- What are the must-have car options for 2019?
- Luxury, safety and convenience are better than ever
- 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. But you'll often have to pay for them up-front, which means you need to think carefully about what you want, and how much it'll pay you back come sell-up time.
There's a plethora of packs that add features, and some of those are straight out of science fiction. The Parkers team members have chosen the technology they want most of all in a car – is there anything left for manufacturers to add, or have we reached a peak of automotive luxury?
You can strip a car right back to basics for me, but for it to be useful in all conditions and weathers without too much extra effort, all-wheel drive is top of the list. When I first started driving, finding a 4x4 car was difficult; what options existed 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.
2019's catalogues are full of 4x4 options, though. Crossovers like my long-term Eclipse Cross are obvious, but BMW, Jaguar, Ford, Volvo, Vauxhall, Alfa Romeo and many more manufacturers have affordable, economical versions of their two-wheel drive saloons and estates. The technology is better and more robust, and combined with electronic traction control and for a long winter, proper tyres, the cars are safe and secure with reduced risk 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
- plus many other cars, crossovers and SUVs.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android
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
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
Long-range electric vehicles (more than 250 miles per charge)
We love electric cars – we currently have a Volkswagen e-Golf on our long-term fleet, and we are revelling in its smoothness, efficiency and all-round pleasantness. If you haven't done so, click on the link and we'll see you back here in five minutes...
...right, so now you understand our frustrations with this car. It's perfect for life as a commuter with their 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
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.
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:
- Land Rover
Affordable night-vision systems
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 that's reminiscent of true-life ghost stories.
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, glowing like they've had their Ready Brek, but again, not too intrusively; there's no distraction from actual driving. Such effectivelness has real benefits not only for the driver, but for pedestrians in Britain's dark winters and remote rural roads, and even traffic flow. 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.
Adaptive cruise control with traffic assist
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 (and Distronic Plus) will assist with steering (don't take your hands off, though!), and also manage the car in traffic jams.
In short, it takes a great deal of the strain out of modern motoring, which makes this an essential piece of kit for anyone who lives their life on the motorway…
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. Brilliant!
Remote, hands-free, boot opening
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...