Canadians have enjoyed smart tech in their homes, at the office — and, heck, even in our pockets and on our wrists — for several years now. But it seems only recently we’ve begun to see meaningful and innovative technology while behind the wheel.
If you’re in the market for a new ride, consider one or more of these technologies — for safety, convenience or entertainment’s sake — and an example of a vehicle or two that showcases it well.
1. Semi-autonomous Driving Aids
Cars are now embedded with several sensors and cameras designed to help keep you safe by analyzing the environment and alerting you of potential hazards. Some vehicles even alert you if it appears that you’re not paying attention or even take control of the vehicle to prevent a collision.
“Forward collision alert” for instance notifies you — with sounds, lights or vibration — if the car in front of you is moving slower than you or has come to a stop. Even better, “adaptive cruise control” means your vehicle will automatically slow down if it’s getting too close to a vehicle in front of you and can apply gas when needed as well to maintain a safe distance.
The 2020 Ford Escape SUV (from $28 549), for example, includes Co-Pilot360 driver-assist technology, featuring these aforementioned aids, along with a blind spot system and cross-traffic alert for reversing out of a parking spot or driveway.
Some vehicles can also help you stay in your lane and steer the car accordingly, which could help make long road trips easier.
Examples of this include Cadillac’s Super Cruise technology — available in its 2019 CT6 sedan (from $62,595) and other vehicles. Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist includes intelligent cruise control, pedestrian detection, and lane assist to help prevent unintended lane changes and swerving). ProPILOT Assist is available in the Nissan Altima (from $27,998) and Nissan LEAF electric vehicle (from $41,698).
Telsa’s Autopilot technology also features several semi-autonomous driving aids, available in all models, such as the Tesla Model 3 (from $43,290).
2. Electric Vehicles
Speaking of Teslas, there’s no shortage of electric vehicles (EVs), which might appeal to older adults for a few reasons: they’re eligible for a federal cash rebate and possible provincial discounts (in British Columbia and Quebec); you don’t have to ever pay for gasoline or diesel, and they’re emission-free (as there is no gas exhaust).
The Chevrolet Bolt (from $44,800) has a fantastic range of up to 383 kilometres, which may be enough to drive from home to cottage/cabin and back again, without having to plug in.
Hyundai Kona Electric is comparably priced (at $44,999 for the base model) and has a similar range of up to 415 kilometres on a single charge.
Some may prefer to split the difference and opt for a “hybrid” vehicle, which is a combination of a gas engine and electric battery.
3. CarPlay, Android Auto
While automakers still offer their own infotainment system, many are allowing drivers to use what they’re already most comfortable with: their smartphone.
With Apple’s CarPlay, simply plug in your iPhone and put it away while it charges up. Now your vehicle’s dashboard will resemble your familiar iPhone home screen, displaying many supported first-party apps — like Phone, Messages, Maps and Music – and a growing selection of third-party apps, as well. For example, you can play music from Spotify or TuneIn Radio.
Press the push-to-talk button on the steering wheel to activate Siri, your personal assistant that resides on your phone and give a command or ask a question like “Read me my texts,” “What’s the weather like tonight?,” “Take me to the Eaton Centre in Toronto” or “Play Michael Bublé.” A passenger can also tap the large app icons on the dashboard screen.
Similarly, Google’s Android Auto first has you connect your Android smartphone and access it with a tap of a button on the steering wheel that activates Google Assistant. Like Google Home, you can ask the assistant a question or give a command. You’ll have access to all your contacts, messages, music, maps and other info.
Many cars now support both CarPlay and Android Auto, including the 2019 Honda Acura MDX (from $53,096), the BMW 3 Series Sedan (from $49,000), the 2019 Mercedes Benz C-Class Sedan (from $46,100) and the 2019 Toyota Lexus ES 350 (from $45,000), to name just a few.
4. App It Up
Many car companies now give you remote access to your vehicle via a free companion app.
For example, you can remotely lock or unlock the vehicle, start your car or start and stop the horn and lights. In other words, consider this app an extension of your key fob except it works at much greater distances via cellular connectivity.
Some apps can send a destination address from your phone to your vehicle before you climb behind the wheel and start the navigation. It can tell you the fuel level in your vehicle (or battery level for an EV), oil life, tire pressure and more.
If you own an Amazon Alexa smart speaker or Google Home-enabled device, you can also start many GM vehicles — using your voice — while you’re still inside the home getting ready to leave. It’s also handy for activating the heat or air conditioner before you enter your vehicle. Drivers of most Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac vehicles can enable this feature.
5. 4G LTE Hot Spots
Finally, many vehicles today let you pay to have a Wi-Fi hot Spot, should you want to be online. It’s essentially a cellular connection, like your smartphone, using fast 4G LTE connectivity.
Why, you ask?
Drivers can access music, podcasts and audiobooks from their favourite apps. Your spouse in the passenger seat can browse the web on their device and pick up email. And perhaps, most importantly, kids or grandkids on their tablets can stream Netflix or play an online game in the backseat.
Vehicles with integrated Wi-Fi offer a much better signal than your smartphone, largely due to a powerful antenna on the roof. Plus, you don’t need to use up the precious data provided by your phone, and you won’t drain your smartphone’s battery.
With Chevy models, for example, data packages start at $10 a month, plus there are no roaming charges if you want to go on a road trip into and through the U.S.
This 4G LTE hotspot feature also works up to 50 feet outside of the vehicle, in case you want to beef up your tailgate party, cottage getaway or “glamping” adventure.