There's so much buzz these days about living in a "connected" world. The powers that make the products, as well as those who present the 2013 Philadelphia Auto Show, have taken that to heart.
From nifty ride-on opportunities (think amusement park attractions) to a vintage muscle car competition, this year's cavalcade (700 vehicles!) is all about interaction and connection.
To a degree, the show has always been about that. Car lovers get to kick tires, slam doors, fiddle with switches, inspect back seat and trunk capacity and smell the rich Corinthian leather. The hands-on experience "helps a car shopper to narrow the field of choices you're considering in a leisurely, fun, no sales-pitch environment," noted show (and Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia) director Mike Gempp.
But the connectivity takes on a much deeper meaning when a skilled, 4x4 off-road driver-demonstrator takes you on an indoor thrill ride up a scary-steep incline -- and you both survive. Or when you're behind the wheel at a driving simulator (as Cadillac provides) tricked out with the high-tech "infotainment" and "telematics" gadgetry that connects today's smartened-up vehicles to the outside world.
Smarts now allow a "talking car" (no joke!) to read incoming Tweets out loud or hit the brakes when some silly sot jumps out in front of the vehicle.
Even a meat-and-potatoes brand like Subaru, known best for durable, no-nonsense, all-wheel-drive vehicles, is marching to the connectivity beat, said the brand's U.S. (and Cherry Hill, N.J.-based) product planner David Sullivan.
"Fifty percent of Subaru buyers have a smartphone and want to safely use that communications tool in their vehicle. And that percentage is only going to rise. So for the 2013 model year, we've put Bluetooth wireless connectivity to your phone with voice- and steering wheel-mounted controls into every car we make, even the base models," he said.
It's a distinction Sullivan doesn't believe any other auto maker has matched.
For the Philly car show, Subaru is showcasing two more connectivity tools under the umbrella name StarLink:
- Sophisticated yet easily updated in-dash entertainment and information system Aha, sourced from Harman Industries, imports all kinds of "cloud" content through your connected iOS.
- (iPhone) or Android phone for display/control on the car's color touch screen and play through cabin speakers. We're talking here about "30,000 Internet radio stations and specialty podcasts, music services like Slacker, Rhapsody and MOG, plus text-to-voice Facebook alerts and location-based services, including weather reports, traffic updates and recommendations for dining," said the Subaru man.
- The other tech treat up Subaru's sleeve is EyeSight, an internally developed safety/navigation system. Built around a pair of Hitachi-sourced cameras mounted inside the windshield, EyeSight puts an extra pair of eyes on the road, with the smarts to slow or stop the car when sensing an obstacle. It also maintains your Subaru at a specified distance from the car in front when cruise control is engaged and issues an audible alert when you're swerving out of a lane.
While introduced in premium brands such as Lexus, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, driver assist is now within reach of even the buyers of the mid-priced Subaru Legacy. A full StarLink package will be available first in the 2014 Forester SUV -- on the car show floor and hitting dealers in March -- then will migrate to other models in the spring and summer.
Kick these tires
Ford has lots of high-tech to share at the car show, too, including mobile-phone-sourced AppLink streaming content (MLB.com, Pandora, iHeartRadio, WSJ and the like) accessible in the 2013 Fiesta and midlevel Ford Focus equipped with voice-activated Sync and a small color LCD screen.
Tesla and Subaru move up in the rankings.
Consumer Reports releases 2013 car brand report cards.