I’m not a fan of winter. The cold, ice and salt on the roads forces all those really nice sports cars to hibernate in their garages until spring. But once the calendar turns to April, the car show season begins, and my mood improves significantly.
For me, the official start of the season has always been a trip to the New York International Auto Show, and I’ve been attending since I was 14; that would be the year 1999. While attending the show this year, I found myself reminiscing about the cars in that very same building from 20 years ago.
In 1999, cars had no screens in them, let alone the multitude of displays in some of today’s higher-end vehicles. There were also no cameras on the outside, or keyless ignitions (turning a key now feels very alien to me on the rare occasion I do it). Mirrors didn’t dim automatically, headlights used conventional light bulbs as oppose to LEDs, and a wheel larger than 17 inches in diameter was considered aggressive.
Sounds like a lot of progress has been made, and it has. But is the automobile better because of all these enhancements? Any performance driving school will teach you about the importance of maintaining SA – Situational Awareness, while behind the wheel. But in modern vehicles, everything is vying for your attention; the music is on, the GPS says there is a turn ahead, and a text message just came in and your car is asking if you want it read out loud to you. All while you pilot a steel cage down a highway at 60 miles an hour.
Still, modern safety standards are better than ever, and many of these tech features are compelling. Once you have a car with one, the convenience of it means you probably won’t make do without it in the future. And when you buy your next vehicle, you’ll judge it not just on its ride and handling, but how fast its interface is and how well your Bluetooth phone connects to the stereo.
So has real progress been made on the New York Auto Show floor? Yes, and I can think of no better demonstration than my first car; a bright red, chrome-rimmed 1997 Mitsubishi 3000GT. I loved that thing, but its safety suite consisted of seat belts, one steering wheel-mounted air bag, and a guardian angel medallion. One can only image what innovations will be on the Auto Show floor by the time my infant daughter is ready to drive.