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Sunday, April 8, 2012

New Car Drifts


Automakers have been bringing in their hottest models, along with some pie-in-the-sky ideas for the next few years, at spring auto shows. If you're in the market for a new car, there are a number of trends that might end up driving your choice. Kelli Grant, Senior Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com discusses what to look for.

A number of automakers included smart dashboards in their latest models. Lexus has one that syncs with apps on your Smartphone to get directions, make dinner reservations or check in on Facebook. Cadillac has four different instrument panel displays, depending on their level of tech comfort. Look for features like voice commands to limit driver distraction. Make sure to play with the systems at the dealership, too, to ensure they're not too complicated or too high-tech.

Plug-in electrics were everywhere on show floors this year, with most major manufacturers offering them in upcoming models or exploring the technology through a concept car. Buying an electric still has some hurdles, however. Even with federal tax credits available, most are still priced out of range for the average driver. Long charging times, short driving ranges and few public charging stations can also make it difficult for drivers who want to hit the open road. Luckily, some electrics also include a gas engine for backup.

More small cars and entry-level models are coming with bells and whistles like heated seats, custom upholstery and even those high-tech infotainment systems. The bottom line is, it's possible to have a really nice car for less than $20,000, and it's worth doing an in-depth comparison on budget models. Just check the comfort level on a test drive. Compacts are getting smaller. The new Scion IQ claims to be the world's smallest four-seater, and it's definitely a tight fit for four.

More cars include advanced safety technologies, including cameras that show drivers what's in their blind spots and sensors that trigger a combination of noises, lights and seat vibrations when one drifts out of a lane. Mercedes-Benz introduced a 360-degree camera for driver monitoring, and Honda has a new feature that uses camera to monitor blind spots. But shoppers are still likely to find such features cost extra and are more readily available in higher-end models and brands.

With auto sales up and supply limited, automakers haven't had to offer big cash rebates like in previous years. Drivers may see a few more sales on the outgoing models this summer, but not by much. Your best bet is to compare prices online at a site like Edmunds.com or TrueCar.com to get a good price from the dealership, and then look for inexpensive financing options. Analysts say it's still possible to get 0% deals.

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