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Car Guide 2006    

Your option

  Buyers face a wide array of choices in safety and comfort.
What's new on optional equipment lists?

When you go out shopping for your new car, the options lists for the 2007 model year will be filled with some choices that you probably didn't have when you last bought a new vehicle.

From the wheels and tires to the entertainment systems, from the transmission to the rear bumper, there are changes and choices that will require some study to make sure you get what you want and will use what you get.

What's new?
To help you make your choices, here's an overview of some of the newest and most intriguing options.
Top options
1. Keyless entry/ignition
2. New audio choices
3. In-car video
4. Navigation systems
5. Back-up cameras
6. Infrared imaging
7. Continuously variable automatic transmission
8. Cooled and heated cup holders
9. Wheels and tires

Keyless entry/ignition
For years new cars have come with keyless entry systems -- push a button on the key fob and the doors unlock -- and small computer chips embedded in the keys to help cut down on thefts. Now technology is moving ahead and the end result, an option on some models such as the 2007 Toyota Camry, is a system that doesn't require a conventional key at all.

The driver just carries a key fob that emits a low power radio signal that tells the car to unlock the doors and allows the car to be started using a simple pushbutton. The technology -- like most other advances in auto sophistication and safety -- was pioneered on high-priced cars, but for 2007 the trickle-down effect has it showing up as an option on more affordable vehicles.

Usually this feature is bundled with other luxury items, so assessing the cost of the option is difficult. Whether it's a value-added option is open to debate. After all, how difficult is it to turn a key? And replacing the keyless ignition fobs can run close to $1,000.

New audio choices
Car manufacturers have a difficult time keeping up with the fast-paced changes in the audio electronics world. For 2007, an ever increasing number of vehicles are being equipped to handle the iPod and MP3 revolution. In some vehicles, all that has happened is the addition of a small jack where an MP3 player such as the iPod can be plugged in and played through the stereo system. Some vehicles, notably BMW, have integrated holders for the iPod and integrated the player's functions into the audio system.

Also emerging on options lists are players than can handle CDs or DVDs recorded in the MP3 format.

While satellite radio, in the form of either XM or Sirius, has been an option on many vehicles for the past several years, a new format has appeared on a few vehicles for 2007. It's high-definition radio, which is a new digital broadcast format that promises to do for radio what high-definition has done for television.

It promises sound that's equal to the best compact discs from your local radio stations. But before spending the $400 to $600 for the option, check on whether there are any stations in your area that are broadcasting in high-definition.

-- Posted: Aug. 1, 2006
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