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10 high-tech auto trailblazers

Luxury cars and advanced technology enjoy a symbiotic relationship that draws early adopters into showrooms. Often well-educated and high-income earners, these buyers represent the brave first wave of consumers who blaze the trail for others.
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Luxury cars and advanced technology enjoy a symbiotic relationship that draws early adopters into showrooms. Often well-educated and high-income earners, these buyers represent the brave first wave of consumers who blaze the trail for others.

Here are 10 luxury and comfort tech features available to drivers of high-end vehicles. The good news is, once the early adopters have passed judgment, these things tend to trickle down into more affordable transportation modules that everyone can enjoy.

Infiniti EX35:

360 degrees of separation

The new Infiniti EX35 crossover ups the ante by putting a wide-angle camera at the front, back and each side of the vehicle to monitor the car’s proximity to paint-scratching hazards and obstacles.

The video feeds into the LCD display on the dashboard, providing a composite aerial view of everything around the car. It engages automatically in reverse or can be activated going forward at parking-lot speeds.

Infiniti’s $1,700 around-view monitor (AVM) is limited by the distortion inherent to a wide-angle lens, but it’s an undeniably helpful parking aid and answers that age-old drivers’ bleat: “where are the corners of my car, exactly?”

BMW 7 Series:

Stress-free cruising

While our focus is on comfort and luxury, BMW’s Active Cruise Control is such a clever safety feature it helps make long-distance highway treks more relaxed.

Like ordinary cruise controls, ACC allows the driver to select a preferred highway speed, but also a desired distance that should be maintained from any vehicle in front of the car.

Sensors constantly scan the lane ahead to ensure the cruising speed can be safely maintained. If a vehicle is detected closing in, the system applies the brakes automatically to make sure the sedan remains the pre-set safe distance from the vehicle ahead.

The $2,500 Active Cruise Control is standard on the BMW 760Li and optional on the 750i and 750Li. Similar versions are available from other premium manufacturers, and they may represent the first step toward fully automated driving on controlled-access highways in the future.

Lincoln MKX:

His master’s voice

Recognizing that the modern car is a multimedia environment that often is asked to double as a mobile office and media room, Ford teamed up with Microsoft to devise its highly flexible Sync system.

Sync integrates cellphones and digital audio players like Apple’s iPod into the crossover’s entertainment system via Bluetooth (a short-range radio frequency technology that lets you connect products wirelessly within 10 metres) or USB cable.

The beauty of Sync is that it employs higher-order voice recognition software without the need to pre-program it using your voice to train the system. It’s so clever, it can even read out text messages from your phone – and decipher three languages.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class:

A worthy throne

Mercedes’s range-topping S-Class sedans have always showcased new road-going technology – from energy-absorbing crumple zones to rain-sensing wipers – and the present S models continue in that tradition.

The car’s front seats come standard in heated leather and are customizable in 12 power-adjustable directions. Part of the $6,800 Premium package is Drive-Dynamic seating, which incorporates seven massage chambers and four program settings that work on fatigued muscles while the weary driver steers homeward.

Truly innovative are the dynamic side bolsters that inflate and deflate automatically in response to cornering forces, keeping the driver and front passenger firmly planted in their chairs. The BMW M5 is the only other production car to offer dynamic side bolsters.

Maybach 62:

Let there be light

Should the lavishness of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class seem too mundane, take comfort in the knowledge that the exclusive Maybach 62 limousine offers sumptuous decadence even Caligula would have found satisfying.

A highlight is a unique electro-transparent glass roof, available as a $14,800 option on this $390,500 Q-ship. No ordinary sunroof, it spans the rear seat like a greenhouse and offers passengers the ability to control natural light.

Normally providing a view of the sky, the panoramic roof can be made opaque at the push of a button, filtering the light to create a diffused, soft lustre – thanks to a layer of liquid crystal film made from electrically conductive polymers.

The crystals rearrange themselves when electricity flows through them, making the glass transparent so that daylight can stream in. Shut the current off and the liquid crystals scatter, causing the glass to become opaque. Neat.

The option also comes with 30 solar cells that can generate up to 63 watts for the ventilation fan to use while the Maybach is parked, offering up a constant supply of fresh air for the occupants without idling the massive V12 engine.

Lexus LS 460:

No-hands parking

For those who dread parallel parking a big luxury car, Lexus offers an optional parking guidance system on the flagship LS 460 that uses optical technology to suss out a perfect path into even the tightest parking spot.

Bumper-mounted sensors work in tandem with the rear-view camera to size up the available space after the driver has stopped a little ahead of the car in front and selected reverse.

The computer does some invisible calculations on the back of a virtual napkin, then proceeds to draw a target box on the LCD display screen on the dash. The driver optimizes the target by touching the arrows on the screen, then presses “OK” to begin the manoeuvre.

The driver lets go of the steering wheel and it magically swings right and left to ease the big car into its berth. The driver does have to modulate speed with the braking foot, however.

The system – part of the $8,700 Technology package – is not a fast study and it takes a practised hand to dial in the co-ordinates.

Audi A8:

Aural delight

Bang & Olufsen’s audio system in the range-topping A8 pays heed to the acoustic landscape of the car’s sumptuous interior. It employs 14 engineered loudspeakers and two sets of amplifiers that supply a combined output of almost 1,100 watts.

Like the A8’s space frame and body panels, the speaker cabinets are made from aluminum for a pronounced visual presence – bucking the common practice of making speakers invisible behind acoustically transparent cabin materials.

When the $7,800 system is activated, the front Acoustic Lens Technology tweeters rise from the dashboard, giving perfect sound to every seat in the car with precisely aligned horizontal firing. They rarely fail to elicit gasps from an appreciative audience.

Cadillac DTS:

Cool seats – literally

Heated seats have long been a staple of luxury cars, but what is less common – but really catching on – is seating that cools the driver and passenger by circulating air through perforations in the leather surface.

The active cooling system found on the Cadillac DTS is accomplished through the use of a thermoelectric device embedded in the seat that works to both cool and heat the seating surface, depending on the ambient temperature.

Thermoelectronic technology relates to the direct conversion of electrical current to thermal energy, resulting in greater comfort using a solid-state technology in place of bulky coolant lines and heating coils.

By localizing the cooling needs of the driver and one passenger, the car’s air conditioning system doesn’t have to work as hard to chill the entire cabin, which in turn saves fuel and carbon emissions.

Bundled with Cadillac’s memory package (powered seats and mirrors), the ventilated front thrones are a $1,950 option – and worth every penny according to drivers who swear by them.

Volvo XC70:

Breathe it in

Volvo’s Interior Air Quality System, standard on the new XC70 wagon, monitors the quality of the air entering the cabin for harmful concentrations of gases.

If it senses higher than normal levels of pollutants, it will temporarily close external air vents to shut out carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone and nitrogen dioxide – all very much present in heavy, slow-moving traffic.

At the same time, an active carbon filter prevents dust, exhaust particles, pollen and unpleasant odours from entering the car through the ventilation system. Volvo also boasts of using low-emission upholstery textiles and leathers, a blessing for people with acute allergies and asthma.

Acura RL:

Virtual silence

One of the traits defining any luxury car is the promise of a hushed ride.

In addition to exotic sound-insulating materials, Acura adopted some electronic black magic to make its flagship RL sedan seem even quieter.

The standard Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) system counters sonic disturbances by emitting opposing frequencies through the car’s Acura/Bose 10-speaker surround sound system.

Two ceiling microphones monitor low-frequency noise, such as tire rumble from a concrete highway. When detected, the system dampens the disturbance by generating a sound waveform 180 degrees out of phase (it’s a physics thing).

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