The 10 most important automotive technologies of the year
Tires that crush ice, a shape-shifting supercar, back-seat surveillance, and more.
This article is a segment of 2017’s Best of What’s New list. For the complete tabulation of the year’s most transformative products and discoveries, head right this way.
Sometimes the rubber wants to meet the road, and the road is like “nope”—because the pavement is covered in ice. That’s why this winter tire digs in with two different types of steel studs. The middle ones are triangular, with a beveled edge that increases grip during acceleration and braking. The shoulder-mounted spikes are Y-shaped; their increased surface area grabs slippery asphalt expertly in corners.
CabinWatch backseat surveillance
Is little Janey asleep? Does Baby Alfred need more Cheerios to dump all over the floor? These are questions parents could answer without risking wrecks thanks to a new interior camera system available on Honda’s Odyssey minivan. A ceiling-mounted wide-angle lens beams the backseat action to the front’s touchscreen. Grownups can even zoom in on any of the five seats if they suspect an occupant of being a real jerk.
2018 Ford GT
The paradox of speed: Your machine should grab the pavement in turns but slice through the air on the straights. To answer these competing needs, the Ford GT changes shape. A cam inside its rear wing can rotate, fattening the spoiler’s profile for more aerodynamic grip. When going for max miles per hour, the wing retracts and the cam rotates again so it doesn’t stop the air slipping by at up to 216 miles per hour.
SRT power chiller
It’s not the gas but the oxygen that goes boom in your engine; stuff more air into your cylinders, get more power. To achieve the SRT Demon’s crazy acceleration, Dodge’s necromancers of speed flow the breeze over what is essentially an air-conditioning compressor before the supercharger crams the air into its V-8. Colder air holds more oxygen, creating a bigger boom and, eventually, 840 glorious hell ponies.
A8 active suspension
Audi’s new flagship sedan can brace for impact. When some yahoo is about to plow into its side, sensors pick up the impending crunch and raise an alert. Then, electric motors attached to the suspension lift the crashward side, directing the force of the collision at the car’s doors and floor—the body’s strongest parts.
Other factory off-piste pickups are huge, but you can park the ZR2 in a regular garage. Engineers tested it on nine of the roughest courses in the country, including the boulder hell known as the Rubicon. The truck owned. How? A custom suspension, with F1 origins, utilizes three sets of valves: Two make the shocks perform better when the truck tackles rough terrain; the other softens ’em up for smooth roads.
One problem with a motorcycle’s dashboard: You have to look down to see it—a bad idea when you’re hurtling across the countryside on two wheels. Nuviz brings the dials and screens to eye level. The helmet-mounted device’s head-up display projects an image on your eye shield of your speed, a map, and even turn-by-turn directions. It also has an action cam that’ll capture stills and videos from your ride. $699.
Distracted driving killed 3,477 people in 2015; Apple’s new mobile OS will try to keep road warriors focused. If you turn it on, Do Not Disturb While Driving will detect that your phone is in a moving car—either because it’s connected to the vehicle, or by tracking nearby Wi-Fi waves as you cruise. The screen stays black, notifications go quiet, and anyone hitting you up gets an auto response. (Get it?)
Skyactiv-X: A gas engine that can act like a diesel
Diesel engines squeeze the air and fuel in their cylinders until pressure makes the pair combust on its own; gas mills, meanwhile, fire spark plugs to create those torque-birthing explosions. This system, set to debut on the 2019 Mazda 3, blends the two, and gets up to 30 percent more MPG. It keeps the air-fuel ratio light on the petrol so it won’t self-ignite, but, in certain situations, it’ll squirt a skosh of extra fuel into the chamber and set it ablaze with the spark plug. That flame raises the pressure in the cylinder so the main supply of air and fuel more efficiently burns itself up.
Grand Award Winner: Redshift MX
Derek Dorresteyn and Jeff Sand didn’t found Alta Motors to create a green dirt bike. They set out to make a fast one: a race bike. Building a race engine is a pain. You often have to take it apart multiple times to dial in maximum speed. Because Alta opted for an electric motor instead of the usual petrol-fueled symphony of whizzing metal, engineers could tune for top performance with software—lines of code instead of elbow grease. This moto doesn’t even need an oil change after a race. But that motor, which puts out 40 horsepower and 120 foot-pounds of torque, is only the first lap of innovation on the Redshift.
The bike’s frame is a work of industrial art: Coolant flows through channels cast into the metal instead of clamped-on hoses. The 350-volt battery pack, which nets about 40 minutes of racing (or two-plus hours on the trails), boasts a honeycomb construction that helps it take shocks of up to 50 G’s. That’s way beyond what you can survive; anything more is literally overkill.
Best of What’s New was originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of Popular Science.