Must-have creature comforts for your car
Must-have creature comforts for your car

There are some new-car features that civilized people just shouldn’t do without. Once upon a time, common-as-dirt amenities such as air conditioning and cup holders were lusted-after luxury items. Today, they are standard equipment on even the most basic, entry-level econoboxes.

Cutting-edge features wowing us today will evoke yawns tomorrow. Among the creature comforts available in only luxury cars or as options in more affordable cars are several that could eventually be offered as standard equipment in most cars. This is our list of seven creature comforts for your car that today many of us would have a hard time living without.

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Heated and cooled seats

Heated seats have been available in cars since the 1960s, but remain an optional creature comfort for most models. There are geographical regions where temperatures just don’t require heated seats.

What may change their status from optional to standard is the introduction of cooled or ventilated seats in cars. For now, heated and cooled seats are part of option packages. For example, in the Buick LaCrosse, they are part of a $1,300 option package with leather seats and other upgrades.

Heating and cooling functions are typically paired. Drivers in regions not requiring heated seats may well appreciate the cooling effects of ventilated seats when hotter temperatures prevail. Drivers who experience one or the other of these features may find it indispensable when searching for a new vehicle.

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Heated-cooled cup holders and in-car coolers

Want your coffee hot and your bottled water cold? Of course you do. Still a rare creature comfort, a cup holder capable of warming and cooling your beverage is the logical advancement of cup holder technology. The Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum’s front cup holders, with their heating and refrigeration elements, are an example.

For folks requiring their Big Gulp on the drive home or cup of Joe on their morning commute, they can ensure the ideal sipping temperature.

Also growing in popularity are in-car coolers that can chill several beverage cans or bottles. They are usually located in the car’s glove box or center console, and are standard equipment in many car models.

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DVD-based entertainment systems and surround sound

Electronics become more affordable with time. Although DVD-based entertainment systems remain a costly creature comfort, prices should eventually come down. They’re available for $1,200 to $3,500, depending on their bells and whistles.

For example, split-screen systems that show two programs on a single screen, like the entertainment unit available in the Honda Odyssey, will appeal to large families.

Likewise, surround-sound systems could become an indispensable creature comfort in cars. And, improved entertainment sources such as MP3 players, satellite radio and high-definition radio will continue to drive demand for more advanced sound systems.

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Satellite radio

With many carmakers already offering satellite radio capability on selected models, it seems only a matter of time before it is a universal standard feature. Even though most car manufacturers include a specified number of months of free service — for example, GM offers 12 months — you will have to pay a subscription fee at some point.

At XM Satellite Radio, subscriptions begin at about $10 per month. But with the vast selection of music, entertainment and information offered by XM and Sirius Satellite Radio, the cost is reasonable. For anyone who spends hours a day commuting or traveling long distances by car, the crystal-clear reception and signal availability are probably worth the price.

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Bluetooth connectivity

Using short-range radio technology, Bluetooth is a way to connect electronic devices without using cables. It is an inexpensive creature comfort for integrating your cell phone into your car’s communications system. It offers hands-free use of your cell phone to make calls, receive calls and browse your phone book.

Ford has probably the best-known, upgraded version with its voice-activated Sync communications system, which is standard in most of its car models. Chrysler has a similar system, Uconnect; it’s a $395 option on the Chrysler 300.

Nearly every carmaker offers a Bluetooth option. With more and more states creating laws requiring hands-free cell phone usage in cars, Bluetooth is an obvious solution.

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MP3 interface and hard-drive music storage

Although many models currently offer an audio system with an auxiliary port for connecting an iPod or MP3 player, an integrated connection for these will probably become one of the commonplace creature comforts in most cars. The base $19,734 Suzuki Kizashi already has it, as does the $17,770 Scion tC, for example.

It gives you full control of your device through the audio system’s head unit, which is safer and easier to use than the MP3 player itself. If you want to just leave that iPod at home, several advanced audio systems available in today’s cars include a hard drive for directly downloading music for in-car storage. No CDs, no MP3 player and no iPod needed!

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Twenty-five years ago, almost no one had heard of the Internet. Today, it can be accessed from nearly every home and office. It is only a matter of time before access from cars becomes widespread, too.

Although cell phones can provide Internet access, true Wi-Fi connectivity that allows every passenger in a car to access the Internet seems as if it would be the next logical step in connectivity.

Today, Chrysler’s Uconnect Web in-car router is a $499 dealer-installed option. It provides 3G broadband Internet access. The wireless account service runs about $29 per month.

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