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Saturday, 13 January 2018

12 SNAZZIEST CARS OF THE CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW (CES) 2018

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The Snazziest Cars of CES 2018
By Oliver Rist,
PCMag, 11 January 2018.

Automotive tech was a hot ticket during this year's CES. From new cars to augmented reality dashboards powered by artificial intelligence, it was all on display and we managed to get our grubby hands on most of it. Overall, the three most important trends in car tech at CES were autonomous driving, cars that connect to pretty much everything, and super-smart new dashboard and infotainment centers.

The Self-Driving Ride

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Autonomous vehicles were perhaps the loudest trend at automotive CES. Several makers, including Aptiv, Ford, Toyota, and more had prototype versions of autonomous vehicles on display or even available for demo rides in controlled environments. Nissan had its intelligent driver assist technology up and running in the 2018 Leaf and was providing test drives out to see the beauty of Red Rock Canyon and its indigenous rattle snake population.

Many other makers announced autonomous vehicle projects either from their own R&D departments or in conjunction with third-party vehicle operating system makers, like Intel's Mobileye and Nvidia; these include BMW, Fiat-Chrysler, Honda, NIO, and SAIC among at least 10 others.

Overall, while none of the implementations the PCMag crew saw or test drove were 100 percent flawless, we're still hugely impressed by how far autonomous vehicles have come since just last year's show. Innovative work on intelligent sensors is being combined with some real out-of-the-car thinking on dashboards and user interface design. The blocker, however, remains mobile bandwidth.

Autonomous cars are by definition connected cars and the amount of data that needs to be moving between an autonomous car and its immediate environment, its maker's data and control centers, as well as its driver's control and infotainment resources is, in a word, huge. Not only that, many of these data transfers need to happen with little or no latency, something that's beyond today's 4G LTE networks. Car makers are pinning their hopes to future 5G mobile networks as well as proprietary wireless solutions that have yet to see the light of day. However, as cool as all these cars are, the overall message is clear: Without a very fast, near-zero latency mobile data network to connect them to the world, autonomous and connected cars will remain at the concept stage.

The Ultra-Connected Car

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Very much related to the autonomous vehicle trend is the connected car. Sure, we've been seeing our rides get more and more connected and even dependent on the interwebs for the past half-decade or so, but what car makers are talking about now, most notably Ford, is a significant step up from where we are today.

Ford was demoing vehicles sporting what's already considered "typical" connected feature fare, including hyper-accurate location information, remote locking and starting, and Wi-Fi hotspot capability. More importantly, though, the company also announced what its CEO, Jim Hackett, called during his keynote, "cellular vehicle-to-everything" technology, which Ford PR wants us to call C-V2X.

Whatever you call it, this new data network focus intends to establish faster communication with other vehicles as well as smart city infrastructure, especially road-related stuff like traffic lights, smart signs, and more. Ford even claims this technology would have the ability to communicate over short distances without requiring cell connectivity, which means it'd be able to "see" around blind corners and do a better job of responding to varying weather conditions.

Ford didn't offer too much in the way of technical detail on this new system, other than to say it was being built around special chipsets. While that could certainly have a positive effect on implementing a new kind of car data network, the overall project is still going to be dependent on a very fast cellular data network as the bedrock piping infrastructure. That means Ford, like all the other connected car makers at CES, is banking heavily on 5G mobile networks rolling out sooner rather than later.

Artificial Brains for Infotainment

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Some of the most talked about developments at the show concerned car makers using artificial intelligence to power new dashboards and infotainment systems. The big names here were Hyundai and Mercedes, each with a different take on how drivers will control the vehicle of the future. Hyundai took the wrapper off its Intelligent Personal Cockpit, which amounts to a new kind of dashboard that uses AI to dynamically display information and telematics to the drive as well as manage voice recognition and a system that'll keep track of the driver's vital signs in case of emergency.

Mercedes called its smart cockpit the MBUX, which stands for Mercedes-Benz User Experience. A little more visual than Hyundai's solution, the MBUX was shown during a presentation to have three-dimensional digital displays and also respond to voice control and a touch screen. The system would add new features via over-the-air updates. The whole thing is nicely designed with minimalist displays that Mercedes hopes will make it easier on drivers to understand their vehicle's inner workings - something the company's cars are definitely not known for today.

Other intelligent cockpit concepts were on display from many third-party makers, including Denso and Pioneer, but most are still in the early stages of concept design. Both Hyundai and Mercedes hope to have their implementations in the real world in the next year or two.

So overall, there was gobs of new car tech glittering the halls of CES 2018. After trudging through this techno maze for several days, here's a sampling of the sexiest vehicles - concept or production - to catch PCMag's eye.

1. Mercedes AMG Project ONE Hypercar

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With the AMG Project ONE, Mercedes has taken a Formula 1 car design and married it to a 1.6-liter V-6 engine and electric motor, which is the same power architecture the company uses in some of its race team vehicles.

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According to Mercedes, not only is the Project ONE fuel efficient, but it'll rev to over 10,000 RPM on the street. The company has also done serious work enhancing the basic racing powertrain to include all-wheel drive and an extended battery capacity. Price? No word yet, but if you have to ask…

2. Mercedes Concept EQA

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While still a concept car, the Concept EQA is designed with not only cutting-edge tech but with Mercedes' current body lines in mind. That means versions of this car should hit the street within the next two years, sporting Mercedes' 200kW electric drivetrain as well as the company's MBUX advanced cockpit technologies.

3. Fisker Emotion

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Though it didn't have a booth at the show, Fisker nevertheless used CES 2018 to officially launch its awesome-looking Emotion. This all-electric car not only sports a claimed 400-mile range, but Fisker also says it'll only require a 9-minute charge time. All that and looks, too. Oh, and let's not forget a roughly US$130,000 price tag.

4. Aptiv and Lyft Autonomous Taxi


At CES, PCMag Editor in Chief Dan Costa took a test ride in this driverless taxi, and witnessed some really slick solo-maneuvering capability on the Las Vegas Strip. A human driver is still necessary as backup until the laws catch up.

5. Kia Niro

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This version of Kia's existing Niro line is still just an EV concept car, but the body looks great, and Kia says its all-electric advanced battery powertrain should be cruising our streets by 2020 at the latest.

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With a claimed 370-mile range, the Kia Niro car could give serious ups to folks who are tired of dropping their hard-earned dollars down the gas tank but don't want to trade their SUVness in for a golf cart.

6. Byton SIV

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I'm not sure how I feel about Byton classifying its car as a Smart Intuitive Vehicle (SIV), but it sure is a pretty SUV to look at. It'll also sport a bundle of cutting-edge tech, including all-electric powertrain options in two- or four-wheel drive configurations and a range between 250-300 miles.

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There's also autonomous driver assist capability and a really sexy, digital cockpit that gives even the Mercedes MBUX a run for its money. All that and Byton claims it'll start at US$45,000, though we still won't see one in the US until 2020.

7. Toyota E-Palette

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Looking like a high-tech mini-bus, Toyota's E-Palette is a concept car designed to showcase the capabilities of Toyota's new Mobility Services Platform (MSPF). Basically, this is a connected car architecture platform Toyota is using to attract partners like Amazon, Didi, Pizza Hut, and Uber, and it'll be these folks that design different applications of the E-Palette to handle chores like making deliveries and running guests between a hotel and the airport.

8. Nissan Leaf

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We test drove this one and found it not only good looking, but also all-electric, equipped with ProPilot Assist and e-Pedal semi-autonomous driving tech, and able to go up to 150 miles without recharging. And something that really sets this one apart: It's actually shipping in 2018 at about US$37,000 well-equipped and that's before the US$7,500 tax credit for being a zero-emissions vehicle.

9. Electra Meccanica Solo

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Billed as "the smartest commuter car on the planet," the Solo is a single-passenger vehicle designed to get you to and from work with minimum fuss and zero gas consumption. A 16.1kW/h battery will take this thing to just under 100 miles at a top speed of up to 80mph. At just under US$20,000 this puppy doesn't have any of the smart, connected car goodies we saw elsewhere at the show; but it's definitely eye-catching will certainly save you fuel dollars.

10. 2018 Jeep Wrangler

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Another CES standout that's also shipping in the coming year is Jeep's 2018 Wrangler. The new Wrangler sports a multitude of updates; including UConnect that now handles Android and Apple pairings; remote accessibility to locks, lights, and the start button using Jeep's hardware or a new Jeep Alexa Skill; and also a Drive 'n Save feature that monitors your driving behavior and then informs your insurance company what a good boy you've been. Plus a new and updated interior and even an iOS Jeep Adventure Reality lets you configure your dream Wrangler and actually see it in your driveway using augmented reality.

11. Genovation GXE

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The GXE is an "all-electric supercar" from Maryland-based Genovation that promises more than 800 horsepower and more than 700 lb.-ft. of torque. For now, Genovation is only making 75 GXEs, which should be delivered this year.

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Inside is an LED touch screen and a custom ultra high-fidelity Harman audio system.

12. smart vision EQ fortwo

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In the future, nothing in capitalized, and we zip around in minimalist pods. This electric smart car from the Daimler Group was unveiled at last year's Frankfurt Auto Show, but got its US debut at CES this week. The idea is that these driverless vehicles, as part of Daimler subsidiary car2go's fleet, would pick up passengers and shuttle them around urban areas. That panel on the front, which reads "On my way" could be customized to display a name, a destination, or a code word so you'd know it's your ride.

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Inside, the dashboard features a 24-inch screen surrounded by two 4-inch displays, which can relay messages.

Best of CES 2018

Wondering what else you missed out on at CES? Check out PCMag's roundup of the Best Tech at CES, as well as our CES 2018 Photo Gallery.

Top image: Mercedes AMG Project ONE. Credit: Mercedes-Benz.

[Source: PCMag. Top image and some links added.]

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