The mercury is plummeting in some parts of Australia. In the more temperate climates, motorists waking up to icy cars, or planning trips to the snow where the temperature can drop way below zero.
But car technology and comfort features have come a long way, and there are some very welcome winter warmer features finding their way into new models.
Here are some of the best features that will bring a little more warmth to your cabin while the southern states shiver.
1. Heated seats
A heated seat, no longer the preserve of high-end expensive models, is a truly welcome luxury, especially when combined with leather upholstery that feels colder than cloth in chilly conditions. The best examples get to work in seconds and heat both the squab and back support. Some will back off the heat after a few minutes of full power before you are cooked through, but can be pumped back up to full strength with the tap of a button. Increasingly, manufacturers are also offering the feature for rear seats and are often including them as part of an extended comfort package to keep the kids warm and happy.
2. Rear air vents
If you want to keep your rear passengers even happier, looking for a car that offers ventilation that extends to the second or even third row of seating is a great option. In the most luxurious cases, rear occupants are even offered their own climate control panel to set the temperature independently of the front row.
3. Heated steering wheel
Another feature that used to found in only the most opulent vehicles, self-warming steering wheels are finding their way onto the options list of more accessible cars, including Kia’s Carnival and the Ford Escape. Some versions only heat the sections of the wheel where your hands spend the most time, while more luxurious wheels heat the full circumference.
4. Demisting door mirrors
The venerable heated rear window has been offered as standard fare in cars for decades, but heated wing mirror glass is a less common inclusion. If you have to manoeuvre or park in tight spaces, foggy door mirrors can be a real pain, but self-clearing heating elements will dry off the mist within minutes. Often, the heaters will operate automatically, while others must be switched on when required.
5. Demisting windscreen
Blasting a foggy windscreen with air is a good way to clear the condensation on a frosty morning. However, some screens incorporate a trick similar to the rear window demister and have an array of very fine wire set into the glass. The tiny element is too fine to be seen when looking through the glass, but when the demister switch is flicked, electricity warms the wires and the screen is cleared almost instantly allowing you to see safely in seconds.
6. Heated arm rests
With the seat and steering wheel heaters cranking, you’ll be toasty shortly after starting the car, but what about the chilly arm rests? Well, BMW for one has thought about even this and has incorporated heating elements into even the leather on the door and central arm rest of its 7 Series so that no exposed skin can come into contact with cold hide. Okay, so its luxury flagship is a little out of many budgets, but you can expect to see the feature cascading down to more affordable models.
7. Washer jet heaters
If it’s cold enough to find ice on your windscreen, its cold enough to freeze the screen’s washer jets – not a good situation if you are trying to clear road grime from the glass during a winter drive. Some manufacturers have built tiny heating elements into the jets to thaw out any blockages before your vision is too impaired.
8. Neck warmers
Some manufacturers including Mercedes and Audi have developed a system more focused on top-down convertible motoring, which gently directs heated air at the driver and front passenger’s neck. The idea is foremost intended for open air driving on autumnal evenings as the setting sun allows a little chill to sneak into the cabin, but you’ll surely welcome the feature first thing in the morning on the coldest winter days.
9. Remote engine start
Of course, the ultimate solution is that your car is already up to temperature and ready to embrace you with a warm cabin as soon as you board. That’s exactly why some brands including Jeep have a special function on the key that allows you to start the car before you even get in. Hit the special remote sequence a few minutes before you leave the house and the engine’s heat will have brought the interior up to the perfect temperature, cleared all the glass of condensation and you’ll be ready to go.
An evolution of the idea is starting to emerge in electric and hybrid cars, which can use their powerful electric power sources to heat the car before you leave home. The latest technology allows you to connect to the vehicle via a smartphone application and even set a time for the heaters to fire up. If the car is plugged into its charging station, it will use that power source for heating, saving the battery power for maximum range.
The right level of vehicle specification can make life a lot more pleasant if you are living in a cooler climate, but remember the most important part of winter motoring. Always drive according to conditions, get the right equipment together if you are planning a road trip to the snow and make sure your car’s maintenance is up to date and your tyre pressures, fluid levels and lights are all checked.
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