2018 in autos: 10 best new features

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
Drop the tailgate step in the 2019 GMC Sierra Denali and access is easy for heavy-lifting into the pickup bed.

The pace of change in the auto industry is unrelenting. In addition to advancements in design and mechanical engineering across a multitude of platforms – sports car, SUV, sedan, pickup, minivan – the digital revolution has brought a new dimension to vehicle connectivity and safety.

Herewith, the 10-best features that debuted in the last year.

1. GMC Sierra MultiPro tailgate

Pickups are about beds, and the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra twins bring the toughest, cinder-block-catching, rolled-steel beds in class. But the Sierra separated itself with a unique, multipurpose tailgate that can be configured six different ways. MultiPro is, fundamentally, a tailgate within a tailgate so that, for example, the inner gate can be raised to act as a bump-stop for long boards. Or it can be folded downward to create stair steps into the truck. Clever. 

More:2018 in autos: 10 things that drove us batty

2. Subaru Ascent's 19 cupholders

Horsepower wars? Let's talk cupholder wars. Pack families into three-row SUVs and they are going to bring drinks to go: coffee cups, thermoses, Big Gulps, Slurpees, soda cans, you name it. Subaru figures you'll need 19 cupholders. That's a record... for now.

3. Ford Trail Control

Ford is the geek kid who always comes to class with the latest technology: self-park assist, SYNC, Trailer Assist. The 2015 Ford F-150 was the first pickup with adaptive cruise-control. So it's no surprise that Ford this year offered up Trail Control, a sort of low-speed, off-road adaptive cruise for the Raptor and Ranger pickups. The driver can concentrate on steering through the scenery while the truck takes care of the throttle.

4. Tesla Summon

Summon is a sure-fire party trick from Silicon Valley's EV pioneer. First introduced on the pricey Model S, the feature this year became common to tens of thousands of Model 3 buyers. Summon essentially makes your phone (via Tesla app) a remote control for your Model 3 so you can stand outside and pull the car out of tight parking spaces, walk it down the street, whatever.


Mazda has adopted Tesla's 360-degree, surround vehicle display. Dubbed i-ACTIVSENSE, it shows you everything going on around your car.

Like Apple in a Microsoft computer world, Tesla will inevitably spawn copycats. Ram and Prius have adopted big console screens, and Mazda has adopted Tesla's 360-degree, surround vehicle display. Mazda dubs it i-ACTIVSENSE, which places an avatar of your car in the instrument display so you can see everything around it — cars in your blind spot, cars in front of you, lane-keep assist, and more.

6. Alexa in-car app

Who can forget Infiniti's "Avengers: Infinity War" ads in which a handsome couple head off to the the movies with a simple: "Alexa, start my Infiniti QX50." Yes, the home device can now sync to vehicles like the QX50 and Ford Ecosport. Just download the app to your phone and you're in business.

7. Cadillac Rear Camera Mirror
Manufacturers race, in part, to accelerate track-to-street technologies. But what about the reverse? Cadillac innovated its Rear Camera Mirror in the 2017 Cadillac CT6 sedan, and this year it moved to Cadillac's hyper-quick IMSA Weathertech race car. In the space pod that is the Cadillac DPi racer's cockpit, the mirror uses a tiny, rear-mounted video lens so the driver gets an unobstructed view of the field behind.

8. Lincoln suicide doors

Eighty special Lincoln Continentals will be made with suicide doors.  o prevent them from living up to their name, they won't open if the car is traveling more than 2 MPH.

How to call attention to a slow-selling luxury sedan? Give it rear-opening suicide doors like a Rolls-Royce. Eighty Continentals will be sold for a Rolls-like six-figure sum. To keep the doors from living up to their nickname if opened at highway speed, the Continental's doors won't open if the vehicle is traveling faster than 2 miles per hour.

9. Standard safety-suite

Pioneered a decade ago in luxury Mercedes, digital safety packages of adaptive cruise-control/blind-spot assist, automatic braking/lane-keep assist can be had — standard! — on vehicles like a $25,000 VW Jetta or Honda Civic.

10. Volvo XC40 trash can and purse hanger

The Swedish brand is back in vogue with the usual safety smarts, but now it's stylish, too. The irresistible compact XC40 ute comes with a mini-trash can in the center console and a secreted glove-box hook for hanging purses and plastic grocery bags.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.