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How has technology changed over the past 20 years?

How has technology changed over the past 20 years? All cars, even the smallest and cheapest are now packed with the latest technology. But do motorists really understand and appreciate what all this technology can do for them, can they use it to its full potential and do they even want it?

In-car technology

Even though cars today may look broadly similar to those of 20 years ago, technology has completely transformed the car. There are now infinitely more features to make the driving experience safer, more comfortable and more pleasurable.

In 1988 the Ford Escort was Britain's best selling car, now renamed the Ford Focus. The difference between the two cars is not simply the styling but also the level of in car technology.

Today cars are increasingly equipped with computer consoles that control more than just one thing. Now it is possible to control the audio equipment - radio or MP3 player, satellite navigation (SatNav), traffic information, engine/gearbox/suspension settings as well as mobile telephones all from the steering wheel.

This presents the driver with two major challenges - understanding how to use it all and how not to become distracted by trying to use it while driving.

1988 Ford Escort

Specifications and features:

  • Front wheel drive
  • Fully independent suspension
  • Five speed manual gearbox
  • Body toned bumpers
  • Four wheel covers
  • Padded, fully adjustable head restraints
  • Four speakers
  • High security locks
  • Self seek FM cassette audio system
  • Ashtrays
  • Electric aerial (XR3i)
  • Heated windscreen
  • Fuel computer
  • Anti-lock brakes
  • Cabriolet power roof (XR3i)
  • Tailgate wash/wipe
  • Three-speed illuminated heater blower switch
  • Trinket tray with integral coin slots
  • Velour carpet
  • Front sport seats
  • In-built carphone

2008 Ford Focus

Specifications and features:

  • Driver and front passenger airbags
  • Front and rear curtain airbags
  • Tyre pressure sensors
  • Intelligent protection system
  • Adaptive front lighting system
  • Computer console
  • Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
  • Electronic Stability Program (ESP) Traction control
  • Universal Serial Bus (USB)/iPod connectivity port
  • Advanced navigation system
  • Alloy wheels
  • Air conditioning
  • Lane departure warning
  • Collision warning
  • Power steering
  • Cruise control
  • Climate control
  • Voice command control
  • CD autochanger
  • Parking distance sensors
  • Tailgate wash/wipe
  • Bluetooth Hands Free Phone and Voice Control
  • Ford Easy fuel capless refuelling system
  • Leather heated seats
  • Electric windows
  • Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution
  • Ford key-free system
  • Thatcham CAT 1 immobiliser

Motorists' understanding of technology in their cars

Executive summary