Keeping up with the Joneses, or rather the Musks, of the world is getting harder and harder. Many automakers are falling by the wayside, with more than a few models like the Mitsubishi Outlander failing to impress, as updates are few and far between. To be fair, the crossover in question actually needs a complete overhaul to make it feel relevant again. But, this is a pretty common story; as technological advancements happen faster and faster, it becomes harder to keep up. Brands that have a firm grasp of both automotive engineering and technical innovation seem to have a better chance of adapting to these evolving environments and it’s time for the brands that are lagging behind to start catching up.
We can expect to see the lineups of sedans, coupes, crossovers, and SUVs from Mitsubishi, Chevrolet, Nissan, Volkswagen, and the like change drastically in the coming years, especially as the more disruptive brands start moving more towards electrification and better combining the ideals of practicality and luxury to form more desirable products. Heck, even the pickup truck market in the USA is seeing a lot of changes, with a variety of fully electric trucks scheduled for release starting from 2021.
Getting the basics right
However, just going electric is not a panacea to dropping sales figures. Delivering in multiple areas in the best way to be successful, as brands like Honda and Toyota have proven with their top-selling HR-V and RAV4, respectively. Shoppers want a certain degree of performance, fuel economy, practicality, and safety. Naturally, this is why the aforementioned crossovers are selling like hotcakes. The compact and even midsize market is filled with nameplates that have figured out this secret to success.
And, while some of the larger cruisers such as the Caddy Escalade are at the top of their game in terms of bling and gadgets, they generally fall short when it comes to mileage, affordability, and trunk space. The latter is particularly true of three-row SUVs that seem to shoehorn in the rear seats regardless of how much legroom or trunk space will be left over. Sometimes, less is more, and ensuring that passengers in the rear seats are comfortable and their luggage is accommodated is often a greater sign of success than if a car has a vast array of driver-assistance features or infotainment doohickies.
What to reasonably expect as standard
Once you know a vehicle has the basics down pat, then you can start to see if it has something special to offer in other areas. For those looking to buy a cheap commuter, this is not often a critical area. But, if you’re after a family hauler, you’ll definitely want all the tech needed to keep the kids happy and safe. This includes smartphone integration like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and onboard Wi-Fi certainly doesn’t hurt either. A back-seat infotainment suite may seem like a good idea, but it is generally overpriced. And, since most of us have a tablet or two lying around the house, why not repurpose it as a movie player by mounting it on a tablet holder?
When it comes to safety, almost all modern vehicles have a certain degree of standard features, including a comprehensive consignment of airbags, ABS, and traction and stability control. Rearview cameras are also required by law. However, it’s not totally unreasonable to expect a little more. Parking sensors are a common addition, but many automakers also include lane keep assist and/or departure warning, and a driver attention system. If your chosen vehicle includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking as standard, you know you’re in good hands, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is just icing on the cake. Still, some of these functions can be added at a nominal cost, unless you’re browsing the premium segment, where you’ll likely pay an arm and a leg for every add-on.
A few examples of affordable vehicles that go the extra mile in these areas include the:
- Mazda CX-30
- Hyundai Venue
- Toyota RAV4
- Ford Escape
Naturally, as you go up the price tiers, more features become standard, but that doesn’t mean you’re always getting your money’s worth. Be sure to look around and make sure that how much you get is on par with how much you spend; sometimes, just scrolling through the available configurations and trim levels of a more economical brand will save you in the long run.
What to expect in the future
The pace of technological development is exponential. This means that as new discoveries are made, it becomes even easier to make more. Thus, our automobiles have advanced in leaps and bounds over the past few years, making electric vehicles far more practical than they were when the technology was first considered in the early 20th century. This departure from simple hybridization means that it is possible to improve your mpg without sacrificing on power, as the Tesla Model S or Porsche Taycan prove.
But that’s not the only exciting prospect for future cars. Fully automated driving is just on the horizon, and safety features are rapidly improving to ensure its viability. Of the other exciting technologies that may help in this area, inter-vehicle communication is perhaps the most interesting. Our cars already use GPS and sonar/cameras to help navigate traffic, but just think how much more efficient it would be if your vehicle could just connect to the cars around it to optimize efficiency and reaction time?
But, what we really want to know is, how accessible will all this really be? We have already started to see advanced features trickle down into the economy segment, and many manufacturers are specifically targeting their new models at savvy buyers. While we may not be there just yet, it is likely that keeping up with the Joneses will be easier in the future, so long as you aren’t trying to do so physically – there is no chance you will have a 1,000-horsepower plus engine under the hood of your ol’ reliable without raiding the kids’ college fund.