What is your favourite feature on your car?
Ask a dozen drivers and you’ll probably get a dozen different answers, if you can even get them to narrow it down to one feature.
In my personal car, it’s the transmission: a good, old-fashioned manual transmission that lets me (and makes me) pick my own gear in any situation. Nothing beats the feel of a perfectly executed heel-toe downshift – it’s like hitting driver and nailing it perfectly straight down the fairway or hitting every note on a karaoke classic.
But we’re not all about the driving experience, so the world of automotive pampering has grown exponentially with interesting, convenient, and sometimes bizarre features. We have gathered a list of some of the best, most enjoyable features, from little amenities to driving aids that we find hard to live without when they’re not present.
Of all the features I’ve sampled on the countless test cars I’ve reviewed, if there’s one thing I would want to have on my own car, it’s cooled seats. While not as satisfying as an accomplishment of skill like a perfect shift, it’s hard to beat the light, cool caress of ventilated seats pumping some air-conditioned flow across my back.
Heated steering wheel
Winter in Canada is cold, and fingers are delicate and precious. A heated steering wheel heats up about 1,000 times quicker than the rest of the car, and actively heating your hands is way better than just trying not to lose heat by keeping gloves on.
Life is messy, especially with a family, and every family vehicle should have a built-in vacuum so that getting those snack spills, dirty footprints, wood chips, and other detritus cleaned up is as simple as pulling the hose out of a hidden compartment.
Adaptive cruise control
Anyone who commutes on congested urban highways should make sure their next car has this stress-saving option. Many cars are starting to offer it as standard equipment bundled in with their safety suite, like the Honda Accord and Toyota C-HR, so it’s not reserved for high-priced luxury cars either.
Tailgate steps / running boards
Not everyone in the world is 6'4" and built like a linebacker, so any vehicle with a high step-in height should have some help for those who are vertically challenged. It doesn’t necessarily have to be power extending running boards as on the Lincoln Navigator or the fold-out steps like the ones on the Ford F-150, but Chevy has some smart cutouts on the corner of the bumpers where you can get a foot in to step up and reach into the bed. Basically, SUVs and trucks should have running boards standard if the passenger compartment is more than a foot off the ground.
360-degree parking cameras
Some companies have developed self-parking systems that steer for you, some that even pull the car out from a tight spot using just the key fob, but in my experience, they’re not intuitive and usually take longer than just parking it myself. The best system, and absolutely essential in so many cars with terrible visibility, is one that projects an overhead view on screen by stitching together images from four cameras (on the side mirrors, grille, and tailgate). The best ones have guide lines and warning lights as well to make it seem like you are a god-like being guiding a little Hot Wheels into its parking spot.
Rear cross-traffic alert
Oops, maybe you or your spouse decided to pull in forward in a busy parking lot, and you have a Chevy Suburban on one side and a cargo van on the other… Rear cross-traffic alert is like having a signal man on each side of the rear bumper looking out for traffic coming from either side that you cannot possibly see. This way, you can carefully and safely inch back out with ample warning to stop if a car goes buzzing by.
If you’re short and your husband is tall or vice versa, memory seats save you readjusting your seats every time a different one of you drives. Over the life of a vehicle, this could save hours of pointless seat adjustment time.
40/20/40-split folding rear seats
Folding rear seats are already pretty common, but here in Canada, odds are you either play hockey or ski or bring lumber home for renovations, and having that middle section drop down but not the sides means you can do all those things with up to three passengers and not have to mess around with latched-in child seats.
Audio controls on the back of the steering wheel
To my knowledge, Chrysler was the first to popularize this feature in their vehicles, and GM is doing it too now, and every time I drive one of their cars, I remember how brilliant this feature is. With your hands at 3 and 9 o’clock on the steering wheel, the buttons are within easy reach for a quick change of volume or swapping tracks or radio stations.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto!
Can you believe that some manufacturers still don’t buy into the whole smartphone integration trend? Shocking I know, but perhaps even more bizarre is a couple that offer only Apple CarPlay, but not Android Auto. I know Apple is cool and all, but pretty sure not every smartphone user is blindly devoted to iPhones.
While Android Auto can be run from the phone itself, most cars are equipped with larger screens and provide tighter integration to other on-board systems. Having your phone’s primary functions easily accessible on the main screen greatly reduces the temptation to reach for that phone while driving and makes the entire infotainment system familiar and easy to use, so every car should have it.