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The most desirable new car features

Technology that is so innovative it literally grabs the steering wheel and takes over is already available on some vehicles, but it’s not necessarily what consumers want.

Half of drivers in a recent survey said they would consider paying extra for features that detect and warn them of vehicles in their blind spots.

But the survey also found that drivers are squeamish about giving control of their vehicles to a computer. Most prefer the blind-spot detection system to provide a noise warning, a steering-wheel vibration, or some other alert system, to let the driver take the necessary evasive action, according to the survey by Harris Interactive, a consumer research firm in Rochester, N.Y.
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Harris researchers found similar preferences for lane-departure warning technology. It might be fine to electronically alert drivers that they’ve drifted into another lane, but drivers prefer to return to the proper lane themselves.

“Anything that’s intrusive or takes away from the driver’s experience is something that consumers are going to be nervous about,” says Thilo Koslowski, an automotive practice leader for Gartner, a tech research firm in Stamford, Conn.

Go to the “slide show” link below to see a ranking of the 10 high-tech features consumers want most.

Through its AutoTechcast study that ranks more than 60 advanced automotive features based on consumer preference, Harris experts found that drivers often consider safety technology a must-have, even if it means paying more.

But the research also suggests that consumers are most attracted to features that enhance their own safety rather than that of others.

Pedestrian-sensing systems aren’t well received, says Stephen Lovett, director of automotive and transportation research in Harris’ Ann Arbor, Mich., office. “The safety features that perform well are those that protect the driver and the occupants in the vehicle. But when it comes to protecting people outside the vehicle, the interest wanes.”

Pedestrian-sensing ranked near the bottom of Harris’ list of desirable tech features, along with cup-holders that heat and cool beverages, panoramic sunroofs, rear-seat entertainment, and satellite video.

Many of these features don’t directly impact driving, so they aren’t a priority for most people, Lovett says.

“In general, things like cooled cup-holders are nice to have, but someone wouldn’t choose or not choose a vehicle because of it,” he says.

Gartner’s Koslowski says any new feature — safety or otherwise — should make driving easier, more enjoyable, or safer. That means next-generation features like onboard Internet access and email, or futuristic concept cars that drive themselves, might be tough sells, at least in the short term.

“Replicating the personal computer experience inside the car is ill-advised in my opinion,” Koslowski says.

But new features that save people time and money do tend to be well received.

The feature drivers most want on their vehicles is rollover detection with advanced side-curtain airbags, according to the Harris survey. These airbags deploy preemptively and stay inflated longer than other airbags to help protect occupants in the event of a rollover. Because SUVs are more prone to rollovers, many of them already offer such systems as standard or optional equipment.

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