The greatest auto innovations of 2018

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Few innovations thrill us more than the ones we drive. When you consider an electric supercar that snaps back your head with acceleration or a set of tungsten-coated brakes that’ll have you straining against your seatbelt faster than you can say “internal combustion engine,” it’s easy to conclude 2018 was a heckuva year for road-going brilliance.

I-Pace by Jaguar

Grand Award Winner

The first truly off-roadable electric vehicle
Jaguar’s I-Pace is an astonishing ride: It’ll rocket you to 60 mph in 4.5 silent seconds thanks to its 394 horsepower and 512 pound-feet of torque, delivered through electric motors mounted on each axle. But this machine truly shines away from the pavement: It’ll scamper gamely over rocks with its all-wheel-drive traction system (which senses both what it’s driving over and how much traction that surface affords), ford water 19.7 inches deep without damaging its 90-kilowatt-hour battery, and climb and descend steep slopes. Its electrified version of off-road cruise-control allows the car to manage both throttle and braking through snow, mud, or sand, up or down slopes, and at speeds between 2 and 18 mph. Instead of worrying about what gear you should be in and how much power to apply, the driver just needs to focus on steering and enjoying the ride. With high-speed charging—reaching 80 percent capacity in 40 minutes via a 100-kilowatt direct-current fast charger—it’s truly one of the most evolved and capable electric vehicles to arrive. It starts at $69,500.

The fastest electric car
There’s not a single figure associated with this car that isn’t awesome: 1,914 horsepower, 258 mph, 1.9 seconds to 60 mph, 1,700 pound-feet of torque. The fact that all of this comes via four zero-emission electric motors—one at each wheel—seems almost an afterthought. While eco-conscious hypercar enthusiasts rave about green bona fides, performance junkies can ponder the experience of the car’s speed and handling, delivered through an all-wheel-drive system that lets you select how much power you want at either end of the car. Dial it all toward the back for maximum adventure through the turns, or keep a healthy dose flowing to the front tires for more grip. Though very much a driver’s car, this wicked-looking auto is also a docile touring machine when needed, with roomy luggage capacity, a comfy ride, and semi-autonomous capability to help you relax between Alpine bombing runs. It’ll cost you about $2,000,000.

The third generation RDX is the quickest, best-handling RDX ever, with top- class cabin and cargo space, and a host of groundbreaking new Acura technologies.

Alexa, take a ride with me
Amazon’s smart speaker hits the road. Plop this flat, $50 rectangle on your dash, and its eight microphones will pick out your voice over music and road noise when you ask for news, music, directions, what’s next on your calendar, or any of Alexa’s other 50,000 tricks (and counting). The coolest part, though, is its ability to perform location-specific actions. The device can execute commands automatically as you reach a particular place. Get it to play “The Imperial March”—you know, Darth Vader’s theme—when you pull into the parking lot at work.

nfotainment control that finally makes sense
Using touchpads to control audio and navigation in cars is never easy—you can spend more time hunting for the cursor than you do cueing up the next track. This is all, of course, while reaching uncomfortably and staring at the screen rather than the road. Acura’s solution: “absolute positioning.” When you touch the pad, the corresponding area of the dash-mounted screen activates. So you simply tap the pad as though you’re tapping straight onto a twin of the display, one that happens to be conveniently located on the center console instead of under your windshield. You can even use it with gloves on.

Acura

E-Tron Virtual Mirrors by Audi

A new way to look back
Despite U.S. regulators’ reluctance to approve digital side mirrors, this $75,000 Audi is plowing forward with the idea—overseas, at least. The system replaces conventional exterior mirrors with small cameras mounted on angled columns, resulting in a super-efficient 0.28 drag coefficient and making Audi’s electric the slipperiest SUV on the road. Inside the cabin, bright OLED screens tucked into the door sill show vivid images of the view behind you, and touch controls allow you to aim and zoom the “mirrors” for the optimal view. The cameras adapt to changing lighting conditions to ensure consistency and image legibility. It takes about 15 seconds to get used to the tech, then you never want to go back.

Safe hands-off driving
Super Cruise is, simply put, the best semi-autonomous driving mode out there. Available on the 2018 CT6 and later, it’s the first system that lets you keep your hands off the wheel for extended periods, as long as your eyes stay on the road. The camera-and-radar-based system monitors traffic and keeps clear of maneuvering cars, while an internal lens monitors your gaze to ensure you’re paying attention. If your mind wanders—or the car requires you to take over for any reason—it’ll alert you to re-engage.

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