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Automotive technology is playing catch-up

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 6:30 p.m.

Automobiles have come a long way in just the past few years.

Engineers have made great advances in protecting passengers in a crash. They're now hard at work on systems that warn drivers when they drift out of their lanes, and when pedestrians or other vehicles are in their blind spots.

Until recently, however, car interiors were pretty primitive compared to the technology we've grown accustomed to in our living rooms and offices.

That's changing fast as car makers rush to outfit vehicles with digital rearview mirrors, large color touch screens, Internet connectivity and more sophisticated voice-recognition technology.

The first to bring satellite navigation and iPod integration to cars, BMW continues to be a pioneer of in-vehicle technology.

BMW's ConnectedDrive system combines navigation, infotainment and Web services. Maps and other content are displayed on an easy-to-read console screen. The screen contains a powerful 3-D graphics chip to display realistic street and building views of major cities.

With a 4G SIM card, select BMW 3, 5, 7 and M-series models also turn into LTE hotspots. Inside the car, the dock connects to the car's antenna for improved reception.

Honda designers had their heads in the cloud when developing Honda­Link, which debuts on the 2013 Accord.

Honda teamed with top audio company Harman to build its in-dash system, and with Harman-owned Aha Radio to provide cloud-connected radio, live news, audio books and more. You can also listen to Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds.

Just bring your tethered iPhone or Android to the party.

The new HondaLink smartphone app lets you pre-select content before driving, so there's less fumbling with your phone while you're on the road.

Are you ready to drive without a rear window? Audi put a lot of forward thinking into its digital rearview mirror technology, which will make its first appearance in the electric R8 e-tron later this year.

Although it sounds unnerving for a car to have no rear window, the camera and monitor system covers a much larger field of vision than a conventional rearview mirror. Taking over for the mirror is a 7.7-inch, self-illuminating AMOLED display.

Ford is steadily rolling out its lively Focus Electric. Its range is 76 miles on a full charge, which takes about four hours.

Realizing that “range anxiety” is holding back a lot of would-be electric car buyers, Ford developed the MyFord Mobile app just for the Focus Electric and plug-in hybrids.

The app monitors the battery's charge and estimates remaining mileage. Its MapQuest-powered database can also guide drivers to the nearest charging station. There are now nearly 4,500 public charging stations across the country.

When you're feeling smug, it's easy to use the app to brag on Facebook and Twitter about how much carbon and money you're saving.

Like other Ford models, the Focus Electric comes with the top-of-the-line Sync with MyFord Touch package, which offers a full menu of entertainment, navigation and Internet options. It also offers many features unique to the electric hatchback.

Email Kim Komando at

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