Luxury cars deliver on the special treats

Reported by AFP
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
The new Mercedes-Benz SL. (Getty)
The new Mercedes-Benz SL. (Getty)

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Your arms are full with groceries as you approach your car, and you can't free anything to open the trunk. What to do?

If you drive a 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL, you just swipe your foot underneath the back bumper and, presto, it opens automatically.

It's just one of the new things that you get when you shell out $100,000 or more for the newest cars in the super-luxe range, all on display at the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

While electronics advances and cheaper computer chips and memory have leveled the field for a lot of interior bells and whistles -- GPS systems, blue-tooth capacity and smartphone connectivity are pretty widespread now -- there are still some things you only get if you are ready to pay.

The SL, for instance, has a windshield cleaning system unlike any other. Instead of spraying a stream of often misdirected fluid on the windshield, risking splattering the passengers in the convertible, the fluid oozes from 40 holes in each wiper blade.

And several Benz models have its "air scarf" heating from the headrest, in addition to the now de-rigueur seat warmers found in your average sedan these days.

Porsche on the other hand has seat cooling. The brand new 911 S Carrera launched this week in Detroit will suck in air through the perforations in the seat and seat back to keep you dry in sweaty weather.

"For those times when you are wearing a suit on a hot sticky summer day in Atlanta to go to a wedding," says a Porsche official.

With engines equally powerful and leather interiors standard, carmakers have to compete increasingly on the looks, and the special bits that might not drive a buyers interest but can help seal the deal.

Little things like Cadillac's illuminated door handles, which light up when the driver's key fob gets close. Or on the Bentley GTC, the seat belt automatically protrudes from its hiding place after you sit down, to make it easier to pull into place.

Porsche and Mercedes vie for speed records of a different kind: Mercedes says its convertible tops can open and close while the car is running at speeds up to 30 miles per hours (50 KPH). Porsche claims a 31 mph capability in the new 91.

Most high-end cars at the show were offering new safety equipment, though not always standard, like parking sensors and cameras.

Cadillac's newest models have sensors to tell if the driver is falling asleep and weaving out of their lanes.

Errant driving will set off a flashing light in the car's mirrors, or there is a pulse in the seat to wake you up.

Cadillac also offers "virtual bumpers" that at slow speeds will automatically brake the car if it is going to hit anything.

Porsches will also tell you, by a flashing light, if you are trying to change lanes when someone is in your blind spot.

The main battle for attention is in the capabilities of the LCD screen or screens on the dashboard that have grown to iPad size and capability.

Voice recognition is becoming standard, as well as customizing the settings for different driver needs in the same vehicle. Cars are loading up on apps of all sorts, and gigabytes of memory for packing in everything on one's iPod, or tailored lists of favorites, destinations, radio stations or playlists.

In Cadillacs and Porsches, screens in front of the driver -- where the gauges are traditionally -- can show information, like driving maps or directions, when the main central screen is being used for other reasons.

Cadillac's new instrument panel, soon to debut on its cars, is an all-LCD touchscreen interface, and information from the main screen can be dragged over from the central screen with a flick of the finger.

And the main screen goes back to the main menu when one's finger gets close, before you touch it.

Not to be outdone, Lexus has a 12.3 inch screen in the GS to work with. Plug in your smartphone, and it offers apps with direct links to popular websites for finding fuel stations or restaurants, or buying tickets to concerts.

Center-mounted touchscreens require a long reach. So Lexus has positioned a mouse-like creature -- a clickable knob -- on the center armrest.

But some drivers won't want to be bothered to do the searching themselves. So Lexus offers owners a concierge service: you can call a representative to ask for any kind of assistance and they will look it up for you. It's free for the first year.

pmh/ao

29/07/2014 14:37Sydney, Australia. 29 July,2014
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