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Best 10 new car features to look out for in 2016


While the automotive world is wrestling with the idea of cars that can drive themselves (spoiler alert: don't hold your breath, it'll be at least 2030 before a car can drive you all the way to work and back), there is some really cool technology that's just around the corner.

Here's our Top 10 list of technology and innovations to look forward to in everyday cars in 2016.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Apple CarPlay (and the Android equivalent) will appear in more new cars this year. Suzuki and Volkswagen were among the first in Australia to bring smartphone apps to the radio touchscreen in your dash in 2015.

With hefty fines for touching your phone unless it is in a mount – and even then you can only make or take a phone call (you can't text or browse social media while you are on the move) – the introduction of Apple Car Play and the like to more models is welcome news.

Wireless phone charging

Speaking of phones (get it?), we will also start to see wireless phone-charging panels in the centre console of new cars. Jeep already has wireless charging on certain models and the new-generation Toyota Prius hybrid has the technology available overseas.

Fingers crossed that makes it on to the Australian models.

Now for phones that can be charged wirelessly... who said cars were slow to adopt new technology?

Voice to text

With fines of up to three demerit points and $368 for handling a mobile phone while driving, you'll be pleased to know that voice-command technology will appear on more models in the near future. Certain Fords already have it, and most cars when paired to the latest Apple phone can use Siri. With the very latest iPhone6S range, you don't even need to touch the phone to activate Siri.

After programming it, you simply say "Hey Siri" and it wakes up the phone, ready to take a voice command to dictate a text or dial whoever you want to contact after saying their name. For example: "Hey Siri (pause), call mum".

Auto high beam

A handful of luxury cars (and here's a trivia note, the top-of-the-range Toyota Camry) already have auto dipping high beam. A sensor in the windscreen spots oncoming traffic and then cancels your high beam before you do.

The lights not only cancel out high beam when a car approaches, but they also keep the area around the car illuminated

To be frank, the systems we've tested so far on Audi, Mercedes and Toyota cars were a bit underwhelming. They get tricked by reflective signs and dip the lights even if there are no oncoming cars.

But there is some good news around the corner (see what I did there?). The technology and the sensors are getting better.

The top-of-the-range version of the new Holden Astra, due in late 2016, has LED lights that not only cancel out the high beam when a car approaches, but they are so accurate they keep the area around the car illuminated. I am not making this up.

And guess what? It works a treat. If all auto-dipping high beam systems are like this, we're converted. Just one catch: the technology is really expensive so models equipped with the system may be dearer to insure.

Stop-start systems

Have you noticed some cars in the traffic next to you start their engines in stop-start traffic? That's because an increasing number of cars automatically cut the engine when they're stopped. It's designed to save fuel in the real world and on the fuel consumption label figure derived from a lab test.

Because the EU has strict emissions and economy targets, more cars are going to have stop-start engine shut off technology. The good news is, if it annoys you, there is usually a button to disable it. But it can't be disabled permanently because otherwise the car's certification is invalid (because it then couldn't achieve the fuel-economy number on the label).

360-degree cameras

With rear-view cameras now standard equipment on a $14,990 Honda Jazz and a $15,990 Toyota Yaris, there really is no excuse for dearer cars to not have them (though vehicles such as the $50,000 Ford Ranger ute still lack them, tut-tut).

But there is a new type of camera that makes parking – and seeing obstacles around the car – even easier. Coming soon to more new cars are 360-degree cameras that appear to give a bird's-eye view of the vehicle you're driving.

The optical illusion is created by wide-angle cameras in the nose, the rear and under each side mirror. The images join to create a complete picture. Now there really is no excuse for poor parking. Until now, they've mostly appeared on 4WDs and SUVs, but they will start to trickle down to more affordable models as the technology gets cheaper.

Space-saver spares and repair kits

Skinny space-saver spares look like they belong on a wheelbarrow

Here's one innovation we don't like. In their desperate bid to save weight, carmakers are raiding our boots and pinching our full-size spare tyres. Often, the first time we learn about this is when we're stuck on the side of the road because we forgot to check the boot when we bought the car.

Skinny space-saver spares (they look like they belong on a wheelbarrow) and tyre inflator kits (they spray goop inside to get you going again, but are useless if you've a large split in the tyre) are primarily designed for Europe and Japan.

They don't suit everyone in Australia because of the vast distances between places.

So check the boot before you buy your next new car if you travel beyond the suburbs.

Tyre pressure monitors

At least you may soon be able to detect if you have a flat tyre (or a deflating tyre) before it's too late. Because of new laws in the US, carmakers are fitting tyre-pressure monitoring systems to more and more vehicles to be sold there. The good news: it can be fitted to cars sold everywhere else, too.

The technology is already available on top-end luxury cars and some performance models but will become more widespread in 2016 and beyond. A flat tyre can lead to a crash or a rollover if the driver has no idea they're driving on one. So this is one light on the dash that could save a life.

Self-parking

It takes twice as long to use the technology than it does to park yourself

As cars get smarter and are fitted with more sensors, more of them will be able to park themselves. Kind of. You still need to press a button to make the car "search" for a space. And you still need to gently operate the accelerator and brake pedals in most cases (the car merely adjusts the steering to ensure you make the spot).

Some cars already have it, like the latest Holden Commodore. But to be frank, the technology is so complex that people show it off to friends once and then never use it again because it takes twice as long to use the technology than it does to park yourself.

Traffic-jam control

Some sensors are more intuitive and need less babysitting and come with technology that will take the grind out of the daily commute – by creeping forward with the flow of stop-start traffic automatically. It uses cameras and radar systems to detect the distance to the cars in front, and then applies the accelerator and brakes as required, even if it means coming to a complete stop.

Until now the technology has been exclusive to expensive luxury cars such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It's also on the top-of-the-range Nissan Patrol. But as the technology becomes more affordable, we're predicting it will be available in more models in 2016. Call it the gradual automation of the automobile.

What innovations would you like to see in future cars? Let us know in the comments below.