AAA Announces Its Latest Top Picks for New Vehicle Technology

AAA released its biennial list of top picks for new vehicle technology. Developed by automotive experts at the nation's largest motor club, the list features a variety of interesting vehicle technologies intended to improve safety, increase performance and reduce the environmental impact of some of the newest models on the market.

"Every model year, automakers find new ways to employ technology in their vehicles to enhance the driving experience," said John Nielsen, AAA National Director of Auto Repair and Buying Services. "While many of the innovations continue to focus on safety and performance, we're also seeing more new technologies that address the environmental impact of the vehicles we drive, which is evident in this year's list."

AAA's experts warn not every new vehicle technology necessarily has a positive effect on function or safety. "Many technologies can distract drivers who end up multi-tasking behind the wheel, which takes their focus off the primary task at hand—safely driving their car," Nielsen said.

This year's top picks by AAA for new vehicle technology include:

All-Electric Vehicles – While many automakers have electric vehicles in the works, the Nissan Leaf is the first to market from a major car brand. With an estimated 100-mile range between charges, the Leaf is a viable option for many commuters. It drives nicely, has a well-designed interior, and calculated on a cents per mile basis, the electricity that powers it costs less than half as much as gasoline in fuel-efficient cars.

Plug-In Hybrids – These cars provide the benefits of an electric car, while maintaining the same driving range as conventional vehicles. Vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt and soon-to-arrive, plug-in Toyota Prius operate in all-electric mode for a limited local range, after which a downsized gasoline engine is used to either power the vehicle or recharge the battery while the car moves.  

Turbocharging and Supercharging These systems have long been associated with performance, but they also can produce enhanced fuel economy. Turbochargers and superchargers let automakers install smaller engines that burn less fuel during normal driving, yet offer the performance of a larger engine when acceleration is needed for passing or merging. Ford's EcoBoost engines are an example of this technology, which was recently introduced into its F-150 models, with other manufacturers moving to follow suit.

Inflatable Rear Seatbelts – Both Ford and Mercedes-Benz are working with this technology that promises to bring a large measure of the airbag protection afforded to front-seat occupants to those who are buckled up in the rear. In a crash, the seatbelts inflate, spreading the force of the impact over a larger area of the body, which reduces the likelihood of injuries.

Start-Stop Technology – Common in other parts of the world, but only in limited U.S. use, start-stop technology is making its mainstream debut in America via Mazda's i-stop feature. The technology shuts off the engine when the car is at a stop, and instantly restarts it when the driver takes his foot off the brake pedal. Common on gasoline-electric hybrids, more widespread application of the technology has the potential to save significant energy in non-hybrid vehicles, particularly in urban environments.

Variable Valve Timing – This feature was once limited to high-cost performance and luxury models, but is now available in nearly every price range of vehicle. Variable valve timing creates more engine power while delivering greater efficiency and lower emissions. The technology is now widespread in models from numerous automakers including Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and BMW.  

Enhanced Stability Control & Rollover Protection – Introduced in the 2011 Ford Explorer, curve control senses when a driver has entered a turn too quickly which can cause a crash, especially in SUVs, crossovers and pick-up trucks that have high centers of gravity. Curve control backs off the throttle and, if more assistance is needed, applies the brakes. Ford claims the system can reduce vehicle speed by 10 mph in just one second to help the driver maintain control in a curve.

Diesel Engines – While diesel engines have been around for decades, the days of smelly, noisy, smoke-belching and rough-running diesels are gone. Modern diesel engines are clean, quiet, refined and powerful. They also are economical, often providing a 30 percent boost in fuel economy with a corresponding decline in carbon dioxide emissions compared to gasoline engines offering comparable performance. Some top performers in this area include Volkswagen models with TDI diesel engines, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles with BlueTEC diesel power plants.

Alternator Recharging Programs – Some manufacturers, such as Toyota and BMW, limit the time the alternator recharges the battery to higher engine speeds and/or when the car is slowing down. The outcome for the driver is improved performance of engine while idling and better fuel economy.

AAA's top picks for new vehicle technology are selected by AAA Auto Buying experts who review hundreds of vehicles each year. The list takes into consideration not only the first appearance of a new technology in vehicles, but also its availability to U.S. motorists in popular mainstream vehicles.