THOUSAND OAKS, CA
- Advanced automotive technology has been getting some bad press lately, mostly because critics say a number of features currently on the market are less than user-friendly, and for the money, their consumer benefits are not all that obvious, according to the Web site, www.forbes.com
"New vehicles today are often packed with new technologies," saidJoe Ivers, executive director of quality and customer satisfaction research for J.D. Power, "that unfortunately can be complicated and frustrating for the average consumer when their integration is not well executed."
That's true, but as owners of the BMW 335i Sedan, the Audi TT Roadster 3.2 Quattro or the Lexus LS 600h L can tell you, there are also some well-executed high-tech features out there.
In Pictures: 10 High-Tech Luxury Cars
All offer standout traits, including advanced all-wheel drive, a turbocharged engine and a gas-saving, low-emissions hybrid engine system, respectively. All are easy to use, and offer obvious consumer benefits.
And they're not all that's out there.
High-tech features in a car like the 2008 Volvo XC70 offer perhaps the ultimate consumer benefit--safety. It's got more high-strength steel to protect occupants and disperse energy in a side impact, plus bigger side-curtain airbags than in past models.
The BMW 335i, for example, gets marks primarily for its turbocharged engine, which has an obvious consumer benefit: it's fun to drive.
But some cars, like the Lexus LS600h L, are such a high-tech tours de force that they have fussy features that confer questionable consumer benefits, alongside easy-to-use features, with obvious benefits.
For instance, Lexus Division has taken a lot of flack over the optional "Advanced Parking Guidance System" in its LS luxury sedan.
The system automatically parallel parks the car for you. It moves the steering wheel, using sonar to gauge distances, and offers the driver front and back video views. All the driver has to do is brake. In the LS600h L, the parking system comes as part of a $4,000 "Premium Package" of options.
There are amateur videos on the Internet showing it can be complicated to use, but it generally seems to work pretty well. The important point is that many drivers prefer to parallel park themselves, thank you.
On the other hand, the LS600h L has a hybrid powertrain that pairs a 5.0-liter V8 gasoline engine with an electric motor. The combination produces a combined 438 horsepower, with smooth transitions between battery-powered mode and conventional mode. The system makes for quick acceleration and low emissions--although overall gas mileage is not that much better than the conventional LS460.
According to the latest J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, Lexus owners give their cars good marks for minimizing defects, and for maximizing "quality of design." Lexus was No. 2 in IQS in 2006 and 2007, behind Porsche.
Seems like the carmaker is on to something. Perhaps in time, more than just the 10 on our list will follow.