Navigation system/trip computer
These can be useful devices if you’re going somewhere new. You could choose one of the pre-installed in-dash units offered as optional equipment on many new cars. Or you could opt for one of the aftermarket portable systems available from most electronics retailers and discount department stores. All models have moving maps, which use GPS satellites to track your vehicle's progress across the landscape.
Some of the coolest new audio systems have arrived in the past few months. Among the best are those with built-in computer hard drives that allow for on-board storage of thousands of songs. Most of the newer audio systems also feature auxiliary input jacks that allow you to hook up an iPod or other portable music player to the car’s stereo system, using the vehicle’s speakers.
It has been around for 40 years or more. Yet, it is almost a necessity for a long road trip, particularly while driving on long, boring stretches of interstate highways. New, though, is adaptive cruise control, offered on a few premium vehicles. This system uses radar to scan the lane ahead, and if it detects a slower vehicle in your lane, it automatically will slow your car and pace its speed to that of the car ahead. This prevents accidentally running into the back of another vehicle at highway speeds while you’re daydreaming or talking on your phone.
Multi-zone climate control
The best of these systems allows passengers to choose their own temperature settings, but the usefulness is limited by the small confines of a vehicle. Can you really have your air cooled to 68° F (20°C), and your companion in the right front seat have his or hers at 76°? Not likely. But it does help to have separate controls and air vents for the rear passengers.
DVD entertainment system
It is a great feature with kids in the back. In fact, they're virtually useless if there is no one in the back seat(s); they're usually not visible from the front seat, and would be dangerous for the driver to watch while also steering.
Smart cup holders
These can heat or cool drinks placed in them.
Heated and cooled storage areas such as Chrysler’s new Cool Zone glove box.
Lane-departure warning systems
These alert the driver if the vehicle drifts outside its lane of travel.
Household power outlets
These offer 115 volts for recharging laptops and other devices; they also can power video game consoles and small refrigerators.
Reclining rear seats
Good for napping, but they don't recline very far, partly for safety reasons.
© 2007/THE NEW YORK TIMES