The best car and automotive technologies of 2020

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Your car may not have gotten the kind of use it usually does this year. Travel restrictions put a lot of wanderlusty road trips on hold for the moment. Meanwhile, folks who had to trek to work increasingly opted to drive overriding public transit. And yet, the auto industry has continued to push technology forward. When we’re all back into our regularly-scheduled cruising habits again, the vehicles on it will be a little safer, comfier, and even more efficient. This year’s top automotive innovations include a seat built for snoozing as well as upgrades to key safety features that will save lives.

Grand Award Winner: 2021 TLX Passenger Air Bag by Acura

The airbag, reimagined

In the US, car accidents account for more than 16,000 fatal brain injuries every year, and a portion of those happen in the passenger’s seat. Acura’s 2021 TLX features a uniquely redesigned bag that eases impact on those delicate noggins. While a conventional airbag inflates into a bulbous balloon that heads can easily slip or slide off, the TLX’s offering looks more like a catcher’s mitt. Immediately after impact, three chambers inflate, two of which extend out to wrap around the rider, gently guiding their head into the bag like a baseball going into a well-padded glove. The formation cushions passengers earlier in impact than past models and keeps them cradled on the airbag during an off-center hit. Ultimately, the design promises to reduce the profound rotational forces that slam brain tissue into the skull during a wreck. Though the bag debuted in the TLX, Acura’s parent company, Honda, has agreed to let other manufacturers use the technology down the line.

2021 Bronco by Ford

Legend has it that the original Bronco was referred to as the GOAT—” Go Over Any Terrain”—during its development in the 1960s, but getting the truck to transverse changing paths required specific skills like knowing when to lock the differential for traction—or knowing what a differential is in the first place. The new 2021 Bronco offers a GOAT mode that hands the work off to onboard computers, making the shift from, say, sand to the turf, quick and easy. The system taps traction-control sensors to analyze driving conditions and make adjustments to maximize grip and ground clearance. For instance, it’ll tweak the linkage and the power going to the wheels so the tires grip better on uneven terrain. Even on the street, there’s plenty to appreciate, including doors that come off with just a single bolt and plug, and a manual transmission option for purists.

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