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March 19, 2009

How Much Car Tech is Too Much?

Welcome Last week we talked about ways women like to be pampered in the car.  This week I wonder how much is too much?

I was in an Acura RDX crossover SUV recently that greeted me when I put the key in the ignition with a glorious "Welcome" message in the speedometer bezel. When I took the key out, the display flashed "Goodbye" before going dark.

It was pretty entertaining, at first. I sat in the car and flicked the key on and off several times so I could watch the message appear and disappear. (And so I could snap a few photos of the process with my camera phone.) It made me feel like the car was my friend.

The Acura vehicles have their fair share of technological advances. The Acura RL sedan also has an alphabet soup listing of high-tech features meant to keep you safe in the car:

At the top of the safety list is Acura's Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), which uses a radar unit mounted inside vehicle's front grille to monitor vehicles ahead and detect potential rear-end collisions. The system will alert the driver when the likelihood of a collision increases with an audible chime and a flashing alert on the dashboard, and should a collision prove to be imminent, will help reduce the impact on front occupants by cinching up the front seatbelts and even applying the brakes. The system would only be considered intrusive to habitual tailgaters, but they're the ones who have the potential to benefit from it the most. Mercedes-Benz  offers a similar system called "Pre-Safe" which In the seconds just before a possible impact, will automatically tighten the front seatbelts, close the sunroof and side windows, and the move the seats to positions that provide better protection. Volvo's got the brand-new City Safe function  which uses laser-based technology in the upper windshield to calculate the distance and speed of the car immediately ahead, and then apply the brakes if the system detects that a crash is imminent.

The Acura CMBS system works alongside an Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), which uses that same radar unit to set a defined distance between the RL and the vehicle in front of it. The ACC system continually adjusts the vehicle's speed by automatically applying gas or brakes to maintain a safe and consistent following distance. This type of cruise control is becoming standard in many top-of-the-line vehicles, from Acura to Audi and from Mercedes to Volvo.

Euro_Audi_A6_MMI Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system is also a top feature in the RL: It's a lot of letters and has a very technical explanation, but basically the system works to ensure that power goes to the wheels which have the most traction, and helps keep them from spinning so the car has more secure handling when roads are slippery. No matter what they call it, many manufacturers offer some kind of stability system to help drivers maintain control under various road conditions.

Like I said: A veritable "Alphabet safety soup."

And this is nothing compared to the very complicated MultiMedia Interface (MMI) present in top-of-the-line Audi   vehicles or BMW's  iDrive joystick system, both of which require a careful review of imposing technical manuals in order to perform such simple functions as changing the radio station.

Goodbye So here is the question: Is there such a thing as too much tech? Are you the kind of person who is likely to carefully read the manual to figure out how to operate a certain function? OR are you just likely to forego the feature? Does a car that says "Welcome" and "Goodbye" make you feel warm and fuzzy, or make you worry that it's just something that's gonna break and be expensive to repair?

Jody-devere_president_askpatty Jody DeVere
President and CEO

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