpensive truck, check out the new, Chevy Trax, which comes with a built in 4G signal. The service is free for three months or until you use up 3GB (whichever comes first). After that, Trax owners can pick a plan that meets their data needs.

Nissan’s Maxima asks if you need some coffee

The 2016 version of the Nissan Maxima also monitors your steering patterns. If it notices that you’re swaying, or pulling too much to the left or right, a coffee cup icon pops up asking if it’s time to pull off the and rest for a bit. If you keep plowing through the fatigue and start swaying again, the car will chime and remind you to pay attention.

AWD slip predictor

All wheel drive systems are designed to kick in after a tire has slipped. The 2016 Mazda CX-3 takes a more anticipatory view to slippage. The CX-3 can sense when the car is driving in rough conditions such as cold temperatures, road conditions, and engages the AWD before trouble occurs.

Advances in technology seem to take the danger out of driving. Cars that monitor how you’re navigating lanes; trucks are rolling hotspots; icons nudge you if it’s time to take a rest; and cars will brake even when you don’t see danger, would seem to make driving simple.

But it isn’t. You’re still behind the wheel of a 2500 to 4000 pounds worth of mostly metal. Technology is great, but it’s not a good idea to rely on it. Technology is built into your car to back you up, not the other way around

That is, of course, until someone builds the first driverless car. Once that hits the mass market, you can go back to asking Siri questions, and answering email while something else does the driving.

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