The typical car buyer asks typical questions. What’s the gas mileage? Is it safe for my kids? How fast does it go? And, of course, how much does this thing cost?
Few people actually ask questions about specific parts under the hood. That’s a shame, because there’s been a tremendous surge in technology over the last few years in the auto industry. A lot has likely changed since the last time most consumers went car shopping.
We tested several of these new products last week while driving around a (thankfully) closed airport runway on the outskirts of Greenville, S.C. Made by automotive supplier ZF, the parts were installed in more than 20 different cars.
Take a look at some of the cool new technology you may want to ensure are part of your next car:
9-Speed Automatic Transmission
ZF recently introduced the world’s first 9-speed automatic transmission to the market. Produced at its factory outside Greenville, S.C., it will first appear on the Range Rover Evoque, but ZF has licensed the technology to Chrysler, and it will soon make its way to the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Buyers interested in SUVs like those two cars should care about the advent of the 9-speed, because it improves fuel economy by about 16 percent, compared to more conventional 6-speed transmissions that populate the majority of cars in the U.S. market.
It could be another fuel-saving option for drivers who don’t like the wonky feel of the fuel-efficient continuously variable transmission.
8-Speed Full Hybrid Transmission
Hybrid cars are sluggish and mopey, right? You might want to rethink that notion before heading to the dealership.
We tested the 8-speed full-hybrid transmission installed on a BMW Active Hybrid 3-Series. Of the 20-something cars we drove in South Carolina, this transmission was a big reason why the BMW was a favorite.
It is a full-hybrid version of the conventional 8-speed, and ZF says it is 25 percent more efficient. It produces 405 pound-feet of torque, giving this BMW plenty of punch.
Electric Power Steering
Remember the days of hydraulic steering leaks and annoying repairs? Those are about to be long gone. Carmakers are ridding their vehicles of hydraulic power steering systems and replacing them with all-electric systems.
ZF has worked in tandem with Bosch on developing a power-on-demand system that only consumes energy when a driver is actually steering. The result is a more energy efficient system, one that also saves about 5 percent on fuel economy.
It also lets drivers alter the feel of the steering. If one driver likes a more comfortable ride and another person in the family likes sportier handling, well, there’s a button for that.
“With a hydraulic system, you had to install a pump, a reservoir, coolant, hoses, a gear, and make all those connections correctly,” said Kevin Woodward, a design engineer and global account manager with ZF Steering. “Then they leak. Those leaks are a quality killer to an OEM. With electric, you eliminate those connections, and there’s an inherent quality improvement.”
Continuous Damping Control
If you have a bumpy ride to work on a route pocked with potholes, or hey, if you just like to drive fast over speed bumps, this system will give you an incredibly comfortable ride.
This system works so well in certain cars, in fact, we could hear the car clanking over bumps but not actually feel them. It was an awkward sensory discrepancy, but one that certainly benefits motorists.
Here’s how it works: Damping forces for each wheel are individually controlled, and the control unit calculates and sets the necessary force in real time.
Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed @PeterCBigelow.
AOL Autos has a policy against keeping any free or promotional items valued at more than $25 that are provided by companies to the editorial staff for review. In order to access the latest products and technology for review, we sometimes accept travel and accommodations (along with other members of the press). Our opinions and criticisms are always our own. Our editorial is not for sale, and never will be.