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Has technology overtaken the combustion engine?

Iain Dooley believes, to fully appreciate the advances of modern cars, we need to become more tech-savvy. If you still struggle with a smartphone, you’re not going to like the technology appearing in new cars.

Without wishing to sound smug, I’ve been extremely fortunate of late to have spent some quality time with some very clever cars. Granted, it’s part of the job, but to fully appreciate the various experiences it helps if you’re also genuinely interested in the technology that’s increasingly underpinning the latest crop of new models.

Luckily, I am something of a technology anorak, which makes embracing new concepts and getting the most out of the various experiences easy. But I’ve also come to realise that this new era of progress isn’t going to be a smooth ride for everyone.

Tesla’s Model S electric car is an impressive feat of engineering, but if you already struggle getting the most out of your smartphone, you’re not going to like Tesla’s decision to group access to almost all the car’s controls through an oversize touchscreen.

You’re in a similar boat with the increasing number of electric and hybrid cars offering remote monitoring via a smartphone app. If you opt for such a car, there’s a chance you’re reasonably switched on, but the fact remains that modern car ownership is no longer a case of simply getting in and driving away – certainly if you want to fully exploit a car’s many features.

This is where the handover process at the dealership becomes increasingly important. No longer a 10-minute job, having talked to a few people familiar with the process, it can now take a few hours depending on the new owner’s level of interest and underlying knowledge.

But what about the process leading up to that marathon session at the dealership? Buying a new car should never be taken lightly, and while lengthy advice used to centre on securing the best financing deal, it now focuses on the best hybrid power system to best suit your commuting needs.

Should you choose pure electric, petrol-electric or diesel electric or an electric car with a range extender? If you need those descriptions deciphered, then maybe an eco-car isn’t for you…

Even if you do know what I’m talking about, a heavy session with a calculator is still required to determine the most cost-effective choice for your particular lifestyle.

And while a mechanical engineering degree isn’t essential, a modest understanding of the basic technology is recommended, at least so you can understand the limitations of the different power options.

Long, varied journeys don’t suit many pure electric cars, while you might find that you don’t fully exploit the potential of a plug-in hybrid purchase if you fail to take into account the shortcomings of the technology.

The current crop of hi-tech hybrids still form a very small number of the cars on sale today, but their numbers will grow as increasingly lower emissions are demanded by law makers.

With the march of technology, it’s clear that cars are becoming more like the smartphone in our pockets: indispensible, expensive to repair, packed with features that only a fraction will be used by their owners.

I’ll let you decide if this is progress or not.

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