We all love the latest gizmos and tech, but as often as not, they add clutter and suck up our time, and in cars they can distract and frustrate. Manufacturers continue to push the boundaries with technology and screens, but they’ve also remembered the little (or big) things that can be a major convenience.
Here are some features that may not be flashy and sexy or get much attention at all, but they save time, stress, and even ensure our safety in some cases. Many of these can be purchased as accessories for any car, but in this list, we highlight the ones that are built in and work perfectly with the car, often disappearing when not in use so the don’t ruin the look of your new ride.
Granted, there are myriad trays and boxes from aftermarket suppliers, but a couple of factory options stand out: they work well when needed, but disappear out of sight without taking up space when you need the full capacity of the trunk. The Nissan Rogue has a clever system that can turn its trunk into a multi-tiered cargo bay, essentially doubling its load-floor space, and Volvo has neat flip-up panel with a strap that is a million times better than most cargo hooks for keeping grocery bags from flying all over your trunk.
Seats that fold all sorts of ways
We believe split-folding rear seats are absolutely essential in any vehicle, especially when they split 40/20/40 to allow a pass-through for hockey sticks or skis. However, taking it to another level are the Magic Seats in the Honda Fit, whose seat bottoms fold up to allow the full height of rear-seat area for bringing home oddly tall furniture from Ikea or the flea market. Pickup trucks commonly have this feature too, but they also have an open bed for carrying pretty much anything, so it doesn’t seem nearly as impressive in them.
Covered storage in pickup beds
Speaking of pickups, two notable features stand out, the RamBox that turns the bed walls into covered, lockable storage, and the made-for-tailgating under-bed box in the Honda Ridgeline, with built-in drainage if they’re filled with ice to keep fish fresh or beer cool.
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If you don’t like having piles of cereal, sand, and candy wrappers carpet the floor of your family vehicle, then you have no choice but to vacuum every once in a while. The Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica both have you covered, with built-in vacuums that make in-car cleanups as easy as pulling out the hose – and they store away out of sight behind nifty little covers. If you’ve already gone and just bought a new vehicle recently, a nice portable, rechargeable handheld vac can do for any car or crossover.
It’s been a scorcher out there this summer, the relentless heat turning cars into ovens, and while there is only so much you can do, sunshades block out the sun and help keep the UV rays off kids. This can also be picked up at various children’s and automotive stores, but built-in shades fit the windows much better and tuck away when they’re not needed.
Power running boards
Running boards are essential for making it easy for kids and shorter people to get into high-riding SUVs and trucks but they eat into ground clearance and regular ones don’t offer very much space for big feet. The Lincoln Navigator’s power running boards drop down and out, with a wide, grippy top that makes it easier to get into than any large SUV on the market.
Dual screens with separate controls
One screen, no matter how large, is fine for one child, but anyone with a couple of kids knows that eventually it will become a bone of contention and struggle for control, and even two screens that display the same video can be ground for discord.
Separate screens with separate controls mean each of your children gets some alone time in the car, and you get a few minutes without having to referee a royal rumble between your offspring. Of course, there’s always the fallback of bringing along an iPad or two in reserve.
Built-in booster seats
Only a couple models offer built-in boosters, but they make a ton of sense, popping up from the regular rear seat to elevate kids to the right height for shoulder belts. When you need the seat for an adult, it just drops back into position, and you don’t have to worry about it banging around in the trunk.
Tilt-and-flip second row seats
They say that life changes when you have your third child, and if you had yours recently and have decided to step up to a three-row crossover or a minivan, this is one feature you might find hugely time- and effort-saving when it comes to loading the kids.
Instead of a seatback that just flops down or the whole thing sliding forward (which won’t go far with a big child seat latched in), these second-row seats flip up and tilt forward, allowing a child to slip through into the third row. The Nissan Pathfinder was first to market, but the Chrysler Pacifica and Honda Odyssey thought the idea was so good, they copied it.
This may not be the coolest feature anymore, but many people forget how convenient it is to have doors that don’t take up any space when opening, making rear seat access a million times easier in crowded mall parking lots or tight garages.
Wireless charging trays: Super handy, eliminates wires and no fuss, but it’s tech, so we left it off.
110V power outlets: Awesome to charge devices more serious than an iPad on the go, or running game consoles on the built-in screens
Pop-out flashlights: Nice to have for finding dropped items under chairs, taking with you at night when camping or in dimly lit car parks.
Auto power windows: For all four windows, down and up!