Innovation has always been a vital force in the auto industry and car companies increasingly cannot afford to sit back and watch competitors move forward. Since the dawn of the auto industry, it’s been clear technology sells. Every advance the car manufacturer makes gives it an edge over its competitors.
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The innovation is inspired by a number of factors. Recently, the most pressing has been the growing concern of consumers about the global environment, while legislation has forced companies to reduce exhaust emissions and either improve fuel consumption or offer petrol cars instead. Safety is another area where innovation can easily be seen – every manufacturer wants a solid reputation here and there and a great deal of prestige for being the first to offer a safety feature that later became an industry standard.
Even technology that has no environmental or safety benefit is worth developing, because introducing innovative new features can give your company’s vehicles a unique selling point. Ford’s “Quickclear” heated windshield has been an exclusive to the company for years and has been loved by its loyal customers. Not all innovations are appreciated, though—when British Leyland designers outfitted an Austin Allegro with a square-shaped steering wheel in the early 1970s, it was immediately ridiculed and dropped.
The entries on our list of the most innovative cars are those where we see the importance of thinking behind every smart feature. Only cars of new value were excluded – only real developments in the field of motoring were included.
Read on for our pick of some of the most innovative cars of recent years.
The Ioniq 5 is Hyundai’s first next-generation electric vehicle and brings 800V ultra-fast charging to the mainstream market. Charging time drops to less than twenty minutes for a 10-80% charge increase when connected to a 350kW fast charger. Like the Volkswagen ID.4 and Skoda Enyaq iV, the Ioniq 5 is only built as an electric vehicle with no hybrid or internal combustion engine option.
Why was it given the highest billing on our list? Not only did the Ioniq 5 win two awards at the 2022 Car of the Year awards, it’s a huge step forward from the previous model offering tomorrow’s charging solutions today.
Second place was awarded to the Toyota Mirai, for no other reason than to indicate how determined Toyota is to make zero-emissions cars a reality. Almost every automaker has some type of electric or hybrid model on the market these days, but after already exploring that area with the Prius, Toyota is branching out into another potential future power source: hydrogen.
Mirai generates power for its electric motors by mixing hydrogen with oxygen and emits nothing but harmless water vapor. At the moment, the technology is still in its infancy, and therefore it is very expensive. There are currently only a few hydrogen refueling sites in the UK, and hydrogen cars are unlikely to become very popular until filling sites close to the ubiquity of gas stations. However, Mireille still gives a great insight into the potential future of personal transportation.
Volvo has always been a leader in automotive safety, so it’s no surprise to hear that the company’s flagship Volvo XC90 SUV is packed with safety gear. In fact, no model achieved a better result in the Euro NCAP crash test programme. With airbags galore and electronic safety systems that can automatically brake the vehicle to avoid collisions fitted as standard, there is no safer vehicle available.
That’s not the only reason it’s on our list, though we think the XC90’s interior is the most interesting and exciting we’ve seen in an SUV. The dashboard is dominated by a massive touch panel that looks like a large iPad, which controls most of the car’s functions. It is also easy to use. Spend some time learning its capabilities, and you’ll wonder how to manage without it.
The Tesla Model S is, quite frankly, one of the most notable cars ever sold. Tesla’s first car was an electric roadster based on the Lotus Elise and few people could have imagined that the second would be a large luxury hatchback with world-class design and performance. Previously, the concept of an electric car was unromantic at best, but Tesla created the Model S as a truly desirable machine; A luxury car that puts a wealth of otherworldly technologies at your command.
On some models, if the relaxation of the semi-autopilot system doesn’t suit you, subscribing to a mode called “Ludicrous Mode” makes 0 to 60 mph possible in less than three seconds. Why not rank higher on our list then? This is only because the price of the Model S is beyond the reach of the majority of motorists.
The Mercedes S-Class has always been the go-to choice for high-ranking officials and wealthy luxury enthusiasts alike, but there’s so much more to it than just beautiful leather stitching. For generations, the S-Class has been a rolling showcase of technical advances, often the first features that even the most modest cars have boasted for many years. The first was with driver airbag and seat belt pretensioners, and the latest generation builds on that with rear seat belts that inflate for comfort.
The spirit of innovation continues with the car’s hybrid drive system, built-in Wi-Fi, 24-speaker stereo, reclining rear seats and a suspension system that automatically prepares the car for the road ahead by scanning its surface. Simply put, looking at the exciting features that the Mercedes S-Class offers today will give you a good idea of what to expect in a family car in a few years’ time.
Electric cars may be more common than ever, but electric cars involved in driving are still a rare sight. Manufacturers focus on improving the range and introducing new technologies, but the test drive is still being worked out. Aside from the insane acceleration numbers, the main attraction of electric vehicles to their fans was the instant throttle response. Not only did Porsche offer a fast car that could carry four people, but a car that handled like no other electric car.
Not only that, Porsche has decided that instead of having a powerful regenerative braking system, as most electric cars do, the Taycan should back off when not on the throttle, making it feel similar to its internal combustion colleagues in the sports car brand. It also offers incredibly fast charging like the Ioniq 5.
The electric MG ZS tops our list because it offers one of the most competitively priced electric vehicles on the market. Electric vehicles still have a higher purchase price than their internal combustion engine counterparts, but their lower operating costs make them more attractive.
The MG ZS EV also has a relatively low starting price and a good level of standard equipment, making it an all-electric SUV and a very good value compared to the competition. The entry model includes a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system and smartphone connectivity as standard. The electric version of the MG ZS is also four seconds faster in acceleration from 0 to 62 mph than its petrol counterpart.
A small city car that could be an all-wheel drive option is not a familiar sight, but then Suzuki likes to be different. If you only need a small car but live where the weather can become a challenge, the Ignis offers better traction and costs less than the competition. Very few cars compete with the Ignis because it offers the grip of an SUV but the imprint of a city car.
Surprisingly, the interior is spacious despite its 1.5m width and 3.7m length. That’s because the Ignis is tall, with a higher roofline than the Nissan Qashqai, and this adds space and an airy feel to the cabin. You won’t miss the Ignis on the road either, as its sturdy boxy shape separates it from the crowd. Pick one of the bright colors and you’ll never lose it in the parking lot either.
Car manufacturers regularly present concept cars as inspiration for next-generation designs or to capture the attention of broader ambitions. When Toyota – famous for reliable and competitive cars – first unveiled the GR Yaris project, not many were expecting it in showrooms. Toyota’s racing arm, Gazoo Racing (GR), extracted 257 horsepower from a three-cylinder turbocharged engine and added a rally-derived all-wheel drive system.
The car shares a few body panels with the regular Yaris, as well as larger wheels, larger brakes and a reshaped roof. Toyota’s performance team pulled no punches when making the GR Yaris. After a major rework, which included removing the two tailgates, you can now buy a real road rally car from your local dealer. The GR Yaris is last on our list of Toyota cars that take a small hatchback and invest such time and effort into making such a great performance vehicle.