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The top 10 best new features in cars today

Published August 31, 2012

QUESTION: I was curious to get your take on what new car features are the best, and how useful and reliable they might be. Every time I turn around, I hear of some new gadget that’s kind of difficult to understand.

-Sandy Turner

ANSWER: There are so many cool new features that I’ll only have space to list a few. I’ll stick to the ones that could benefit from explanation and skip those that are pretty obvious in what they do.

• Adaptive cruise control. This newer system can apply the brakes as well as the throttle to maintain desired speed. Adding radar allows the system to set a pace behind cars ahead without overrunning, or allowing you to crash into them.

• Direct fuel injection. By spraying fuel directly into the combustion chamber, many benefits are possible, such as a higher compression ratio and a leaner air/fuel ratio. Engine efficiency is improved, along with reductions in fuel consumption and emissions.

• Stability control. Adding smarts and a few new parts to the existing brake and engine controls allows the car to carve corners with a greater degree of safety. Gentle intervention helps keep you from overdoing throttle and steering when taking a fast curve.

• Multiplexing. A networked car shares components and information, reducing many lengths of wire and redundant components. Whispering to a module to turn on a nearby component is much better than delivering power through a series of troublesome connectors from a distant switch.

• Variable valve timing. This is like having two camshafts—one for efficiency and smoothness, the other for raw power. Systems may allow changes to valve timing, lift and duration, automatically doing what’s best for conditions.

• Electronic throttle control. No more mechanical connection between the gas pedal and throttle sounds scary but is bulletproof in reliability. Having fewer related parts brings simplicity, and slight engine efficiency gains are possible.

• CVT transmission. Instead of many gears, these transmissions allow an infinitely variable drive ratio for engine efficiency. Weird to get used to but highly efficient. Better suited for light duty vehicles, not yet sturdy enough for big cars and trucks.

• Variable intake manifold. Promotes optimum breathing at both high and low speeds by changing runner shape and length. Simple, and very worth doing for a high-revving engine.

• Multi-zone climate control. Added complexity, but very cool functions. Some systems are super smart in anticipating and adapting to factors affecting comfort.

• Dual-clutch transmission. This blends the best of both an automatic and manual transmission. Basically it’s two computer-controlled manual transmissions in one box, without a clutch pedal or torque converter. Quicker and more precise shifting brings faster acceleration and improved fuel economy.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most newer technology is well designed and highly reliable. A failed component will be expensive, but they shouldn’t break very often. Most fixes will require a very well trained pro, and unit replacement is now the norm instead of fixing things.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at under-the-hood@earthlink.net; he cannot make personal replies.

2012 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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