Hi-tech gears make driving easier, safer
GOING HI-TECH: From Consumer Reports, arguably the bible of American car-owners, we gleaned this e-report (edited to fit our space) on the latest high-tech features of some automobiles in the United States:
“Just a few years ago, a car that could show you its location on a digital map, take control if you begin to skid, or automatically maintain a set distance from a vehicle in front might have seemed like a glimpse from some far-flung future highway. But these functions are becoming increasingly commonplace in today’s vehicles.
“As with most leading-edge features, the majority of these are now available only in higher-priced luxury models. But, as we have seen with antilock brakes, electronic stability control, and navigation systems, we can expect many to eventually trickle down to mainstream cars.
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PARKING: “Drivers who find it challenging to parallel park will appreciate Toyota Lexus’ new Intelligent Park Assist system, an option on the redesigned 2007 LS model. Also available on the Toyota Prius sold in other markets, this system enables a driver to pull up to an available parking space, press a button, and essentially sit back.
“The car then maneuvers itself into the space. All the driver needs to do, according to Lexus, is apply a little braking pressure.
“Many accidents occur when a driver tries to change lanes on a highway unaware that a vehicle is in his ‘blind spot.’ For 2007, Audi and Volvo are addressing this problem with two systems that can detect vehicles that a driver might not see on either side of his car.
“Both systems use LED displays near each outside rearview mirror to warn a driver that he should not attempt a lane change because a vehicle is in or is rapidly approaching a car’s blind spot. Audi’s Side Assist system uses radar to detect other vehicles, while Volvo’s uses cameras.
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PRE-COLLISION: “A pre-collision system can sense a collision before it happens and automatically take actions to maximize the safety of a car’s occupants. These systems work in different ways. Several manufacturers offer systems that use radar to detect vehicles in front and an alarm and warning lights to alert drivers of a potential crash.
“If the driver does not respond quickly enough, the system can take preventive steps such as applying brakes, closing windows, adjusting seat positions for optimal air-bag effectiveness, and activating safety-belt pretensioners.
“The Advanced Pre-Collision System in the top-of-the-line Lexus LS series can detect pedestrians, animals and vehicles, helping a driver avoid hitting an object in the road. Two small cameras mounted to the front provide a detection capability better than radar.
“There is a third camera on the steering column focused on the driver’s face. If the system sees the driver is not looking ahead and senses a high probability of impact, it will first warn the driver with a chime and a flashing light. It can then apply gentle braking pressure, cinch down the safety belts, reprogram the steering for faster response, and prepare the braking system to apply full pressure as soon as the driver presses the pedal.
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NIGHT VISION: “BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes Benz have updated versions of the Night Vision system initially offered by Cadillac.
“The systems allow a driver to see objects and people beyond the reach of the headlights, and use infrared to sense heat from people, animals, stopped vehicles, and so on up to several hundred feet ahead of the car.
“The BMW and Mercedes systems display images on a dashboard screen in the vehicle, and the Lexus system projects images on the lower part of the windshield.
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DIESEL ENGINES: “Diesel cars typically get about 30 percent better fuel economy than a similar gasoline-powered car. But because they emit more nitrogen-oxide and particulate emissions, they are not sold in some states with tight clean-air regulations.
“Mercedes-Benz has announced a new line of diesel engines, called BlueTec, that promise to deliver cleaner emissions. They use an oxidizing catalytic converter and other technologies to significantly reduce diesel emissions.
“BlueTec requires new low-sulfur diesel fuel soon to be phased in to the US market this year. The first model using BlueTec engines is the E320. The Volkswagen Touareg low-sulfur V10 diesel is offered in all 50 states.
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NAVIGATORS: “The displays in current GPS navigation systems show the vehicle’s location on a graphical map in a way similar to looking straight down at a paper map. Several systems also provide a 3D ‘bird’s eye’ view giving more of a driver’s perspective with roads stretching out to the horizon.
“The next wave of nav-system mapping will use actual images of roads and terrain to provide a dramatically realistic perspective. First up will be nav displays that show roads and the surrounding area as they look in satellite photography, complete with a bird’s-eye-perspective capability.
“A company called 3DVU, for example, has developed such a system now in use on some portable nav systems in Japan and will be available in the built-in nav systems of some new South Korean cars by yearend.
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DRIFTING: “Some of the latest Nissan Infiniti models include a lane-departure system, which alerts a sleepy or inattentive driver if his vehicle begins to wander out of its lane without a turn signal being activated.
“It uses a camera behind the rearview mirror to detect the painted stripes between lanes and warns the driver with both a buzzer and warning light.”
(For independent information on new and used cars and a wide range of other consumer goods and services, visit ConsumerReports.org).