Affordable intelligence

Entry-level cars in India are increasingly getting intelligent systems such as smart key, multifunction steering wheel, parking assist, cruise control

By:Updated: March 21, 2016 12:33:22 PM

Last month when I test drove the new Hyundai i20 Active—a small hatchback crossover car—it welcomed me by unfolding its ORVMs (outside rear view mirrors). I had simply touched the car’s door handle! It surprised me. Not because the technology is new, but because you associate such technologies with high-end luxury brands, not with a sub-R10 lakh Hyundai car.

Entry-level cars in India are increasingly getting intelligent systems that are making cars smarter. Sample this. Both the Tata Zest and the Bolt are equipped with infotainment systems which, five years ago, were seen only in the cars made by Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Girish Wagh, vice-president & head, Small Car Project of Tata Motors, says, “We call the concept ConnectNext. We believe it is the future of connectivity in this segment of cars. For example, in our compact sedan Zest and the hatchback Bolt, a new-age console houses a state-of-the-art touchscreen multimedia system that offers superior connectivity features —you can not only make and receive calls without holding your phone, the system even reads you out the messages you receive. Then there are controls for music, temperature and voice commands.”

Some of the intelligent features that you get to see today in cars costing less than R10 lakh are:

Touchscreen multimedia system: Earlier seen only in mobile phones and laptops, the touchscreen phenomenon is now taking the automotive world by storm. Companies such as Hyundai, Tata, Honda and Renault—which today offer touchscreen in most of their models—believe that touchscreen is a very convenient feature and makes life simpler for the front passengers. However, there is a downside to this feature as well. Markus Gleitz, the designer of the Audi A3 sedan, believes that luxury carmakers may never incorporate touchscreens in their models. “A touchscreen takes your eyes off the road, making it an unsafe feature.”

LCD cluster: It provides drivers with more information than conventional instrument clusters and in an easy-to-read format. Audio and video information display, navigation guide, and sometimes even fuel-efficiency figures are provided within the cluster to make driving easier. In most Hyundai cars, for example, the cluster settings and information can also be customised to suit the driver preference.

Smart Parking Assist System (SPAS): It features an ultrasonic wave sensor which assists the driver to reverse into a parking space and even while parallel parking. SPAS proves very handy especially when you encounter tight parking slots where multiple steering inputs are required. Today, a majority of cars from almost all manufacturers come equipped with SPAS. It is also available as an after-market fitment as a price starting as low as R5,000.

Infotainment: The top-end models of most entry-level cars today come equipped with state-of-the-art infotainment system, including a music system which has a minimum of 1 GB internal storage. The system can be synced with your smartphone and you can refresh the library by deleting old songs and adding new ones from time to time.

Lane keeping assist system: Also called the lane departure warning system, it is a safety feature that is designed to alert the driver when the system detects that the vehicle is about to deviate from a traffic lane. The security system activates warning light, alarm and pre-safe seatbelt to alert driver of a lane departure. Currently available only in the luxury cars, Hyundai is expected to introduce the feature in one of its upcoming cars.

Multifunction steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls: Now the norm rather than the exception, the multifunction steering wheel is, clearly, a very safe and convenient way to drive. Buttons on the steering wheel let you take control of the radio, music, phone and other systems without taking your hands off the wheel. Even the Maruti Celerio, which costs about R5 lakh, gets this feature. In slightly costlier cars such as the Hyundai Elite i20 and Honda Mobilio, the multifunction steering wheel gets an ergonomic design which make it easy to operate.

Smart key: Approach the car with the key in your pocket, press a tiny black button on the door handle to open the door, fire the engine by pressing a button on the dashboard, stop the engine using the same button, step out, and lock the car by pressing the tiny black button again.

That’s smart key for you. You only need to keep the key in your pocket; it has a range of 1-3 metres and syncs with the car’s system when you are in the range. The technology is available in many Hyundai cars, including the i20 Active. The smart key doesn’t look like a key, but like a compact plastic remote control.

360-degree camera: It aids vehicle safety by providing visual assistance to the driver. The 360-degree dimensional view enhances visibility while drivers are backing up or turning corners, and eliminates “blind spots” to a degree that cannot be matched by two-dimensional technologies. While none of the affordable cars in India get this technology, we expect by next year it will percolate into the segment.

Auto-folding ORVMs: When you approach the car and touch the door handles (with the smart key in your pocket, of course), the ORVMs will automatically unfold. When you lock it, the ORVMs will automatically fold. In some cars, the ORVMs can be adjusted remotely too using the smart key. It is a very convenient feature especially when you are passing through a narrow street.

Tilt and telescopic steering: It is yet another feature that most sub-R10 lakh cars are getting. Tilt and telescopic steering allows you to adjust the steering wheel before you drive and also raise it to give your legs more room to exit and enter the vehicle.

The steering wheel can be positioned for a comfortable drive, while permitting you to see the instrument panel warning lights and gauges.

Auto defogging: A great help in north Indian foggy winters. The system solves fog problems probably before you even notice them. Detecting windshield condensation, it initiates climate control to improve visibility and safety. Most top-end cars entry-level cars are equipped with this system.

Ford SYNC: Equipped exclusively in Ford vehicles, the SYNC can prove to be a life-saving feature under certain circumstances. Should an accident of the magnitude occur in which an airbag deploys or the emergency fuel pump shut-off is activated, the SYNC uses hands-free phone capabilities to connect the driver directly with 108—India’s emergency service—through the paired phone. Before initiating the emergency call, the system provides a 10-second window to allow the driver or passengers to decide whether to cancel the call. If not manually cancelled within 10 seconds, the SYNC places the call. In case the occupants are not able to communicate with the operator, an introductory message tells the emergency operator that an accident has occurred and the system provides GPS location information.

Cruise control: It accurately maintains the driver’s desired set speed by actuating the throttle-accelerator pedal linkage. It maintains speed limit, makes longer journeys more comfortable and helps to save money on fuel. It is primarily suited for those who are going to be driving at a steady speed and for long distances.

Advance traction cornering control: It monitors the amount of acceleration from the driver and road surface conditions. It continuously analyses data such as road speed and steering angle, then distributes torque to any single wheel as required, providing agility and stability when cornering. Not yet available in sub-R10 lakh cars, we expect by next year various Japanese and European carmakers to introduce this technology in their entry-level models.

In an increasingly always-on world, carmakers and technology companies are working in tandem to deploy powerful new tools into their new models. And the good news is that such tools—SYNC, smart key, multifunction steering wheel, parking assist, etc—are being introduced into entry-level cars too. Driving is only going to get more convenient in times to come.

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