Photos by Grant Yoxon
There is something to be said for a very basic vehicle that is easy to diagnose and work on. However, without advances in technology we wouldn’t have features that make driving more enjoyable – such as electronic fuel injection, keyless entry systems and fantastic sounding stereo systems. Some technologies available on vehicles are not really necessary, but enhance our safety and enjoyment of the vehicle. I like to call those options “bells, toys and whistles”.
One of the newest vehicles on the market has an abundance of these neat features. The Lexus RX 330 is a Luxury SUV and it is often luxury vehicles that are used to introduce new technologies. After the features become well accepted, they tend to migrate down to vehicles that are more economical. Take keyless entry for example. Not long ago this feature was exclusive to luxury vehicles. Now it is commonly found on most new vehicles. With this in mind, some of the options discussed today could be standard equipment on your next vehicle.
Several features found on the RX 330 can also be found on other makes as well. Rain sensing wipers are one of these features. The wiper system uses an infrared sensor mounted on the inside of the windshield near the rear view mirror. When the wipers are turned to delay mode and water hits the windshield, light is refracted differently into the sensor. The electronics inside the sensor turn the wipers on until the windshield is clear and then the wipers stop, waiting for the next drops of rain. This sounds like the ultimate in laziness until you have to drive in light misting rain. Then the benefits of being able to concentrate on driving rather than constantly operating the wiper controls become obvious.
Another neat RX 330 feature is the DVD-based navigation system. Navigation systems are available on many vehicles and I generally don’t recommend them unless you have to drive in the U.S. or one of Canada’s major cities. The mapping isn’t great for many smaller cities, but the RX 330 uses the Nav system for other purposes too. With the added Rear Back-up Camera feature, drivers can see in the Navigation system screen areas behind the vehicle that are normally hidden from viewing in the rear view mirrors. The video camera isn’t much bigger than a 35-mm film canister and is mounted above the rear license plate and I found the picture clear even after travelling down muddy and dusty roads.
DVD based rear seat entertainment systems are now available on many vehicles but the Lexus RX 330 has taken it one step further. Place the vehicle in park with the parking brake applied and the front seat Navigation system screen now becomes a second DVD movie screen. You could rent a movie and take the whole family out to your own driveway Drive-In movie!
Automatic levelling headlamps are available on a few vehicles equipped with High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps but again the RX 330 improves on the system. Not only do the headlamps automatically level, they turn in the direction the vehicle is moving. Called the Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS), a central controller calculates the optimum light direction based on vehicle speed and steering angle. Turn left and the left headlamp beam will turn up to 15 degrees to the left. Turn right and the right headlamp beam moves up to 5 degrees to the right. The right moves less than the left because the right headlamp is already aimed several degrees right to help light up the shoulder of the road.
The system goes through a short test cycle when the key is first turned on, so to anyone watching, the RX 330 almost looks alive as the headlamps quickly dip and rotate.
A feature not found on the RX 330 but available on the Lexus LX430 and the new Toyota Sienna is Dynamic laser cruise control. A small transmitter below the front bumper sends out laser beams that are reflected off vehicles ahead. The vehicle-to-vehicle distance is calculated by a computer and if the distance is too short the computer will reduce engine throttle and even apply brakes if necessary.
Some features enhance our safety. Others are for convenience and comfort. Technology keeps on advancing and there are many other interesting features on other vehicles to look at in the future.