Read sales brochures for new cars and you'll quickly reach tech overload. The level of gadgetry packed into vehicles these days is stunning, if not overwhelming. From lithium-ion batteries to voice-activated navigation to HDMI video inputs, the specs on many modern automobiles can read more like high-end electronics than anything you might commute in.
Some of the stuff is really cool and gets a lot of attention, like gee-whiz infotainment systems and the nannies that keep you from wandering into another lane or running down some hapless pedestrian.
But cars are loaded with subtler technologies that quietly go about their jobs without drawing attention. In fact, there's a good chance that you don't even know your car's got some of this hidden tech giving you more power, better fuel economy or a more comfortable slog through your commute.
It's surprising that in many cases the underlying technology has been around for years, waiting for modern manufacturing, materials or computer controls to fulfill their promise. Some upgrades are making their way from high-end luxury cars to the masses. And some take existing technology and give it an unexpected twist for a surprising result.
Here are 10 examples that make life behind the wheel just a bit safer, more convenient or more efficient.
It used to be that choosing an engine was easy. You could have powerful engine with lousy fuel economy or a wheezer with fantastic fuel economy. It's always been a lousy choice, but its even more so as consumers demand more oomph and the government demands more efficiency.
Direct injection gives you better power and better fuel economy at the same time.
This twist on fuel injection squirts fuel directly into the combustion chamber instead of the intake manifold. This allows the engine computer to deliver exactly the right amount of fuel into the chamber, rather than guessing how much will make it past the intake valves. The result is less wasted fuel, and since the injector can “swirl” the fuel mist perfectly, it's optimized to burn in the best possible way for more power and torque.
Direct injection was used in fighter planes during World War II, and the awesome Mercedes-Benz 300 SL used it in the 1950s. But it didn't really take off in the auto biz until 2000 or so, and it has grown increasingly popular as automakers try to meet tightening fuel economy and emissions regulations.
Photo: John Baisden assembles an engine at Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1, which cranks out the company's turbocharged direct-injected EcoBoost engines./Ford
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