Friday
August 22, 2014

2013 Autos: iPhone on Wheels

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2013 Autos: iPhone on Wheels

Many of today’s newer models are practically mobile offices and entertainment centers.

The infotainment system in the new Mercedes CLA aims to seamlessly integrate smartphone apps, such as the Pandora music service, and even Facebook, allowing you to access your online music selections and even have your text messages read out in synthetic speech. Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche likes to describe it as an “iPhone on wheels.” Cadillac has used a similar description for their new CUE technology, which has very similar touch- and voice-based controls and even uses some of the same backend software that powers the Apple smartphone’s Siri.

It’s hard to find a maker these days that doesn’t offer smartphone integration, at least as an optional upgrade, from Toyota’s new EnTune to Ford’s groundbreaking Sync. “Technology is really where the battleground of the future is,” says Dave Sargent, chief of automotive research for the influential market research firm J.D. Power and Associates.

However, the latest Power Initial Quality Survey revealing that, for the first time, problems with audio, entertainment, and navigation systems ranked as the single biggest source of complaints from new-car buyers. Most manufacturers have been suffering from the challenges of adding new technologies that remain easy to use “even at 80 mph,” the J.D. Power executive cautioned. For those who are looking to order one of the new infotainment systems, it pays to spend a little extra time making sure you’ll be comfortable using the technology — and making sure your dealer can explain how to properly use it.

Technology is a battleground in safety systems, as well. For example, Subaru’s EyeSight, which will debut on the 2013 Legacy and Outback models, incorporates seven different safety features, explains vehicle line director Dave Sullivan. These include pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, active cruise control and pre-collision throttle management, and others. And it’s notably less expensive than technology found in many competing vehicles since it requires a single stereoscopic camera mounted over the rearview mirror instead of the usual assortment of cameras, radar, and sonar sensors.

The good news is that the industry is rapidly driving the cost of safety and comfort technology, much as has happened in the consumer electronics industry. Some features that were $2,000 options just a few years ago are now being offered as standard equipment on mainstream models coming to market in 2013.