Cars are safer, more comfortable, and increasingly connected than ever before. However, not all these bells and whistles are necessities and some certainly work better than others. Since we test most of the vehicles on the market, we've come up with a wish list of some features we'd like to see in every car.
Our team buys and evaluates about 80 cars a year. During that time, we live with the cars day-to-day--just like you do--and we quickly see which features are worth their weight in gold. In surveying the staff, we have collected a list of the car features that we wouldn't want to live without. You might want to consider these must-have features, as well, next time you're in the market.
- Bluetooth. While we have concerns for potential behind-the-wheel distractions, Bluetooth connectivity is useful to have to take a quick call easily or integrate other phone features into the car, such as Internet radio or navigation.
- Blind-spot monitor. Those small little lights in the side-view mirror act like an extra pair of eyes to warn the driver that there is a car in a blind spot. While not a substitute for you properly using your mirrors and looking through the windows, these electronic monitors can be a welcomed safety aid.
- Backup camera. Fortunately, backup cameras are increasingly becoming standard equipment, even though a government mandate has been stalled. These cameras are especially helpful if you drive a larger car like an SUV or models with swoopy styling, such as those with a lower roofline and small rear windows where visibility is greatly reduced. They can aid in backing out of or into a driveway or parking space, and the view can be especially handy for mounting a trailer. Plus, they can be a true lifesaver by reducing back-over accidents, which kill about 50 children each year.
- Automatic headlights. Have you ever forgot to shut your car lights off and came back to a dead battery? With automatic headlights, you never need to even think about that again. Once you set the light switch, they switch on and off automatically when needed based on light conditions. It may seem like a minor feature, but this is handy when traveling through tunnels, shaded roads, driving at dusk, and ensuring that daytime running lights aren't mistakenly used in place of headlights (and all the related lights that they trigger).
- Adjustable front seats/lumbar support (memory seats). With longer commutes and more time spent in vehicles, adjustable driver and passenger seats help you to stay comfortable behind the wheel. Even better are memory seats that save your preferences, making it more convenient when sharing a vehicle or trading off driving duties.
- Heated seats. In cold temperatures, heated seats are a welcomed treat, and some would say a near-necessity with leather upholstery. A heated seat warms you up directly, so you don't need to blast the car's heating so high. Most seat heaters come with variable settings, so you can choose low or high intensity depending on how toasty you want to be. In any climate, heated seats can also comfort a sore back.
- Auto door unlock. No more fumbling for keys. If the car key is in your pocket or purse, the door will unlock automatically when you pull the handle. This is a great convenience when you're arms are loaded with parcels.
- Auto trunk release. Especially valued in winter, or when carrying groceries, a true trunk release will unlock the deck lid with a push of the button and swing open the trunk, rather than have you search the grubby lid for a release handle. Some SUVs and minivans offer a power liftgate that can raise and lower the rear hatch with the push of a button. The Ford C-Max and Escape offer a hands-free version that will open the liftgate when you pass your foot under the rear bumper.
- Trip computer with fuel mileage and range. With today's variable gas prices, it's nice to know how much gas you are using and how many miles you can go before your next fill-up. You can also monitor your mileage and adjust your driving accordingly to achieve the best fuel economy in your vehicle.
- Real knobs and buttons. With today's new in-car infotainment systems, everyday tasks are becoming much more complicated and distracting. We prefer buttons and simple rotary knobs for common radio and climate controls, so you can minimize the time when your eyes are off the road to change the station or temperature. Steering wheel controls are also a boon and can reduce distraction from these systems, as well.
Other features that didn't quite make the cut (but we still like) include auto-dimming high beams, USB port, heated steering wheel, remote start, self-dimming rear-view mirror, and a full-sized spare tire.
What features will you look for in your next car?
More from Consumer Reports:
2013 New Car Preview
Best & worst used cars
Complete Ratings for 200 cars and trucks
Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.