The Buick Regal GS 2014 has power, room and comfort. It comes with all the traditional automobile bells and whistles: power everything, cruise control, individual air temperature zones and driver-selectable handling options of standard, sport and high performance.
Like a growing number of upscale cars, it also has electronics. As in lights, camera and action -- literally.
The auto and tech industries have been moving closer to each other. The former needs the ability to further distinguish vehicles and woo the public. The latter has cracked the work and home environments and now wants to a part of the time people spend getting from one to the other.
For example, in testing a roughly $45,000 Regal, CBS MoneyWatch found an array of impressive capabilities. Here are just some of the features on its center display panel as well as controls on the panels and steering wheel:
General Motor's (GM) OnStar service and a Verizon (VZ) 4G LTE mobile connection of its own.AM, FM and satellite radios provide a lot of choices for listening. The LTE connection supports a build-in option for Internet music streaming service Pandora (P).A Bluetooth interface lets you use your phone hands-free.A Wi-Fi hotspot supports up to seven devices, so passengers never have to look up from their tablets or smartphones.Downloadable apps for such things as music, news, weather and travel information.Voice smartphone tricks commands provide a variety of controls, including switching to specific radio channels.Full GPS and mapping offer directions and a visual sense of where you are.Displays show vehicle data such as tire pressure and diagnostic reports.Shift into reverse and the center panel displays a view from the backup camera. Proximity sensors warn if a car or pedestrian is coming up on either side.While driving, the side mirrors also have proximity detectors that light to warn you if traffic is in a blind spot.While parking, more proximity detectors show through a console display how close you're getting to an object ahead and give an audio warning before contact.Appropriately set the cruise control, and if a car moves into your lane too close for comfort, the Buick automatically slows down to regain the amount of space you want to maintain.
The experience is impressive, and the features could easily become things a driver would depend on. The big hitch is getting used to everything. You sometimes have multiple ways of achieving the same result. Getting to many functions means repeated taps of the center touchscreen, which requires thought and could be potentially distracting until you get used smartphone tricks to the system.
Of course, GM is hardly the only car company with such technology-laden vehicles. Others are also adding a variety of capabilities, including close integration with an Apple (AAPL) iPhone. But buying a car isn't like getting the newest phone or operating system. This makes for one expensive upgrade.
Still, consumers can get some approximation of these built-in systems without the expense. A hands-free mount and adapter can make extensive use of a smartphone's capabilities. A larger phone or mounted tablet are good for GPS and mapping features. You can add your own satellite radio or even a backup camera and display.
But getting it all wrapped up in a single package is appealing. And if Santa didn't bring you one this year, next year's models will likely be even snazzier.
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