Aren’t radiators brilliant? Central heating is one of the finest inventions mankind has ever crafted. Without it we’d still be living in houses with three-feet-thick stone walls and windows the size of postage stamps to have any hope of managing seasonal temperature change. Inspired by some of the similarly fantastic tech on our long-term BMW 840d Gran Coupe test car, my imagination took a stroll.
As any self-respecting northern or central European knows, one of the best feelings in the colder months is slipping into pyjamas or a dressing gown that have just come off a hot radiator or towel warmer. Destination comfort, buddy, and you’ve been upgraded to first class. As each toasty fabric tunnel lovingly embraces one of your cold thighs, there’s a heady rush of endorphins. What a feeling. Now we’re comfy, let’s begin.
Central heating provides the inspiration for preconditioning. You want your house to be warm when you step through the doorway, don’t you? Likewise, how much do you enjoy wrenching a frigid door handle like your life depends on it just to pull it away from the seal it’s frozen to, before sitting down on an Arctic-spec seat and grasping a steering wheel that may as well have icicles? Not very much, if you’re anything like us. We’d be happy to see the back of that, however rarely it gets that bad in most of the UK.
Preconditioning is the answer; the ray of sunshine piercing the wintry gloom and warming your extremities courtesy of systems that pre-heat the car interior for a set time. On the 840d’s clever (if gargantuan) Display Key you can activate heaters powered by an independent high-voltage circuit that doesn’t involve starting the engine, warming the car’s interior to around 15 degrees Celsius before the ventilation fans take over and continue the process. Jaguar has a similar system available to buyers, and pretty much all electric cars can do it too.
Although not strictly a 21st century innovation, having been pioneered by Rolls-Royce in 1969, the heated windscreen has only really become common since the Millennium. Not common enough, though. This white knight of those frosty mornings when you’re already five minutes late uses either thin metal wires zig-zagged through the layers of windscreen glass, or a much more modern wire-free system like that from Volkswagen, which features an impossibly thin layer of heat-conducting silver and doesn’t affect visibility at all.
Flick the switch and in seconds your screen’s frigid coating melts into a smattering of water, easily swished away by rapidly softening wiper blades. All cars need this. Moving back to a car without one in a country that has sub-zero winter temperatures is like taking tea with Neanderthal man.
Here’s another cherry on the 2020 tech cake that’s so easy to take for granted. Simply drop your phone into the allotted tray and it charges. No need to plug it in or have cables trailing around the cabin. It makes you wonder why the hell it was ever any other way. Of course, it’s still technically less efficient than cables and we’re all supposed to be reducing our energy waste, but we think we can let this one slide.
The industry has thankfully moved towards a single tech standard; Qi, so we now find that most wireless charging-compatible phones work with most suitably-equipped cars, regardless of brand or the shape of their charging port. Smartphones are the ultimate personal assistant and wireless charging is the ultimate backup for them. I wish they’d hurry up and strap it into all cars, along with appropriate safety gizmos to reduce the temptation to mess with the handset while driving.
Sat-nav is useful; no one with an ounce of sanity would argue with that. So is a head-up display. Combining the two, or better yet projecting it straight onto the windscreen in such a way as to blend coloured highlights and pointers with the road as your own eyes see it, is set to be a master-stroke of cutting-edge tech.
If it works as it should, drivers should be able to look through their windscreens and see helpful hints on how to stay safe, like pointing out an excessive closing speed to the car in front or highlighting the car to which the adaptive cruise system is locked. Some of the things it can do are things you could argue should be covered by any attentive driver, but lane guidance, overlaid directions and trip computer details are all useful things that we’d love to have the option to project in front of us.
This one comes with a caveat. I don’t actually like four-wheel steering when it comes to cornering on faster, more winding roads. It can make the car feel a bit weird when all four wheels turn in the same direction around a fast bend. It’s… unnatural. On the other hand, being able to park a German saloon the size of Long Island into roadside spaces normally best saved for things smaller than a Cosy Coupe is awesome. If you never stray out of the city limits, manoeuvrability is the new speed.
Imagine a Golf GTI that could turn like a London taxi, a 5-series that navigated multi-storey car parks with the flighty ease of a moped or a Jaguar F-Type that was as easy to park as a Toyota iQ. This is the kind of thing we should be funding! What else do you love when it comes to modern tech? Let us know your favourites – or any that really get on your nerves – below.