The new 2013 Ford Escape SUV hands-free lift gate where a person with their hands full, can gently kick the underside of the rear bumper to open the liftgate.

Drivers get real-life convenience with new auto technologies

SHARE Drivers get real-life convenience with new auto technologies
SHARE Drivers get real-life convenience with new auto technologies

For car buyers, sometimes it’s the little things that matter.

Not only are carmakers at the Chicago Auto Show showing off their latest souped-up cars, trucks and SUVs but also championing small innovations meant to make life a little easier, such as hands-free liftgates and easy-to-get-around child-safety seats.

Take the 2013 Ford Escape SUV that lets the driver, or whoever is holding the keys, make a gentle kick under the rear bumper to open the liftgate. The model on display at the Auto Show at the McCormick Place Convention Center opened up to reveal two grocery bags to demonstrate how much simpler the feature makes such chores. The key-holder must kick underneath the center of the bumper to make it work.

Ford says the sensors in the Escape’s rear bumper can sense the difference between a person’s leg and an animal that might run under the car or when the SUV hits a bump in the road.

A second kick closes the liftgate, or the driver may push a button on the left-hand top of the liftgate to close it. The driver may also set the height at which the liftgate opens, better to accommodate people who otherwise couldn’t reach as high as the liftgate can go.

“New Escape owners will be able to load their vehicle without ever having to set packages or gear down,” said Jason Sprawka, Escape brand manager.

The 2013 INfiniti JX and Nissan Pathfinder offer another convenience to beleaguered parents. The latest models allow parents and care-givers to slide a second-row child-safety seat forward without moving the child’s seat. The feature is meant to make it easier for rear-seat passengers to get in without having to unhook and reattach the child safety seat, according to

Other driver conveniences making their debut at the show:

†The new Dodge Dart, the first compact from Dodge in seven years, shows off an 8.4-inch computer screen on the dashboard with iPad-like buttons for easy selection of satellite radio, Garmin navigation, fuel gauge indicator and climate control that can warm up the seats and steering wheel.

The Dart, with a starting price of $15,995, will be made at Chrysler’s Belvidere assembly plant and add 1,800 jobs there. The Dart is expected to join other compact cars’ popularity among Millennials and Empty Nesters, said Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham.

†The 2013 Ford Taurus, made at the company’s Chicago South Side plant, sports a redesigned steering wheel with control pads that let the driver scroll through information such as the fuel gauge, fuel economy, miles to go to empty and time and distance traveled, while looking directly ahead. Many such navigation panels require the driver to reach to the side to push buttons.

The Taurus technology allows the driver to turn the vehicle into a Wi-Fi “hot spot” with high-speed Internet access for as many as five people riding inside. And the “My Ford Touch” computer system enables the driver to turn on devices, ask for directions and seek other information by “talking” with a voice-activation system. The computer cautions that it’s only a computer, and the driver might have to repeat himself or herself to be fully understood.

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