the hood or behind the dashboard. Thanks to the technologicalexpertise they acquired, those auto companies could often turn ona dime when governments, oil cartels, or some other deus exmachina suddenly put the screws on fuel economy, emissionscontrol, oil supply, or plain old safety. The technological rivalry wasquickened in recent years as microchips and other electronic wiz-ardry got about as cheap to toss around as confetti.
Many of these technologies are hatched in specialty compa-nies such as Robert Bosch GmbH (Gerlingen, Germany) andDelphi Corp. (Troy, Mich.) and tend to seep into the entireindustry all at once, making it hard to single out one or anothercar for special praise. Therefore, in IEEE Spectrums list of toptechnocars, we preferred ideas expressed in a unique exem-plar, preferably a vehicle from the current or the upcomingmodel year. We looked for significant jumps in performance,convenience, or comfort, rather than the incremental improve-ments that, chained together, account for most automotiveprogress over the long haul. We favored bold technologies,knowing full well that some might not trickle down to the fam-ily sedan for many years, if ever. Also, we wanted the stuff to becool. Engineers, after all, are entitled to salivate once in a while.
CarsSpectrum picks the 10 most technically sophisticated cars for 2003 By Philip RossT he auto industry is quick to entertain new ideasbut slower to implement them. Although RobertBosch perfected diesel fuel injection in the 1920s,it was decades before the technology made it intothe mass market for gasoline engines. Mostly,the auto industry waited for technology to prove itself else-where. Antilock brakes were first used in aircraft landing gear;GPS navigation in military and nautical applications; seat beltsand noise abatement in aircraft; and build-to-order sales in PCmanufacturing. Car companies, for the most part, contentedthemselves with the niceties of designartfully molded sheetsteel, glowering grilles, white walls, and cup holders.
In defense of Detroit, there were sound reasons for thistechnological wariness. A fuel-saving gizmo costing more thanthe fuel it saved would make no sense. Safety features that weregodsends to sailors and aviators mattered less in cars, least of allto the drivers who had to pay for them. Neat inventions thatmade engineers salivate often left dollar-wise buyers cold.
For some time, though, this picture has been changing. Pres-sure came first from auto manufacturers outside the UnitedStates, where drivers often cared deeply about what went under
Volvo Safety Concept Car
As the first car equipped with Bluetooth wireless technology, the 9-3 linksall the cars wireless devices that obey the drivers voicecellphones,PDAs, computersthrough a voice-control system. If youre wearing aheadset, you can make a telephone call from up to 10 meters away. The car,
which lists for US $26 000 to $39 000, can access the Internet as well as satel-
lite navigation, including a guidance system that helps avoid traffic jams.
Other gadgetry includes a range of a drivers own custom-set prefer-
ences for features ranging from the temperature controls to the rain-tol-
erance of the windshield wipers and whether or not the burglar alarm is
armed. Safety features, always a Saab
specialty, include head restraints that
move closer to your head during a crash,
plus air bags all over the place. Oh, yes, it
also has an engine: a 2.0-L, turbocharged
version of the four-cylinder Ecotec, made
by Saabs owner, General Motors.
The Bluetooth-enabled cellphone
fitted in the Saab 9-3 can access
any other Bluetooth-enabled device
in the car, such as a PDA. TOP
Bluetooth connects it all together
Showcasing safetybeyond the box
The see-through A-pillars
[above] help eliminate the
blind spot created by the roof
supports in most cars.
Based on the S60 sedan, this two-door sportwagon has, since 2000, been showcasingfuturistic safety technologies, which areeven proving practical in some cases. Surely pro-
duction cars will inherit at least a few of this
Volvos many tricks for conveying relevant visual
information to the driver, including night vision
and see-through A-pillars; controls that automat-
ically adjust seat, pedals, and even the floor when
the driver, for which it has been preprogrammed,
sits down; warning systems that cover blind spots
and use sound and light alarms; and rotating
headlights that follow the lead of the front wheels
as they turn.
Then there is a fingerprint access system that
locks out thieves and a heartbeat detector that
sniffs out left-behind infants and pets. In the worst
casewhen a sensor detects a hostile life form,
Star-Trek style, hiding in the carthe driver can hit
a button that alerts the police. The truly paranoid,
with access to a freewheeling aftermarket, might
prefer to fit the button to an ejection seat.
Honda Civic GX
Relying solely on natural gas, this Hondahas been languishing in fleets since itsintroduction four years ago for lack ofenough true gas stations. In the 2004 model
year, Honda will break out of this niche by selling
the car for US $20 510 at retail along with a
home refueling station. The stations are to be
made by FuelMaker Corp. (Toronto), in which
Honda has a 20 percent equity stake, and will
feed off a homes piped-in cooking gas to
recharge the compressed-gas tanks overnight.
Such steps are necessary because the GXs
1.7-L, four-cylinder engine was from the first op-
timized for natural gas, unlike flexifuel
designs that also burn gasoline. That means it
can take full advantage of the fuels high octane
level, providing excellent performance and
superlow emissions (and 20 percent less green-
house gas, too). Among the technical tricks
used to achieve all this is a continuously vari-
able transmission. A tankful will carry it more
than 300 km in the city, 420 km on the highway.
The natural gas refueling station
for the Civic GX can hang on the
wall of a garage.
Compressed hydrogen fueling stations like this
one [right] will be set up in California.
The FCX is the first car for the U.S. market thatis powered purely by fuel cells. It meets zero-emissions standards by exhaling watervaporno noxious fumes and no greenhouse gases.
In the coming year, Honda will lease about 30 of the
four-seaters in California and Tokyo, areas where it
plans to set up fueling stations selling compressed
The proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells,
provided by Ballard Power (Burnaby, B.C., Canada),
put out 78 kW. When supplemented by an ultracapac-
itor, whose porous electrodes afford far more surface
area per gram than do the nonporous plates of con-
ventional capacitors, the car can accelerate about as
well as Hondas Civic. The ultracapacitor also stores
energy recouped during braking, when the motor
runs backward to function as a generator. The 156-L
fuel tank goes under the floor, rather than in the
trunk, so the driving range is about 350 km, yet cargo
capacity is normal. Honda made two crucial techno-
logical decisions: to achieve zero emissions, it opted for
hydrogen rather than natural gas, and to avoid a hybrid
(gas-electric) design, it went with the ultracapacitor
rather than batteries.
Refuel it at home with an optional $1000 (natural) gas station
Fuel-cell powered, ultracapacitor equipped
Cadillac is the first U.S. marque to sport keyless entry and ignition [top left]. Other
electronic goodies include suspension management at the touch of a button [bottom].
This all-new two-seater, descendant of the1999 Evoq concept car, uses several high-tech features to control the ample output ofits 4.6-L, V8 engine, in a rear-wheel drive config-
uration. The most novel feature is a ride-damping
device based on an electrorheological fluid, whose
viscosity changes from one millisecond to the next
as an imposed magnetic field affects a suspension
of magnetic particles. It fits into Delphis suspen-
sion-management StabiliTrak system, which is
also used in other Cadillacs, to sense changes in
the road surface electronically and manage damp-
ing and roll control accordingly. These controls,
and the chassis itself, are to be shared with an
upcoming Corvette, which presumably will be
tuned more for tight control (and less for smooth
ride) than the Caddy. A third feature is the radar-
enhanced automatic cruise control, which main-
tains a constant speed until the car gets too close
to a vehicle in front of it, at which point it slows
down enough to maintain a constant distance. The
XLR, estimated to sell for US $75 000, is the first
U.S. marque to carry keyless entry and ignition
(pioneered in 1999 by Mercedes-Benz), in which a
card in the drivers wallet opens the car and lets
him start it up by simply pushing a button.
the center console
the feel of
Computer controls galore
The most wide-ranging computer-coordinated electron-ic systems are to be found in this US $73 160 Audi,whose Multi-Media Interface controls a mobile tele-phone, satellite navigation system, tautness of the air sus-
pension system, as well as audio, heating, air conditioning, and
assorted goodies, all with a dial and some buttons. Other
standout features include its aluminum-rich construction,
making for a light package, even given the extra machinery
needed for its four-wheel drive. Also nifty are an override that
lets the driver take direct, temporary, manual command of the
automatic transmissions gear-
box and shift, plus a radar-
enabled cruise control that
maintains a constant distance
from the car in front (a feature
available in several other high-
end cars this year). Like the
Cadillac XLR, the A8 allows for
keyless ignition, but goes it one
better by offering a fingerprint-
sensing pad, not only to thwart
impostors but also to set up a
particular persons desired seat
configuration, radio channels,
and other favorites.
Cadillac XLRSuspended on electrorheological goo
Diesels, until recently famous forfuel frugality but infamous forsmoke, are being tamed all overEurope. Fiats Stilo 1.9JTD is one of the
best-mannered of them all. Available in
Europe for 15 360, it incorporates both
a new diesel engine, produced in con-
junction with parent company General
Motors Corp., and a particulate filter.
The 1.2-L, four-cylinder engine
begins with the known trick of pre-
injecting fuel in order to increase tem-
perature and pressure, then takes it further, splitting the injection into a
series of closely spaced, smaller injections. The carefully timed dribble of fuel
burns ever so smoothly, eliminating irregularities of combustion and thus
heightening performance while reducing noise and emissions. Further
cleanup comes in the particulate filter, a silicon carbide structure coated with
catalysts that trap 90 percent of diesel particulates, enough to eliminate all
smoke. When the filter feels its full upafter about every 700 kmit heats
itself enough to oxidize the trapped particles into carbon dioxide and water.
Mercedes-Benz SL500Braking by wire
The SL500s by-wire braking system, the first in a mass-produced car, equips the driver with a more sensitive, com-puter-assisted response to crises. The usual hydraulicallycontrolled brakes are no longer prime; the brake pedal you push is
like a mouse click to a computer. This, in turn, controls the hydraulic
pressure applied individually to the discs on each wheels brakes,
according to algorithms that account for g forces, wheel speed,
steering angle, and engine output, as well as the drivers responses.
If, for example, the drivers foot suddenly shifts from the accelera-
tor to the brake pedal, the system goes straight into crisis mode.
To address the worry about software bugs and electrical snafus,
first voiced when by-wire controls appeared in aircraft many
years ago, Mercedes also includes a hydraulic backup system
for the front wheels, forgoing any savings in weight or cum-
bersome connections that the system might have provided. The
braking system links seamlessly to a stability control system and
an active suspension system, which helps keep all parts of the car
on the ground when taking a corner. That ride-smoothing savvy
comes with a powerful 5-L V8, which is to be followed in about a year
by a juiced-up model equipped with a 5.5-L, turbocharged version of
the engine. Mercedes says the new engine in its US $98 000 auto-
mobile will be half again as powerful, at around 450 hp (335 kW).
The brake-by-wire system in the SL 500 relies on electronic signals relayed from the
brake pedal to the actuator to the electrohydraulic brakes at each wheel.
Fiats 1.2-L four-cylinder diesel engine [right] cuts the smoke by
ensuring smooth and more complete burning of the fuel.
Fiat StiloA smokeless diesel
Anew engine technology that switches halfthe cylinders on or off, depending on load,will debut later this year in the 2004models in a range of General Motors large and
medium-sized SUVs. The SUVs will use the pow-
erful Vortec V8 engine, and although GM hasnt
named just which models will get it first, the
Chevrolet Trailblazer is a logical choice. GM
recently loaded it up with more pulling power
than ever before, and it would be nice not to
waste all that muscle when idling at a red light.
GMs displacement on demand technol-
ogy uses a solenoid to switch a valve that shuts
off half the cylinders. The process is managed
by computer, unbeknownst to the driver, so as to
keep the engine near its optimal load and its
subsidiary systems coordinatedthe throttle,
transmission, and emissions controls, for in-
stance. The company claims a fuel savings of
825 percent, depending on driving conditions.
Need power on a hill? Then use
all eight cylinders. But if the load
is light on a straightaway,
GMs displacement on demand
engine saves fuel by firing only
four cylinders instead of eight.
Toyota Prius Five years after its introduction inJapan, Toyotas five-passenger Priusremains the most family-friendlyhybrid on the market. Capturing the hearts
of drivers as diverse as vehicular engineer-
ing consultant Victor Wouk and Hollywood
bombshell Cameron Diaz, it squeezes more
growl from the liter than the rest, while cut-
ting emissionsthis fall it won a tax deduc-
tion for clean operation, the first such con-
cession in the United States. The...