How modern cars are increasingly resembling smartphones on wheels
ENGINES, power, style, comfort remain the bulwarks of motoring but they are increasingly being overshadowed by how well 'connected' a car is.
Indeed carmakers are emphasising the interplay between driver/passenger and the digital world to such an extent they could be accused of nearly glossing over the more traditional elements of a new car.
I have had the experience of being 'connected' and there is no doubt it puts the world at your fingertips as you drive. On one experiment in a BMW, we got directions to the nearest tennis club. Ford's SYNC system is now the talk of the town at launches of its cars. They keep adding more and more bits to it.
In other words, new models would have the system built into the dashboard, allowing users to listen to music, open apps and use Google Maps in the car. That's not a big deal any more.
That won't stop a lot of hoohaa if, as reported, the new 'deal' is unveiled at next week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The strange thing is that progress has been so rapid in this whole area that much of what was almost unbelievable is now taken for granted.
People talking to cars, and telling them what to do, used to be cutting-edge stuff, the vision of a future that seemed so far away.
Now cars 'talk' to each other out on the road as the day nears when they will drive themselves. We've had several instances of it over the past year in particular. The Mercedes S-Class can drive itself at 60kph in heavy traffic. Google has cars with mega-miles up driving themselves in the US.
But 'connectivity' remains the new marketing tool. The possibilities seem endless. It is to today's cars what standard airbags were to the Ford Mondeo in the 1990s.
Nearly anything is possible. The only danger is the risk of distraction. It can be disorienting to be confronted with an army of buttons. We have been warned by experts that there is a real danger of accidents in that.
Increasingly carmakers are turning to one central control button as a sort of gateway to the myriad applications that lie in wait behind it.
In many ways the challenge now is to funnel all that can be done through a simple, intuitive channel that leaves the driver in total control and concentrating on just one thing -- driving.
That is the ultimate connectivity and can never be undermined by the advances in technology that place so much information and choice at our disposal while we hurtle along at 120kph.