Top 10 must-have car extras for 2020

  • What are the must-have car options for 2020?
  • Convenience technology is at the forefront
  • The Parkers team choose their automotive essentials

Gone are the days when option lists included things like a passenger door mirror, reversing lights and heated rear window. Modern cars come laden with kit that ensures they're easy to live with, safe and capable.

When speccing up your next new car or ordering it via car leasing options, choosing tech is often the most exciting bit. Be aware that with some agreements, you'll have to pay for extras up-front, and they often don't affect contribute much value when you want to sell the car; it may be better to look for a higher trim level or recognised pack such as Mercedes-Benz Premium Plus that used car buyers will recognise straight away..

There are lots of packs that add combinations of options for a favourable price - and some of those are straight out of science fiction. Parkers has chosen the best technology you can have in a car – is there anything left for manufacturers to add, or have we reached a peak of automotive luxury?

Four-wheel drive

For a car to be useful in all conditions and weathers without too much extra effort, all-wheel drive is top of the list. Finding a 4x4 car used to be difficult; any options other than the Audi Quattro and Subarus were expensive, rare secondhand and often unreliable due to bespoke parts and low sales figures. Outside of the Range Rover, there weren't properly refined off-roaders, either.

2020's model ranges include more traditional rear-wheel drive saloons, estates and coupes than you might expect, given the domination of crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai that often look like they should have all-wheel-drive, and rarely do. Ford buck the trend, making sure even the smallest EcoSport is offered with four driven wheels,  but BMW, Jaguar, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo and many more manufacturers have relatively affordable, economical versions of their two-wheel drive family cars.

The technology is better and more robust than the early attempts at four-wheel-cars in the 1980s, and combined with electronic traction control plus proper tyres for a long winter, with proper tyres, you'll be safe and secure with little chance of getting stuck.

All-wheel drive is available on:

  • BMW xDrive
  • Jaguar AWD
  • Volvo AWD
  • Alfa Romeo Q4
  • Mercedes-Benz 4Matic
  • Skoda 4x4
  • Volkswagen 4Motion
  • Dual-motor Tesla models
  • plus many other cars, crossovers and SUVs.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android

Wireless Apple CarPlay

The introduction of wireless connectivity for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is the missing link for many modern car-buyers. Being able to simply drop your smart device in a Qi wireless charging-enabled cradle and it automatically connect to either system, unlocking a vast swathe of apps and services alongside internet connectivity, all without needing a cable, is a key step forward for connected cars. And it'll even charge your device at the same time.

Wireless CarPlay/Android Auto is available on

  • Audi MMI
  • BMW

Mercedes-Benz Interior Assistant 

Mercedes-Benz Interior Assistant

We first experienced Mercedes-Benz Interior Assistant tech on the GLE launch in late 2018. It allows you to, among other things, control various elements of the car's infotainment system and interior with just a simple hand gesture, saving time and keeping your eyes on the road. At first, it sounded like a gimmick – and to some, it probably always will be. However, its purpose goes far beyond simply being a (better) version of BMW's gesture control.

If you've got kids in the front, the car knows who the gesture is coming from, so even if the driver and passenger make an identical gesture the outcome will be different. This works for the infotainment screen, too, where only the driver's hand can activate certain functions – stopping any mischievous passengers from intervening.

Mercedes-Benz models with Interior Assistant

  • GLE - E-Class sized family SUV
  • GLC - C-Class-sized SUV
  • CLA - A-Class four-door coupe

Long-range electric vehicles (more than 250 miles per charge)

Hyundai Kona Electric

We love electric cars – we previously ran a Volkswagen e-Golf on our long-term fleet, and revelling in its smoothness, efficiency and all-round pleasant nature.

It's perfect for life as a commuter if you have your own charge point, but it simply doesn't go far enough on a charge. If you're lucky, you'll see 140 miles. And for someone who likes driving, that's not enough.

So, imagine our joy when we drove a Hyundai Kona Electric, which will deliver a genuine real world 280+ miles on a charge. That's a gamechanger, and a range this lengthy would make electric cars perfectly usable for the majority of people out there. Especially if we – the UK – roll a decent public charging network capable of weaning the majority of us off fossil fuel.

Electric cars with a 250-mile-plus range

  • Kia Niro (282 miles)
  • Hyundai Kona Electric
  • Tesla Model S P85
  • Tesla Model 3

Adaptive LED headlights

Adaptive LED headlights

LED headlights might seem like a bit of an indulgence, but the benefits of having some form of adaptive LED headlight system far outweigh the negatives.

LED lights – in general – beam a bright light that already make driving at night far easier than traditional halogen ones, and with adaptive units such as Audi's Matrix LEDs, an automatic high beam function means full beam is on all the time, but thanks to cameras and sensors, can shut down individual light diodes to avoid dazzling other drivers. The extra cost may be less than you think, too - compare the price of LED and Adaptive LED lights on the Ford Focus, for example, and you'll be surpised to find the vastly better night vision and convenience adds little more than the cost of a pair of high-end designer sunglasses.

In action, you can see the lights constantly switching on and off so as to not affect any drivers in front of you – whether they're travelling in the same direction or towards you. And parts of the road that don't have other drivers on are kept brightly illuminated. They make driving at night much less of a strain on your eyes, and it also means you don't have to keep flicking the indicator stalk yourself.

Adaptive LED headlights are available on cars from:

  • Audi
  • Ford
  • BMW
  • Volvo
  • Jaguar
  • Land Rover

Affordable night-vision systems

Peugeot 508 night vision revealing pedestrians on side of road

Night-vision has the potential to become mainstream thanks to the Peugeot 508 and DS 7 Crossback, which offers it on a sub-£40,000 car. Taking over the central portion of the adaptive LCD dashboard, the relatively narrow angle of view takes in hazards a decent distance ahead, with a shimmering monochrome image.

It's not too distracting, despite the high position of Peugeot's new dashboard that seeks to live in the same eyeline as head-up displays, and proves very effective.

It's also instantly apparent that it is genuinely using infrared rather than merely very high sensitivity cameras, as the bright white-hot exhausts of cars ahead of you and glowing warm tyres demonstrate.

Pedestrians are reliably picked out in yellow boxes, but again, not too intrusively; there's no distraction from actual driving. Such effectiveness has real benefits not only for the driver, but for pedestrians too. Anticipating a hidden figure approaching a zebra crossing is much easier.

Night vision is available on cars offered by:

Heated steering wheel

When you're commuting during the winter, it's a constant battle keeping warm – by the time you've scraped the ice off your car windows, and got in the car to head into the office, your hands are freezing. But the recent innovation of the heated steering wheel can make winter driving life more bearable.

More cars are offered with heated wheels every year - this year we've tested examples from:

  • SsangYong - standard on Musso Saracen
  • Ford - optional or as part of trim packs on most of the range, including Ranger
  • Skoda - optional on more recent models
  • Land Rover
  • BMW

Adaptive cruise control with traffic assist

Adaptive cruise control

For anyone who does lots of motorway driving, traditional cruise control systems just don't hack it. The way that speeds ebb and flow – esecially in the outside lane – mean that dialling-in one velocity and leaving it are very much a pipedream. Adaptive cruise control works by maintaining a gap between you and the car in front, so that when things slow down. your car does the same. But as you've set your desired speed, it won't exceed that either.

The good news is that you can set the distance between you and the car in front. So if it irks when a car pulls in front of you to fill the gap, you can close up the distance enough to minimise the occasions this happens. In addition, the best systems, such as Volvo's Pilot Assist or Mercedes-Benz Distronic Plus will assist with steering (don't take your hands off, though!), and also manage the car in traffic jams.

Autonomous driving, where the car can drive itself, is still some way off in terms of tech and legislation. Tesla's Autopilot is the closest you'll get - and although it works reasonably well on motorways, it's still far from the dream of only having to drive when it's an enjoyable task. For drivers with busy lives, noisy families and lots of distraction it provides enough awareness to avoid incidents, though, and that may be all most people need.

All of these systems, used correctly, can takes a great deal of the strain out of modern motoring - making this an essential piece of kit for anyone who lives their life on the motorway…

BMW's 360-degree camera and remote parking technology

BMW's 360-degree camera and remote parking technology

If you live in the middle of a city, clean parking is an absolutely essential skill. Spaces are at a premium, and competitively fought over. As much as you hone your skills, you might deliberately buy small cars. If you're a city-dweller who owns a larger car, the chances are you already have scuffed bumpers – or a camera-based parking assist system.

This is what BMW's 360-degree camera system does so well – you can see the car from above in a virtual view, and that helps you place it to within an inch. But the remote parking technology adds a further dimension, allowing the car to park itself, and do so with you stood watching it, operating it from the keyfob.

Tesla's 'summon' feature suggests the same features, but as yet isn't fully available in the UK. You can, however, line the car up with the space, get out and then drive it straight in to avoid having to open doors in cramped quarters.

Remote, hands-free, boot opening

Ford Kuga kick-activated tailgate

This is one of those gadgets you never thought you'd need, but now find it annoying driving a car that doesn't have a kick-activated tailgate like the Ford Kuga. Hands-full, in the rain, there's nothing worse than fumbling for your keys.

As long as you're carrying the keyfob, you can swing your foot under the rear bumper, and the tailgate swings open electrically. Basically, whoever thought of this was a genius who understands the needs of actual people living actual lives...