New Car Features We Love—and Some We Don’t – Consumer Reports

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by consumers.
Get involved
Issues we work on
The payment for your account couldn’t be processed or you’ve canceled your account with us.
Sign In
We don’t recognize that sign in.
Your username maybe be your email address. Passwords are 6-20 characters with at least one number and letter.
We still don’t recognize that sign in.
Retrieve your username.
Reset your password.
Forgot your username or password?
Don’t have an account?
My account

Save products you love, products you own and much more!
Other Membership Benefits:
Suggested Searches
Car Ratings & Reviews
2023 Top Picks
Car Buying & Pricing

Which Car Brands Make the Best Vehicles?
Car Maintenance & Repair

Best Tire Values
Key Topics & News
Listen to the Talking Cars Podcast
Home & Garden
Bed & Bath
Top Picks From CR
Best Mattresses of 2023
Lawn & Garden
Best Lawn Mowers and Tractors of 2023
Home Improvement
Home Improvement Essential
Best Wood Stains of 2023
Home Safety & Security
Best DIY Home Security Systems of 2023
CR's Survey Results
Most and Least Reliable Refrigerator Brands
Small Appliances
Best Small Kitchen Appliances
Laundry & Cleaning
Top Picks From CR
Best Washing Machines of 2023
Heating, Cooling & Air
Beat the Heat
Most Reliable Central Air-Conditioning Systems
Home Entertainment
Best TVs of 2023
Home Office
Save Money
Cheapest Printers for Ink Costs
Smartphones & Wearables
Find the Right Phone for You
Digital Security & Privacy
CR Security Planner
Take Action
Cars you can unlock with your phone, cameras that can see where you can’t, and high beams that turn on by themselves. We’ve got the cool new tech to seek out on your next car.
Whether you’re buying a car for the first time in a dozen years or replacing a 3-year-old leased model, you might find yourself in an alien landscape the next time you go to a dealership. That’s because there have been a lot of aesthetic and technological transformations that are affecting not just how today’s cars work but also how drivers interact with them.
For example, even basic economy cars on the market now have convenient features like high-beam headlights that automatically turn themselves on and off, and in-car screens that pair with your phone to display navigation apps and play music from your favorite playlists.
But some changes might have you looking back at your old car with nostalgia. Touchscreens where buttons used to be, low-profile tires that make for a harsh ride, and confusing gear selectors and electronic door handles are becoming the norm on many of today’s vehicles.
How do you know which features you should look for, which to avoid, and which you might just have to get used to? We’re here to help. CR buys about 40 new vehicles each year for our auto test program. After our on-the-track evaluations are complete, we continue to live with the cars for few months longer, using them the same way you would—picking up kids, hauling groceries, carrying bikes to trails, and more. In other words, we notice how various features enhance or diminish the car-owning experience.
These are the most interesting new car trends we’ve come across on the latest vehicles we’ve tested. You’ll encounter many of them on your next vehicle. Some we like. Some, not so much.
These headlights automatically switch between high and low beams based on lighting, traffic, and speed, to add illumination when needed without shining glare into the eyes of other drivers. You can override them if you want to.
Our opinion: “Even if it’s optional, we recommend paying extra for this feature,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. “That’s how useful we think it is.” Several years ago, AAA found that even though high beams can extend your nighttime vision, 64 percent of drivers who drive at night said they don’t use them regularly. This tech solves that problem by turning the high beams on and off for you.
Buying tips: Your owner’s manual will explain how to engage the automatic high beams. Usually, an “A” or “Auto” will illuminate within the headlight symbol behind the steering wheel when it’s active.
Which brands have them: Automatic high beams are available on almost all new cars, as either standard or optional equipment.
Photo: John Powers/Consumer Reports Photo: John Powers/Consumer Reports
Certain newer vehicles have door handles that retract when not in use, a design that reduces aerodynamic drag and improves fuel economy or electric driving range.
Our opinion: They can be hard to grasp and complicate what should be a simple feature. They can also ice over more easily than regular handles.
Buying tips: Some high-end trim packages come with motorized handles that extend automatically from the door when you approach the vehicle. But such a complex design could break.
Which brands have them: They’re found on vehicles from Kia, Tesla, and others, and are especially common on EVs.
Photo: Tesla Photo: Tesla
Tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMSs) that alert you with a warning light if your tires are underinflated have been required on all new cars sold in the U.S. since September 2007. Many cars go a step beyond, showing real-time tire pressure for each tire while you drive, typically on a dashboard screen. A few cars will even help guide you through inflation, honking the horn once your tires have reached their correct pressure, so you can leave your tire pressure gauge in the glove box.
Our opinion: “Proper tire inflation is key for safety, fuel economy, and even tire wear,” says Ryan Pszczolkowski, tire program manager at CR. “The ability to see the pressure per tire and for the car to let you know when a tire is inflated to the correct pressure is a nice convenience.”
Buying tips: Read the owner’s manual to familiarize yourself with how these features work and to make sure they’re user-friendly.
Which brands have them: Real-time pressure monitoring is available on most cars with high-level trim packages. Certain vehicles from GM, Jeep, and Nissan will honk the horn once during filling when your tires have reached the correct pressure.
Photo: Nissan Photo: Nissan
You might not think about cleaning and glare while admiring an attractive car interior at the dealership, but the shiny black interior trim that’s now in fashion easily scratches, collects dust, and shows fingerprints. Chrome and silver accents can reflect sunlight into the eyes of drivers. Plush, heavily padded dashboards and armrests can collect and hold dust.
Our opinion: Glossy trim is too easy to scratch and doesn’t belong in often-touched areas, like near the center console or on the door handle.
Buying tips: Even on cars that offer multiple interior trim options, it can be hard for buyers to avoid silvery accents and padding. If your new car has soft-touch surfaces, clean them with a microfiber cloth to avoid leaving lint behind.
Which brands have them: Almost every mainstream car has these trims today.
Photo: John Powers/Consumer Reports Photo: John Powers/Consumer Reports
Automakers have increasingly replaced the familiar “P-R-N-D-L” shift lever with buttons, dials, or monostable selectors, which move like a joystick and return to the center position when released. Some cars even have separate buttons to engage Park. While some of these setups are as intuitive as traditional ones, others require drivers to pay close attention or risk selecting Reverse or Neutral when they want Drive.
Our opinion: Some alternatives are fine: We’re fans of knobs when they’re easy to use without looking at them, but we’re not fans at all when they can easily be mistaken for a different control, as with the volume knob in Chrysler Pacificas and the infotainment screen controller in Genesis vehicles. In a 2020 survey, some CR members whose cars had monostable or push-button selectors said that they were likely to select the wrong gear, change the gear by accident, or take their eyes off the road to change gears.
Buying tips: Try doing a three-point turn in the parking lot of a dealership to see how easy it is to change from Reverse to Drive and back again. Then put the car into Park.
Which brands have them: Most, though unfamiliar gear selectors are more likely to show up in hybrids and EVs than other models. Luxury brands scored the worst in our gear selector survey.
Photos: Lincoln, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan Photos: Lincoln, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan
Step inside a newer car and you’re more likely to see a tablet-like interface mounted on the dashboard than buttons and knobs. As cars get more features, a touchscreen allows automakers to hide infrequently changed settings—such as switching from miles to kilometers—in digital menus instead of cluttering up the dashboard. But some automakers have gone too far, moving controls for often-used features such as radios, climate controls, and even windshield wipers to touchscreens.
Our opinion: Touchscreens are fine, but physical controls are best for frequently used features, such as climate and volume. “Screens aren’t conducive to making small adjustments to volume or temperature, unlike hard controls you can grab without looking,” says Kelly Funkhouser, CR’s head of connected and automated vehicles.
Buying tips: On your test drive, try to change the radio station and turn on the heat or AC. Adjust the audio volume and the temperature to see how easy these common tasks are before you buy the car.
Which brands have them: Most brands have touchscreens, but luxury brands and higher trim levels tend to have larger screens and fewer traditional buttons and knobs.
Photo: Rivian Photo: Rivian
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay allow you to access some smartphone apps and voice assistants on the vehicle’s infotainment screen.
Our opinion: Phone-based apps are often easier to use than a car’s built-in navigation or infotainment.
Buying tips: To go cord-free, look for wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with a wireless charging pad. Toyota was a late adopter, so even newer used models might not have this feature.
Which brands have them: Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard on almost all new cars except Rivians and Teslas.
Photo: Ford Photo: Ford
These days, few cars still offer a physical key that turns in the door lock or ignition. Instead, they have key fobs that let you open the door (known as “keyless entry”) and start the car (“keyless go”) as long as the fob is with you. You may need to press a button on the door, or it may automatically unlock as soon as your hand reaches or pulls on the handle.
Our opinion: Going keyless is especially convenient in the rain, or if your keys have a habit of falling deep into your handbag or backpack. Many cars with key fobs can prevent you from locking your keys in the car, and some can be programmed to automatically lock once you’ve stepped away from the vehicle.
Buying tips: You may have to pay extra if you want your doors to unlock when your hand is close to the handle or if you want keyless entry on more than just the driver’s door.
Which brands have it: In the past few years, keyless entry and go have become standard on all but base-model economy cars. Certain vehicles from BMW, Ford, Genesis, Hyundai, Kia, and Tesla allow you to use your smartphone as a key in place of a fob, which can save room in your pocket or purse.
Photo: Ford Photo: Ford
Backup cameras have been mandatory on all new passenger vehicles since May 2018. But in some cases, the center infotainment screen will offer multiple views around the car—including close-ups on the wheels and fenders—and sometimes a 360-degree surround view that can feel like part of a video game.
Our opinion: We love cameras on cars. Modern cars can have big blind spots, and cameras can help you see what you otherwise could not. In addition to preventing parking lot mishaps, front-view and backup cameras can prevent tragedies, especially because children can be too small to be seen over the hood of a vehicle or out the rear window. And side-view cameras can help you parallel park closer to the curb.
Buying tips: Try out the various camera views in a parking lot during your test drive to make sure they’re easy to use. Be mindful that higher-quality cameras will provide a better image in low light.
Which brands have it: Backup cameras are standard on all new cars. You will usually have to pay extra for front-, side-, or surround-view cameras, which are available on most larger and luxury vehicles.
Photo: Nissan Photo: Nissan
Massive 19-, 20-, or even 21-inch wheels may look cool, but in our testing we repeatedly find that those larger, heavier wheels—and the low-profile sidewalls that often go with them—tend to give drivers a harsher ride and risk both tire and wheel damage from potholes. That’s because short tire sidewalls can’t absorb bumps and other road imperfections as well as regular tires. They’re great for high-performance driving but not for comfort on your daily commute. And tires that fit those larger wheels typically cost more to replace.
Our opinion: Skip them if you can. You’ll save money and get a better ride.
Buying tips: Many automakers bundle bigger wheels and tires with option packages aimed at drivers who want sportier handling or more luxurious trim levels. Ask your dealer whether smaller wheels come with the options you want.
Which brands have them: Almost every manufacturer has bigger wheel and tire options. Luxury SUVs, such as those from BMW, Cadillac, and Land Rover, are more likely to have the largest wheels.
Photo: Land Rover Photo: Land Rover
Car advertisements and salespeople will try to convince you that the more features a car has, the more luxurious it is. But we believe that the true measure of luxury isn’t how much equipment a car has; it’s how much the features can reduce the driver’s stress level. A car that is easy to operate provides a superior experience. The Hyundai Elantra and Nissan Rogue—both budget-friendly models—are good examples of cars that get it right. Both have useful, modern comfort and convenience features (some standard, others optional) that prioritize ease of use.
Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the February 2023 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
Keith Barry
Keith Barry has been an auto reporter at Consumer Reports since 2018. He focuses on safety, technology, and the environmental impact of cars. Previously, he led home and appliance coverage at Reviewed; reported on cars for USA Today, Wired, and Car & Driver; and wrote for other publications as well. Keith earned a master’s degree in public health from Tufts University. Follow him on Twitter @itskeithbarry.
We respect your privacy. All email addresses you provide will be used just for sending this story.