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Technology, right on CUE
With each passing year, cars are becoming more like consumer electronics.
Where we used to ask how much horsepower a car has, today we're more likely to ask how compatible it is with the latest iPhone. In a world overloaded with apps, it's only a matter of time before we're upgrading our cars yearly, perhaps stopping at the dealer to switch from Version 2.0 to 3.0.
Nowhere have I seen this as obviously as the car I drove this week, the Cadillac SRX.
Now, the SRX is a great luxury crossover to begin with. I've loved it ever since it was fitted with a direct-injected V6 engine and firmer, funner suspension, making it one of the best on the market.
The big changes for this year aren't so much about making the SRX a better vehicle, but making it a better electronic accessory.
And it blew me away.
The SRX now comes with Cadillac User Experience (CUE). It's a new digital interface that Cadillac makes standard equipment on the SRX and XTS, and optional on the new, compact ATS sports sedan.
Basically, it makes the car operate like a tablet computer. Its centerpiece is a big, touch-sensitive digital display above the center console on the dash.
It's more than sensitive to touch, though. Like the Chevrolet Volt, it has a screen that will respond to the lightest, gentlest touch. It also gives tactile feedback like an Android smartphone, letting you feel a slight "click" after you touch the display.
Virtually everything on the car can be controlled from this one screen, including the climate control, sound system, navigation system and various internet-style "apps" that work much like those on smartphones and iPads.
That in itself isn't remarkable. Lots of cars are offering apps these days.
The difference is that CUE is designed to be easy to use and highly customizable. It's very much like controlling your car through an Apple iDevice or Android phone.
One of my favorite features was a separate digital display directly in front of the driver that's controlled by a switch on the steering wheel. It lets you customize the information that's shown on the instrument panel, like your current gas mileage or a digital readout of your speed. Basically, it's an old-fashioned trip computer on steroids.
On the downside, all this technology overload takes some getting used to. Even after a week of driving it, I struggled to remember how to do simple things like change the radio station. Call me a Luddite, but I like having a knob just for that purpose.
CUE isn't the only high-tech feature added to the SRX this year. It comes with active noise cancellation, which uses microphones to detect noise in the cabin and then pumps vibrations through the audio system to cancel them out - sort of like driving inside a giant pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones.
It has some fancy new safety features, too. Automatic front and rear braking will help to stop the car if it senses you're about to collide with something in your path, and it's available with forward collision alert and lane departure warnings if you're venturing across the lines in the road.
It even has a seat that vibrates to warn you of dangers and keep you alert.
So, while the SRX still has an engine, brakes and transmission, and even a slightly tweaked body style, all those things take a back seat to the crazy-cool electronic updates for 2013.
I think it's a sign of things to come.