Words by Erin Baker, Editorial Director at Auto-Trader
Remember the days of whacking on a CD (or tape, if you’re as old as me – we’re talking Eighties/Nineties) in the car and singing at the top of your voice to Madonna, without a care in the world? Blissfully, there was no way to connect with anyone: it was just you and your thoughts, and a bad voice reaching for the high notes. The car was a private bubble, a means of escape, of personal liberty and time alone.
Well, those days are long gone. Nowadays, we are all tethered to each other by advanced connectivity. As we sit in traffic jams, our stress levels rising, we are bombarded with more information and demands to interact: live traffic updates, texts from your boss, calls from your children, meeting reminders… The car is rapidly becoming “the third space” after office and home. Already, the technology exists to dictate messages to friends and colleagues, find parking spaces, compile shopping lists, order food, books restaurants, check the weather and more. In other words, you can stay connected around the clock.
The flip side to constant connectivity, however, is constant anxiety. It is no coincidence that luxury cars with six-figure price tags, such as Bentleys, now offer a complete digital detox for those who can afford to switch off. In the new Bentley Continental GT, you can press a button to make the digital screen disappear, replaced with a piece of veneered walnut. It sounds like a minor detail, but we’ve tried it, and you actually start to breathe more deeply and slowly when that digital display disappears.
This detox offering is part of a growing wellness movement among car makers. Alongside research into augmented reality and instant concierge services, there is an awareness that motorists also want the option to turn it all off, and silence the noise.
So what are brands offering for the stressed-out driver?
Jaguar Land Rover
JLR has a Chief Medical Officer, who is pioneering a seat that makes your body think you’re walking, to combat the effects of sitting down for too long. The “morphable seat”, being trialled by JLR’s Body Interiors Division, sets in motion a series of little movements in the seat foam to create micro adjustments that trick your brain into thinking you’re walking. The shape-shifting system should help mitigate the health risks of sitting for too long, such as shortened muscles and back pain.
JLR is also researching motion sickness, and has been looking at ultra-violet light technology to help stop the spread of colds and flu in cars.
Volvo introduced its CleanZone tech on the new XC90 seven-seat SUV. A large filter sifts out pollen for hayfever sufferers and nasty particulates before they enter the car, and has a layer of charcoal to absorb more. If the air quality inside the car deteriorates, because, say, you’re going through a long tunnel, the car’s air intake automatically closes. There’s even a Volvo Cars Nose Team (yep) who test the odours given off by different objects like floor mats or child booster seats before the car goes on sale, to see if they’re too strong for those with allergies or hypersensitivities.
Volvo has been looking at car seats and spinal research since 1965, and its research has shown that uncomfortable car seats cost the UK economy £8bn a year, as more than a third of workers take at least one day off for back pain. Volvo’s seats are ergonomically designed and assessed for what they say is the optimal sitting positions for occupants.
Mercedes offers an Energising Pack which works in tandem with Garmin trackers and smart watches, to keep an eye on your physical and mental state during a journey. If it senses you are tired, for example, or that the traffic has been moving slowly for a long time, it suggests a programme which you can start in the car, that might include a change in the colour of the ambient lighting strips, music, in-car fragrance, seat heating or cooling, and it will even show videos on muscle exercises on the screen, if the car is stationary.
You can simply say, “Hey, BMW, relax me” to the voice-controlled system on the new infotainment, and it will adjust the air-con, mood lighting and music to calm passengers.
There’s also a gizmo called BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant which has a Caring Car function. It offers a relaxing or refreshing setting, and adjusts the air-con, music and cools or heats the seats accordingly. If you own an 8-Series Gran Coupe, you get a choice of Executive, Expressive and Wellbeing modes to suit your mood, and if you drive a 7-Series, you can buy the Ambient Air package which gives you a choice of eight scents to infuse the cabin, and ionises the air to rid it of toxic particles.
And if all of that ultimately fails to restore your wellbeing, you can always give up, turn all the tech back on and ask the car to direct you to the nearest spa…