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High end auto features move to mainstream

The 2013 Ford Fusion offers both a lane-centering system to keep it in a lane and a lane-keeping system that warns if the vehicle starts to swerve out of its lane.

Ford/MCT

The 2013 Ford Fusion offers both a lane-centering system to keep it in a lane and a lane-keeping system that warns if the vehicle starts to swerve out of its lane.

DETROIT — Cameras that check around the car for pedestrians. Radar that stops you from drifting out of your lane. An engine able to turn off automatically at traffic lights to conserve fuel. • Technology that saves lives — and fuel — is getting better and cheaper. That means it's no longer confined to luxury brands like Mercedes and Volvo. It's showing up in mainstream vehicles. • "What we see today as slightly elitist technology is changing very, very fast," said Steven Lunn, chief operating officer for TRW Automotive, which supplies electronics and other parts to carmakers. • Here are some up-and-coming features that drivers can expect on their next cars:

Collision warning with automatic braking: New cars have radar and camera systems that warn you, with beeping sounds, of a possible front-end crash. Some even stop the vehicle, or at least slow it enough to make a crash less severe. More sophisticated systems apply the brakes if a car veers off the road and heads toward a moving or fixed object.

Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Infiniti, Volvo and other brands offer automatic braking to avoid a collision; more automakers will follow soon.

Advanced cameras: Automotive cameras are showing up on more cars ahead of a government requirement to install backup cameras, which is expected by 2015. But with cameras getting smaller and cheaper, automakers aren't just putting them on the back of the car anymore. Honda has side cameras that come on automatically when a turn signal is employed, so drivers can spot obstacles while turning. Nissan's around-view monitor blends images from four cameras tucked in the mirrors and elsewhere around the car into a composite, bird's-eye view to help the driver back out of a parking spot. Volvo and Subaru have front-mounted cameras that can apply brakes to avoid hitting pedestrians.

Lane Centering: A camera can follow the road and gently nudge a car — using the brakes — to stay in the center of a lane. These systems, dubbed Lane Keep Assist, are available on most Mercedes-Benz vehicles as well as the Ford Fusion, Ford Explorer, Toyota Prius, Lexus GS and Lincoln MKZ. They aren't cheap. A combined lane-keeping and lane-centering system is a $1,200 option on the Fusion SE. Lane-centering is an outgrowth of lane-keeping systems, which first appeared on commercial trucks a decade ago. Those systems sound a beep or vibrate the driver's seat if a camera senses that a car is swerving out of its lane.

Adaptive headlights: Audi, Mercedes, Acura, Mazda and others have so-called adaptive headlights that swivel in the direction the car is going to help drivers see around corners as they turn. And many cars now have high-beam lights that sense oncoming traffic and dim automatically. The Ford Fusion and other mainstream cars have them.

Stop-start: By 2025, new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. will have to average 54.5 miles per gallon of gasoline, up from the current 30.8 mpg. One feature will almost be a must-have: A "stop-start" device that shuts off the engine at a stoplight and automatically turns it on when the driver releases the brake.

Alex Molinaroli, a vice president with Johnson Controls Inc., which makes batteries that power the systems, estimates they raise gas mileage by a minimum of 5 percent.

High end auto features move to mainstream 07/06/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 5, 2013 6:09pm]
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