Karl Brauer, executive analyst at automotive research firm iSeeCars. An automotive journalist for more than 25 years, he is a jury member for both the North American Car and Truck of the Year and the World Car of the Year awards. iSeeCars.com
Bottom Line: Smart tech makes these cars even more fun to drive.
Almost every new car comes loaded with technology these days. Touch-screen computers display an array of information and entertainment options…advanced safety systems help drivers avoid accidents…and some vehicles can virtually drive themselves. But learning to use new technology often is confusing—and that confusion can be dangerous when you’re behind the wheel.
Here are four vehicles that do a great job of providing technology that’s not only effective but also easy to use.
Economy car: 2019 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback has a seven-inch touch-screen infotainment system that’s simple to learn and operate—there isn’t a better standard system available in an economy car. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto—popular and user-friendly features that let drivers use their cars’ touch screens to control a range of features on their smartphones. Chevy’s “driver confidence package,” a $495 option, provides a “rear parking assist” system that warns when you’re at risk of backing into something…forward-collision warning systems…and other advanced safety features. What’s more, this fuel-efficient little car has a smooth, stable ride that stands out for an economy car and is surprisingly fun to drive—it’s a reasonable approximation of the popular Mini Cooper for around three-quarters of the price. But get it while you can—Sonic production may end this year. Fuel economy: 27 mpg city/38 highway. Starting price: $16,295.
SUV: 2019 Hyundai Kona/Kona Electric is a wonderful, affordable compact SUV that provides an impressive amount of well-thought-out technology as part of the standard package. Like the Sonic, it has a responsive, easy-to-understand seven-inch-touch-screen infotainment system that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Many aspects of the system can be controlled with knobs and buttons, not just the touch screen—that’s a plus, because operating touch-screen controls can be challenging while driving. The Kona has a bright, clear heads-up display that projects key information such as speed above the steering wheel, so drivers don’t have to take their eyes off the road. It also comes with Hyundai’s highly regarded SmartSense safety suite, which includes rear-collision warning…automatic emergency braking…a driver-attention warning system to detect drowsy or inattentive driving…and more. Fuel economy: 27 mpg city/33 highway. Starting price: $21,035.
Pickup truck: 2019 Ram 1500 Laramie, a full-sized pickup, features the latest generation of Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system, possibly the most intuitive system on the market aside from Audi’s MMI (see below). The standard 8.4-inch touch screen is larger than most, and an optional 12-inch touch screen is among the largest and easiest to read on the market. Active noise-cancellation tech helps make the cabin among the quietest of any pickup. Optional safety and driving-assistance tech features rival those found on luxury sedans. They range from adaptive cruise control that can bring the truck to a complete stop in traffic and then get it moving again when traffic starts moving…to hill-start assist that automatically stops the truck from rolling backward as the driver moves his/her foot from brake to accelerator on steep inclines. One neat tech trick—tow a trailer behind the 1500 and its blind-spot monitoring system will figure out the length of the trailer and adjust its alerts. Fuel economy: 15 mpg city/22 highway with the V8 (20/25 with eTorque). Starting price: $41,735.
Luxury car: 2019 Audi A4 features the carmaker’s wonderfully intuitive MMI infotainment system. Its seven-inch (or optional 8.2-inch) touch screen is mounted high on the dash where it’s easy to see and can be operated with buttons, dials and other controllers if you don’t want to use a touch screen while driving. Audi’s optional “Virtual Cockpit” feature (which comes standard on some configurations) lets drivers customize the gauge cluster directly behind the steering wheel at the touch of a button. You can choose full-sized traditional gauges…or smaller gauges with your route overlaid on a satellite view of the road ahead in a spot that’s much easier to glance at quickly than the typical car’s touch screen. Features available in optional packages include adaptive cruise control, which maintains a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, and a “Traffic Jam Assist” feature that virtually can take over the driving in stop-and-go traffic. Both work surprisingly well. The A4 also has a “pre-sense” system that tightens seat belts and preloads brakes for faster response when it senses an imminent frontal impact. Most 2019 Audis are loaded with similarly impressive and intuitive tech, but the A4 delivers a tech-laden, great-to-drive, comfortable luxury experience for a starting price south of $40,000. Fuel economy: 27 mpg city/34 highway. Starting price: $38,395. (The “Premium Plus” trim “45 TFSI,” which includes the Virtual Cockpit feature, starts at $48,495.)