Posts Tagged ‘Options’

My hands are always cold and it’s often quite uncomfortable. One frigid LA winter morning, several years ago, I drove a friend’s Range Rover with a heated steering wheel and it was a revelation. Ever since I’ve wanted a car with that option. So I confess that the only reason I checked the option box for Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) on my 2012 Dodge Charger is because it was the only way I could get the heated steering wheel.

The 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus. Note the small "eagle eye" in the front lower fascia to the right of the (right) fog light.

What I wasn’t prepared for is how ACC has changed the way I drive and has changed my life – for the better.

Thom and I love to spend weekends at our condo in Palm Springs, but to get there you have to drive the dull, 120 miles from our home in West Hollywood, through the vast suburbia of Inland Empire through the San Gorgonio Pass into Palm Springs. Even the dog is bored by the trip.

The hotel tower of the Morongo Casino Spa Resort in Cabazon, CA.

The worst and most stressful portion of the drive is getting from the Land of No Freeways (thank you, Beverly Hills) to the point on the Hollywood Freeway where it morphs into Interstate 10. Once all the splits are done, I-10 opens up to a long, uninvolving slog through such tantalizing destinations as West Covina and Fontana. You know you’re 22 minutes from Central Palm Springs when you pass the Morongo Casino & Resort Spa Hotel that looks like the desert was fracked with ipecac.

I use cruise control to relieve my heavy foot, get better fuel economy and hopefully avoid the California Highway Patrol’s radar gun. However, it’s no secret that people don’t pay attention to driving and certainly don’t drive a constant speed. We’ve all had the experience at cruising along when a minivan suddenly slows everyone down. It’s usually driven by a wearied and stressed-out mom trying to mediate Israeli-Palestinian peace in the rear. Drop out of cruise and try to go around then back to speed.

I’ve now entered the surreal and serene world of Adaptive Cruise Control. I set it to 75 mph, select a comfortable following distance and rest my right foot for the next 100 miles. I select 75 mph because it seems to best approximate the flow of traffic in open stretches of freeway and it’s not too fast to garner the attention of the ever-lurking CHP. There are plenty of other “sacrifices” that fly by me at 80 – 100 mph who will get caught. At least that’s the plan and it’s work well for several years now.

The driver's information screen tells you that adaptive cruise control is on and ready to use.

The car’s on-board radar constantly monitors the speed of the vehicle in front of you and makes the infinite adjustments to maintain a safe distance and constant speed. At first, your reaction is to hit the brake when you come up on a slower car or someone cuts in front of you; but it’s not necessary as the system does it for you. The technology foreshadows a futuristic vision of all cars having sensor systems that talk to not only other cars, but to Big Brother’s SkyNet in hopes of avoiding accidents, saving lives and moving traffic more efficiently.

The first time the car brakes itself, you realize the pedal by your foot isn’t moving. In addition to the car’s standard power-assisted hydraulic anti-lock brakes, the car is equipped with a redundant brake-by-wire system to service the ACC. The Electronic Brake Controller (EBC) also facilitates additional stopping power in a panic brake situation.

Twice now, I’ve set the ACC to 75 mph on our way back from PS to LA. I do it as soon as I pass the last stoplight on northwest-bound Highway 111 at Mountain Gate. I haven’t touched either the brake or accelerator until I’m at the La Brea Ave exit on the westbound Santa Monica freeway. Not once. That’s astounding. That’s a game-changing technology.

Another feature of ACC that differs from standard cruise control is the speed setting. I can set the upper speed limit regardless of my current speed. I simply hit the +/RES (resume) button on the steering wheel until I reach the desired number. My top speed is displayed in the ACC screen of the car’s electronic vehicle information center. You can’t do that on a standard cruise control.

If traffic grinds to a halt, the system disengages below 20 mph and the center display screen beeps and flashes BRAKE! The system uses up to 25% of the car’s braking capacity through the EBC; but it can’t fully stop the car. (Some systems can fully stop the car if it senses an emergency.)

The ACC also allows you to set the following distance comfortable to you. The three settings on my car are: 3 (long), 2 (medium) and 1 (short). I’m most comfortable with the medium setting which is around 3-4 car lengths.

The same ACC radar system and electronic brakes also form the car’s Forward Collision Warning (FCW) system. The FWC default is “on” and you may never notice it until a car in front of you slams on its brakes or cuts you off.

This just happened to me when a car rudely cut in front of me with little distance between our cars. We’ve all been there, right? The FCW system chimed rapidly like Dr. Sheldon Cooper knocking on Penny’s door. The word “BRAKE!” flashed urgently in the center display. I was on the situation instantly even without FCW, but it’s nice to know how fast and accurately the system reacted.

I hate to admit that the adaptive cruise control makes me a safer driver. I’m not tailgating. I’m less stressed-out over distracted drivers and vacillating traffic speeds as the car adapts to the leading car. I change lanes less frequently and if I’m momentarily distracted, the car automatically slows down, so there is less risk of sudden braking. I’m even more comfortable as I can rest my legs in a more forward position. And as a bonus, I find I’m getting better fuel economy because the cruise control module and drive-by-wire throttle can adjust and adapt much faster than my own lead foot.

If you regularly drive long distances on the open highway, don’t hesitate to check the adaptive cruise control option box for your next new car. This is one electronic nanny you can have a long-term affair with and not get kicked out of the house. It will change your life.

2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus with the Blacktop performance package. The blacked-out car looks a bit sinister and some drivers mistake it for a cop car and get out of my way. That's not a bad thing!


2012 Dodge Charger with the Blacktop package. What options would you choose for your car?

Choosing options and option packages for a new car can be a daunting task. Some manufacturers simplify the choices while others offer long lists of things; some that should be standard while others are more fantastic than ever.

For example, Honda makes picking the Civic that fits your needs very easy. You simply choose a trim level (DX, LX, EX, EX-L, EX – Nav, EX-L Nav), manual or automatic transmission and the color (no charge for metallic colors). There are no option packages, only accessories that are dealer installed. You can’t even choose the interior color as it’s preselected for you depending on the exterior color.

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation. Standard on this model is the leather interior, navigation and automatic transmission. There are no options, just a few dealer-installed accessories.

The top trim level is the EX-L with Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation – MSRP $23,445.  The “L” means it has a leather-trimmed interior and it obviously has Honda’s navigation system. When I built one, the only accessory I added was the $284 Automatic Day/Night rear view mirror.  Add the destination charge of $770 and the total price comes to $24,509. Slap that “Easy” button at Staples!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the new 2012 BMW 328i is a lesson in decontenting a car to come to a base price that the marketing department can advertise.

The base MSRP for the lovely, all-new 328i sedan is $34,900.   For 2012, you can choose from three “styles” to fit your personality: Sport (+$2,500), Modern (+$2,100) or Luxury (+$2,100) – or you can just build your own “base” sedan, which is what I did.

Metallic paint – $550; Dakota Leather – $1,450;   Cold Weather Package – $1,350 (includes heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, split-fold-down rear seats and retractable headlight washers); Premium Package – $3,600 (includes power front seats with driver’s side memory, auto dimming interior and exterior mirrors, lumbar support, keyless entry/ignition, universal garage door opener and a moonroof); Premium Sound – $950 (Harman Kardon  surround sound and Sirius Satellite Radio with a 1 year subscription); Technology Package – $2,550 (includes navigation and a head-up display); Rear-view camera – $400 which requires the addition of Park Distance Control – $750.

2012 BMW 328i Sedan. Base $34,900 + $895 destination. Just add $10,000 and you have a nicely-equipped car.

Throw in a destination charge of $895 and suddenly your car costs $44,945 – a cool $10,000 more than the base. And there are still many more options and packages available that easily push the sticker price over $50,000 – a far cry from $35,000.

I’d like to point out that a rear view camera should be part of the navigation package – it is on much less expensive cars. BMW makes you pay extra for folding rear seats, something standard on inexpensive subcompact cars. And why do I have to get four heated seats and a heated steering wheel as part of the Cold Weather package when all I wanted was heated seats. It’s maddening.

However, as I’ve railed about in the past, no one has more egregious prices or an option list longer than Porsche with its sports cars. These days, you’re lucky you get an engine, transmission and power windows for the base price.  Lime Gold Metallic paint? Ja – $2,580! Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) automatic transmission? Ja Ja – $3,200! Achtung, Baby, get ready to pay.

The 2012 Porsche Boxster in Lime Gold Metallic paint.

Below is my latest condensed list of options to consider or remember when you’re car shopping. (Option_List download)

1 All-wheel drive (if needed or plan to drive in snow/off road areas)
2 Aluminum alloy wheels (no wheel covers)
3 Ambient/outside temperature display
4 Auto-dimming rear and power folding side view mirrors
5 Automatic headlights
6 Bi-Xenon/HID headlights (high and low beam)
7 Blind spot and cross path detection
8 Cruise control – adaptive if available
9 Convertible top – fully-automatic operation
10 Cup holders – heated and cooled
11 Digital compass
12 Dual-zone, digital automatic climate control
13 Floor mats – color matched front and rear (should be included)
14 Fog lamps
15 Heated and cooled front seats
16 Heated steering wheel
17 Height adjustable tailgate (if a wagon or SUV)
18 Hill assist (no roll back)
19 Infotainment System:

( a ) App-enabled system – e.g., Pandora, Stitcher, etc.

( b ) Bluetooth 2.0 for hands-free phone & streaming audio

( c ) Backup camera

( d ) HD Radio

( e ) Hard drive music and media storage

( f ) iPhone/iPod/Smartphone integration

( g ) Navigation (hard drive), real-time traffic, TravelLink

( h ) SiriusXM Satellite Radio

( i ) Steering wheel-mounted controls

( j ) Upgraded power, speakers, subwoofer

( k ) USB charging port(s)

( l ) Voice control
20 Keyless entry and ignition
21 Lane Assist (watches for signs of driver fatigue)
22 Leather seats/interior or leather with Alcantara inserts
23 Mirrors – power side, folding, heated, auto-dimming
24 Mirror – rear view, auto-dimming
25 Parking Sensors front and rear
26 Power seats, 8+ position driver & passenger with 2+ memory settings
27 Power trunk/hatch/tailgage open and close
28 Power windows with one-touch up/down, all windows
29 Power folding rear seats (for SUVs)
30 Rain-sensing wipers
31 Rear HVAC vents
32 Seats, Power 8+ position, driver & passenger
33 Seats, 2+ memory settings
34 Seats with adjustable thigh support
35 Smart high-beam system
36 Spare tire – real, not run-flat tires
37 Split folding rear seats (if a coupe or sedan)
38 Sunroof, power open and close
39 Tilt/telescope steering wheel (power)
40 Universal garage door openers – HomeLink