2018 Cars: A Business-Class Experience

New safety, comfort, and entertainment features will give clients the feeling of upscale travel in your backseat.

Today’s car has become “a computer on wheels,” says Glen De Vos, chief technology officer at automotive mega-supplier Delphi. Some vehicles have as many as 100 to 150 microprocessors on board. So while features like leather seats and wood trim once defined luxury, high-tech components—from heated, shiatsu massaging seats to near-autonomous driving systems—have become the new status symbols.

The good news is the price for these features has been falling fast. Take Subaru’s EyeSight system: It integrates an array of advanced technologies meant to keep you and your clients or family safe, including Automatic Emergency Braking and Blind Spot Warning. Not many years ago, each of those features would have cost $1,000 or more. Today, the optional package costs less than $1,000 on some models and has become standard gear on others.

Meanwhile, connectivity has become one of the next big things in the automobile. It’s rare to find a vehicle without built-in Bluetooth hands-free calling, and a growing number of models now feature built-in Wi-Fi—both technologies essential for real estate professionals on the go. Here’s a look at some of the hot new technologies you’ll find on the 2018 models.

Safety and Security

Several recent studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicate that the latest in safety technology—collectively known as ADAS, or Advanced Driver Assistance Systems—is helping to prevent collisions and reduce injuries and fatalities. They’re particularly useful in an era when so many motorists are distracted by their smartphones.

ADAS technology can be divided into two categories, starting with systems designed to warn the driver of a potential crash. These include Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Blind Spot Detection. They all present an alert, whether it’s a buzz or a beep, a flashing light, a shake of the steering wheel, or even a buzz in your seat. More advanced systems will intervene if the driver fails to take evasive measures. These include Automatic Emergency Braking and Lane Keeping Assist. Volvo is adding a system designed to prevent you from making a pass if the car senses oncoming traffic. These technologies will also apply the brakes or nudge the steering wheel if needed, even without the driver’s intervention.

The Road to Autonomy

A number of automakers are promising to put fully hands-free—and even completely driverless—vehicles on the road by the beginning of the next decade. But a new generation of semi-autonomous technologies will be offered by several different automakers for 2018.

  • Cadillac’s Super Cruise is capable of handling most basic driving duties, including maintaining lane position, braking, and accelerating on well-marked limited access roads. “But the driver needs to pay close attention to the road and be ready to take the wheel at all times,” according to the automaker.
  • Volvo will integrate several safety technologies into some 2018 models, including the new XC60 SUV. These include Steering Assist, which can nudge you back into your lane if you try to make a pass but it senses oncoming traffic. Another system will steer a distracted or tired driver back if they start to drift off the road. And, like Caddy’s Super Cruise, Volvo’s Pilot Assist will let you take hands off the wheel for short stretches on well-marked highways.
  • Mercedes-Benz introduced a technical tour de force with the 2015 S-Class, and it is giving the big sedan a mid-cycle update for 2018. Not only does it allow drivers to take hands off the wheel for short stretches, but it also allows them to simply tap the turn signal to get the car to make a pass entirely on its own. The new S-Class will even adjust its speed automatically when it enters a turn.
  • Audi’s all-new A8 offers arguably the most advanced self-driving system currently available. Its AI Traffic Jam Pilot is capable of taking virtually complete control in traffic moving at speeds up to 37 mph. It will steer, accelerate, brake, and even come to a complete stop and then start back up again. Incidentally, the A8 is the first production vehicle to use LIDAR, a high-resolution 3-D laser system.
  • Tesla recently updated its Autopilot technology and is planning to steadily upgrade the system via over-the-air updates, much like those used for smartphones. Like Super Cruise, Autopilot can handle many of the basic driving duties on well-marked highways, but contrary to what some early buyers expected, it is not fully autonomous. Drivers should be ready to take over in an emergency.

Comfort and Convenience

Whether you’re loading up a pile of For Sale signs or your kid’s soccer gear, you’ll likely appreciate the latest hands-free trunks and tailgates. For some systems, all you have to do is stand at the back of the vehicle for a few seconds, and the cargo hatch will open. Other systems require you to simply wiggle your foot under the rear bumper.

All sorts of useful features are showing up on the new 2018 models, including niceties such as hands-free smartphone charging. But not all these features are high-tech. Honda has made a science out of flexible seating, offering its Magic Seat system on both the updated Honda Fit hatchback and completely redesigned Honda Odyssey minivan.

But even seats are getting smarter, with air bladders that rapidly inflate when you enter a sharp corner to keep you in place. And the newly remade Lexus LS features business class–style backseats that let you stretch out, warm up (or cool down), and even give you a hot stone–like massage.

Entertainment and Infotainment

As mentioned earlier, Bluetooth hands-free calling is now an all-but-ubiquitous feature, and in-car Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly common. It’s now available on all Chevrolet models and many Audi and Fiat Chrysler models, among others. Better yet, as telecomm companies shift to unlimited data plans, the cost of in-car Wi-Fi is also coming down.

While it’s great to be able to use a smartphone, a growing number of vehicles are now being offered with rear-seat entertainment systems, some allowing each rear passenger to watch or listen to their own video or audio choices. Wireless headphones make the technology even more user friendly.

Touchscreens also are becoming ubiquitous, even in some of the lowest-priced models on the market, such as the new Hyundai Accent. So are navigation systems, though prices have yet to take the sort of tumble we’ve seen with aftermarket technology. But there is an alternative.

Nearly half of all 2018 models will be capable of running either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Essentially, that lets you operate key smartphone apps from the car’s video display, and if you have a low-cost navigation app already, you can use it on that screen just like a carmaker’s own navigation system.