We live in a world where you can conjure up directions on most devices with icons on touchscreens—so why shouldn’t your car’s features be just as easy to navigate? As most new cars sync with computers, there’s no reason to expect any less from your dashboard than you would from the latest smartphones. “Everybody is so used to having their smartphones and being so connected and they miss that when they get into the car,” says Mark McNabb, associate editor of TopSpeed.
And automakers have noticed. Gone are the days of inscrutable gauges and “idiot lights”telling you when to check your engine. Today’s vehicle dashboards are more like tablets and phones, with big screens and easy-to-use interfaces that are chock-full of helpful features. Here are just a few of the innovations that are changing the way we drive.
Old School: You’d spin the dial to find your favorite station or pop in your own cassette tape or CD.
High Tech: Slick touchscreens let you sync your smartphone with the car’s audio system and control your music remotely or via music-streaming apps.
Old School: Hope you’re good at folding maps. Or maybe you printed out directions before you left home.
High Tech: Dashboard navigation apps have been around for some time, but the newest generations use heads-up displays that project turn-by-turn directions and other informational screens right onto your windshield. You won’t need to take your eyes off the road to make sure you know where you’re going.
Old school: Unless you’re a gearhead, it was tough to make sense of your car’s gauges, dials and diagnostic hieroglyphics.
High Tech: Now easy-to-read diagnostic displays tell you your car’s vitals, from transmission temperature to tire pressure. Whether you’re looking to keep your car in good shape or find out more when something goes wrong, you have a wealth of information at your fingertips. More advanced systems serve up a performance dashboard that can include charts and graphs to track stats, such as fuel efficiency, from your drives.
Old School: You used your rearview and side mirrors, and gave a quick glance over your shoulder to check your blind spot.
High Tech: Almost all new cars in the past few years have come with a backup cam that flips on when you shift into reverse. (Federal law will make it mandatory on nearly all vehicles by 2018.) Lots of new larger vehicles, like trucks and SUVs, include a bird’s-eye 360-degree view, too, to help you navigate into tight spaces.
Old School: Basic gears were your only options.
High Tech: With modes like eco, sport and sport plus on lots of cars that do things like switch your engine into a more fuel-efficient mode or increase the sensitivity of your gas pedal, you can “literally change the way the car drives by just pushing a button or turning a dial,” McNabb says.
Old School: To know what that dash light meant or how to check your oil, you used to thumb through the book that came with your vehicle.
High Tech: With a tap on your vehicle’s “infotainment” screen, you can watch an instructional video or look at a diagram to find the information you need quickly and easily.
Sure, you can expect all these great new dashboard features on your next vehicle, but what else should you be considering? Check out our handy guide to find out the three most important things to look for when test-driving a car.
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By Nicole Price Fasig