- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

Electrical and electronic devices are showing up at an ever-increasing rate as the new 2002s and 2003s roll into dealers' showrooms. Even low-priced cars are benefiting from recent advances in electronics.

The recently introduced Mini Cooper features frameless windows that move down slightly when the door is opened and go back up when the door is closed to ensure a tight seal. This feature might seem extravagant for a car priced under $20,000, but the system had already been developed for the BMW 3-Series and Mini got a free ride by using the same hardware and software.

Nowhere is the use of high-tech electronics more apparent than in several recently introduced very upscale cars. In many cases, these innovations came about because of a need to free up valuable space on the instrument panel or center console. Others were developed to eliminate bulky, heavy mechanical systems, and some stem from the old-fashioned desire to make things work better.

BMW's new 745i sedan has no conventional transmission shift lever. Instead, it has a paddlelike switch to change gears electronically call it "shift by wire." The shift lever had to go to make room for a console-mounted joystick that controls most of the car's comfort and convenience functions. The 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL500 is the first car to incorporate electronic brakes. This brake-by-wire system eliminates the bulky power-brake booster and greatly improves brake performance.

Although the 2003 Jaguar S-Type may not look all that different from last year's model, there are major developments under the skin. With an exhilarating 400 horsepower on tap, Jaguar's new, supercharged 4.2-liter V-8 engine makes the new S-Type R the most powerful car in the Jaguar model line. The V-8 is controlled by a sophisticated 32-bit engine-management system to deliver stunning performance.

Along with the new engine, Jaguar offers a ZF six-speed automatic transmission. It's the same transmission BMW uses in the 7-Series. Jaguar's unique J-gate gear-selector system is adapted to suit the new six-speed transmission and now features electronic control. On the right-hand side of the selector gate is the traditional "PRND" layout, which, in the "D" position, provides fully automatic availability of all six gears. Moving the lever to the left-hand side of the "J-gate" gives the driver shift-by-wire control of the transmission with a "5 4 3 2" gear-range selection.

Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension, or CATS, supervises ride and handling by using two-stage electronically controlled dampers. Vertical and lateral accelerometers send signals to an electronic-control unit that automatically adjusts the damper settings in microseconds to suit driving conditions, optimizing ride and handling.

Jaguar's Adaptive Restraint Technology System uses ultrasonic technology to monitor the position of the front passenger, while an array of other sensors detect the front passenger's weight, the position of the driver in relation to the steering wheel and the usage of seat belts. If a crash occurs, ARTS determines the severity of the impact, which controls the deployment of air bags.

The optional JaguarVoice voice-activation system, first used on the S-Type, provides voice control of primary functions of the audio, telephone and climate control systems, as well as the satellite navigation system. This system is now available in French and Spanish, as well as the languages that were available at debut: German, Italian and English, which includes North American or Australian accents.

For a touch of exclusivity, the S-Type now sports an electronic parking brake. The brake is applied by pulling a console-mounted switch up and released by pushing it down. It also automatically engages when the ignition key is removed. With the automatic transmission, the parking brake is automatically released when the gear selector is moved from the "park" position. Rear brakes are applied with cables connected to an electronically controlled actuator mounted on the rear frame. The driver receives an audible and visual warning if the parking brake is accidentally applied while the vehicle is in motion. Even with electronic supervision, we're told that hand brake turns are still possible.

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