5. No More Blind Spots
Both Audi and Volvo have introduced blind spot warning systems that help to prevent lane-change accidents. Audi's side assist feature on the Q7 uses two radar sensors in the vehicle's rear bumper: the sensors monitor vehicles within sixteen feet of blind spots to the sides and back of the vehicle.
If another car moves into this area, yellow LEDs in the sideview mirror illuminate. If despite this, the driver signals to change lanes, the LEDs become brighter and start to flash.
6. Clean diesel
Clean diesel isn't a new concept in Europe, but it is in the United States, following federal legislation mandating its availability beginning in the fall of 2007. The reduced sulphur diesel produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions that gasoline, and offers a twenty-five to thirty percent increase in overall fuel economy.
Diesel cars got a bad rep in the States during the 1970s and 80s, due to products that performed poorly and had poor service records. New high-pressure diesel systems have similar throttle response to gasoline engines, and lack the annoying diesel tick that characterized the earlier models.
Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Audi all offer clean diesel versions of their popular gasoline models for sale in the states. The Mercedes-Benz ML 320CDI with its BlueTec diesel engine was a finalist in our 2009 Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year green car competition. The M-Class might have won, were it not for another clean diesel product that took the honor: the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen.
7. Evolved Hybrids
With the first generation of gasoline/electric cars behind them, automakers are introducing new models that are more affordable, have better batteries, and can run further on pure electric power.
When Honda introduces the second-generation Insight next spring, it will make hybrid technology affordable to the budget-conscious buyer. While Honda hasn't yet announced pricing, spokespersons promise that the five-passenger Insight will be its least expensive hybrid.
An eco drive assist feature allows the driver to modify engine, transmission and air conditioning controls to improve gas mileage. It also schools the driver on fuel-saving habits. A colored background behind the speedometer turns green when the driver is saving fuel, and blue when he is driving too aggressively.
The two-mode hybrid technology developed by General Motors, Chrysler and BMW gives big trucks the same fuel economy as small sedans in city driving. The system, that debuted on the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, runs on pure electric power at very low speeds.
At speeds over 25 miles-per-hour, electric motors allow the truck's V8 gas engine to run on four cylinders for extended periods of time. The Tahoe Hybrid has an EPA rating of 21 miles-per-gallon in city driving: a fifty percent increase over the gas-powered model.
The 2010 Chevrolet Volt that goes on sale next fall is an extended-range electric car that runs up to forty miles on pure electric power. After that, a gas-powered generator recharges the lithium-ion battery pack on the go, giving the Volt a range of up to four hundred miles between fill-ups.
8. Plug-in Mini
The Mini E that debuted at the 2008 LA Auto Show has a range of up to 156 miles, and relatively short recharge time: about two hours.
Power comes from a lightweight lithium-ion battery pack. The Mini E accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in 8.5 seconds.
Mini will deliver the first 500 Mini E cars to customers in New York and Los Angeles, beginning in December. For information, log onto www.miniusa.com.