In 2018, we saw the automotive industry charge headfirst into a future filled with electric and (maybe) autonomous vehicles, all while putting out the most innovative, powerful and efficient engines the world’s ever seen. Over the past 12 months, we at Jalopnik have experienced, and written about some of the best technology currently available in cars. Let’s have a look at the good stuff from this past year.
Attending auto shows, reviewing press vehicles, and just prowling the internet give us Jalopnik writers lots of chances to ogle at some cool new gadgets and features that engineers throughout the auto industry have come up with.
There’s a lot that we’ve covered this past year, and while I won’t pretend to be able to remember it all, here are my personal highlights.
None of us have driven the upcoming Aston Martin Valkyrie road car yet, but earlier this month, the British supercar brand gave the world a nice up-close glimpse at the 1,000 horsepower 65-degree V12 naturally aspirated engine that will propel it. And, as you’ve likely surmised by the image above and the topshot, it is very pretty.
This engine is a stressed member of the Valkyrie’s platform, which is a setup you don’t see much of in road cars. And what’s even cooler is that, as my talented coworker Raphael pointed out, Cosworth, the company with which Aston Martin built this motor, claims to have made a 250 horsepower three-cylinder version of that engine, which is a triumph in and of itself.
When the 2019 GMC Sierra launched back in March, the big whiz-bang feature was its MultiPro tailgate, which could be configured in six different ways to allow easier bed access, to provide a second tier of loading, to create a workbench, or to act as a step for easier bed ingress and egress.
I wouldn’t quite call it revolutionary, since it uses fairly basic concepts and technologies that already existed. But the way it brings those ideas together into something that is, at the very least, different and fun, is something I applauded in my review.
Just this month, I traveled to automobile manufacturing consultancy Munro & Associates, and checked out the Tesla Model 3 they have torn apart into thousands of pieces. One part that the engineers there seemed to be impressed with was the coolant bottle, and, upon seeing it, I understood why.
Instead of just a coolant bottle all on its own, and a bunch of other components plumbed into the hoses that come off it, this thing’s got two pumps, a “chiller” heat exchanger, and a coolant control valve built into it in what is a very cool and efficient package, even if it likely costs a bit more to make.
Off-road cruise control is nothing new, but “rugged” vehicles are hot right now, and automakers are filling their cars with fun off-road tech, with my coworker Justin Westbrook having been impressed by the BMW X5’s version of off-road cruise control, and I myself finding the 2019 Ford Raptor’s version of the tech to make rock crawling incredibly easy and stress-free. In fact, it was Ford’s Trail Control that I thought was the most notable improvement of the 2019 Raptor over the 2018 model.
I prefer to do my own speed control with my feet, but this is a cool thing to see popping up more and more in the off-road scene. Even the new Jeep Gladiator is getting a version of it, the new Ranger has it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on the upcoming Bronco and mini Bronco.
Its fuel economy figures aren’t exactly earth-shattering, and I’m still not sure I’d choose it over the V8 truck that only costs about $1,400 more, but the new 2.7-liter turbo four-cylinder Chevrolet Silverado—the only four-cylinder full-size truck on the market—comes equipped with plenty of modern-engine tech.
The water pump is electric. There’s an electronically actuated coolant control valve instead of a thermostat. The all-aluminum engine has variable valve timing, direct injection, a variable oil pump, and promises very little turbo lag.
Chevy threw the kitchen sink at this little four-banger, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of real-world fuel economy numbers people get from it.
We’ve seen sports cars with active aerodynamic features for years now, but when the over-1000 HP McLaren Speedtail debuted, it showed off something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: a body that bends to adjust its aero properties.
The Speedtail is made of carbon fiber, which can actually be quite a flexible material, so it’s not that surprising to see integrated “twin active ailerons” that can seemingly bend the car’s body. But it’s still eye-catching. McLaren describes the benefit of this system, writing in its press release:
These dynamic elements are hydraulically actuated and an integral part of the rear clamshell, formed in flexible carbon fibre; the body of the Speedtail can quite literally bend. With a tolerance of only 1mm between the surfaces, this dramatic new technology all but removes any gaps or shutlines between the vehicle and the leading edge of the spoilers, meaning there is no turbulent air, no drag and no loss of speed.
Positioned outboard from the center of the Speedtail for optimal aerodynamic performance, the twin active ailerons adjust to move the center of pressure and provide the required level of downforce precisely when it is needed most, for instance under deceleration to provide an airbrake function, while at high speed to increase vehicle stability.
Mazda debuted the 2019 Mazda3 at the LA Auto Show this year, and with this new model comes a new generation engine called Skyactiv-X, which promises massive fuel economy gains thanks to a technology called “Spark Controlled Compression Ignition.”
I did a deep-dive on the technology last year when I got to drive a 3 with a preproduction engine, but I’ve included the tech on this list because the new 3 launched in 2018. It’ll be interesting to see what the EPA rates the car; Mazda’s been talking up the tech for years now, and shoppers are going to expect to see some real gains in EPA figures.
The supply base is where much of the true technical innovation happens in the auto industry, so when I attended the Paris Motor Show, I was sure to check out more than just the OEMs’ displays, and to head the suppliers’ booths.
Check out the article and have a look at the regenerative brake systems and hybrid transmissions that Aisin showed off, as well as Faurecia’s carbon fiber battery pack (that’s its cooling mechanism shown above) and three-layer carbon fiber/plastic/fiberglass hydrogen fuel tanks.
When I asked Kristen Lee, my coworker, about some of the coolest tech she covered in 2018, she mentioned the Tesla Model 3's “Autopilot.” This tech has been written about to death by every website under the sun, but Kristen finally got to experience it this past fall, and she was a fan, even if it wasn’t a true “autopilot,” writing in her review:
I must admit this was also my first time trying out Autopilot, Tesla’s semi-autonomous driver assistance system. On stretches of highways, I found it to be extremely convenient. The system “sees” far more cars than other systems I’ve tested, so whenever someone cut me off, the car didn’t brake at the very last moment.
It still doesn’t completely mimic human driving, though. Normally, when approaching a bend in a road, you’d naturally ease off the accelerator a little bit. The system didn’t do that; it pushed into the turn at full speed, something I wasn’t comfortable with the car doing. I took over.
My coworker Justin had a chance to check out thermal imaging tech devised by a company called FLIR. The setup, which is already being used in night vision features to help folks spots animals and pedestrians, is now being applied to autonomous vehicle development. “The thermal imaging acts as another visual layer for self-driving software to scan in real time and react to the environment around the car,” Justin wrote in his review.
He went on:
Thermal imaging doesn’t pick up street light colors, road sign markings, lane markings, and a lot of three-dimensional information is lost in the middle-toned greys of the surroundings. But what matters—moving cars, cyclists, animals and people—stands out remarkably better than a standard video camera. And to my eyes, objects can be more reliably tracked by the software, particularly at night.
These are just ten of the many cool modern-ish technologies we saw in 2018, and 2019 is looking promising, with Volkswagen’s all-electric MEB platform hitting the market, and who knows what cool tech upcoming cars like the Ford Mustang GT500, Ford Bronco, mid-engine Corvette, and Toyota Supra will bring. Okay, here’s one more, since we should definitely end on something fun:
The good news about electric cars is that they aren’t boring. Far from it, in fact. Think of this as the next great uncharted frontier of performance. Here’s what Tesla is doing with the new Track Mode on the Model 3, which leverages the unique qualities of electric motors for some serious fun. Via Motor Trend:
Angling into the corner under braking, Track mode seems to illogically instruct the rear motor to briefly overpower the rear, stepping the tail out a few degrees to target what the math model thinks is the maximum available lateral acceleration given the suspension’s compression. Then it tailors that prediction by analyzing the tires’ actual slip rates. Post-apex, the front motor takes the lead role, delivering just enough power to cause a muted understeer, pulling the car out of the corner as the rear motor ladles in what’s needed to maintain that attitude.
I think we need to give that a go ourselves in 2019.