A sweet ride


February 6, 2023

Today’s cutting-edge automobile technology delivers safety, style, and luxury at virtually every price.

Where’s the line between a basic car and a luxury ride? The answer might surprise some discerning drivers as they shop for their next vehicle.

“Not long ago, active safety features such as automatic emergency braking or adaptive cruise control were the big things in high-end vehicles,” says Matt Degen, senior editor at Kelley Blue Book. “Those features have trickled down to basic models.”

At the same time, higher price tags don’t necessarily deliver better technology. “Ultra-luxury brands have a different model cadence than other brands, and they don’t update as frequently,” says Degen, whose job is to review automobiles from the ordinary to the sublime.

“If you buy a Rolls-Royce, it’s going to drive like nothing else you’ve ever driven. But it may not have the bells and whistles that you’d see on a Tesla,” Degen says. “Yet a Tesla won’t have the same powertrain or handcrafted finish as a Rolls-Royce. There’s exclusivity in the ultra-luxury market, and you can’t really put a price on that.”

The best car features depend on how you define luxury and innovation. If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, here’s a look at what you might see on the showroom floor.

Top-of-the-line tech

  • Biometrics – Vehicles equipped with biometrics can adjust seat and mirror positions based on the driver’s facial features. Some high-end cars even have fingerprint-activated storage compartments.
  • Semi-autonomous driving features – Forget fully self-driving cars; we’re not there yet. But autonomous vehicle technology is becoming so advanced that features like turning assist, collision warning, blind-spot cameras, and hands-free driving assistance are becoming standard. Luxury cars are “smarter” now. “Their ability to prevent accidents is getting really good,” Degen says.
  • Augmented reality – Augmented reality takes heads-up display technology a step further by integrating real-time information from the vehicle’s cameras for, say, enhanced navigation.

Luxury amenities

  • Infotainment systems – Is bigger better when it comes to infotainment systems? “There’s what I would call a screen war going on,” Degen says. “Screens are getting larger and larger, and some are curved, or they stretch all the way across the dashboard.”
  • Adventure features – Luxury doesn’t end when you get where you’re going. “Drivers want not only the car itself, but what the car can allow them to do,” Degen says. “It’s part of the adventure.” That’s why features like pull-out camp kitchens, built-in coolers, and tent kits are showing up on luxury trucks and SUVs.
  • Pure bling – If tech and adventure aren’t for you, consider the car’s look and feel. From Breitling clocks and fiber-optic starlight roofs to lambswool floor mats and massaging seats, the sky’s the limit when it comes to extravagant features and finishes.

“I don’t think consumers have ever had a better range of choices, whether it’s a long-range electric car, a supercharged V8 muscle car, or an ultra-luxury car,” Degen says. “That window may be closing as legislation starts to limit combustion engines, but right now, no matter what kind of buyer you are, there’s something special out there for you.”