Best car tech of 2015
The past ten years have seen the automobile change beyond recognition. It has morphed from a metal box on wheels to a high-tech palace of comfort that can connect with the outside world via the web, often drive itself and occasionally help save the planet with next generation drivetrains.
Technological progress keeps marching on and this year, we have seen the introduction of gesture controlled infotainment systems (thanks BMW), Toyota's stab at a mass-produced hydrogen vehicle and Elon Musk's supercar-shaming all-electric Tesla Model S P90D.
Yes, next year will usher in even more phenomenal innovations from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and the aforementioned Tesla but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Here's a reminder of what made 2015 an awesome year for automotive advancement.
Mercedes-Benz GLE 500e
The plug-in GLE is Mercedes' first stab at an electrified premium SUV and it's proof that folks with a few quid to spare don't mind splashing out on greener alternatives.
It's powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 with the addition of an 85kW electric motor. Progress is swift but the big GLE isn't simply a countryside crusher, it actually packs some serious brain to back up the brawn.
For example, it farms data from the sat nav system to select the correct drive mode for the conditions. So, if you're about to drive up a big hill, it will draw maximum power from the electric motors because it knows it can top up the lithium-ion batteries via regenerative braking and coasting modes on the way down.
It weighs almost 2.5-tonnes but can hit 0-62mph in 5.3-seconds and returns 76.4mpg on the combined cycle. If that's not proof hybrids rock, we're not sure what is.
New Nissan Leaf
Let's start off small, shall we? The Nissan Leaf may not be the sexiest EV currently on sale and news of an improved battery isn't exactly mind-blowing but it's integral to tempting range-anxious owners away from gas-guzzling internal combustion engines.
The recently released 30kW battery pack gives a 25% increase in range, meaning the plucky Leaf can now manage a claimed 155-miles before it needs recharging. Throw in the improved 7-inch touch screen infotainment package and Nissan's Leaf starts to look a lot more attractive, which is good news for the planet.
Ford Sync 3
Ford previewed its latest infotainment system in 2015, which uses a zone-based interface so users can easily flick between navigation, a tethered phone and a whole host of other items. Smartphone-style gesture control, AppLink and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto all feature, as well as the ability to tap into Siri and other voice control systems so drivers stay on the right side of the law.
It's a giant leap on from the previous Ford in-car system and great news for those not wanting to part with ridiculous money for the latest in-car tech. Ford confirms that it will first appear in the UK on next year's Mondeo, S-Max and Galaxy, as well as the molten-hot Focus RS.
£28,940 (Focus RS), ford.co.uk
Jaguar's InControl Touch Pro
Jaguar Land Rover may be producing world-beating cars but its infotainment system has long needed a refresh, which is why InControl Touch Pro is a welcome change.
Debuted on the new XJ model, the system uses HERE mapping for proper door-to-door routing, even when you step out of the car, as well as intelligent learning navigation that automatically stores favourite routes, plans faster journeys and update friends via the phonebook on an estimated time of arrival.
The virtual instrument cluster isn't quite as slick as Audi's offering but the new software does offer some clever tricks, including the ability to warn if there is insufficient fuel for a planned journey and recommend the cheapest parking at your destination.
Toyota has sold 8 million hybrid models globally to date but that hasn't stopped the pioneering Japanese marque from dabbling in a new form of propulsion: hydrogen.
The Mirai, which literally means future in Japanese, features a unique fuel cell system that allows it to create electricity from the chemical H2 in order to charge the on-board batteries. Once the hydrogen tank is depleted, a driver simply pulls up to a hydrogen filling station and refuels like any petrol or diesel vehicle owner.
There are only two stations of the kind in the UK at the moment (with one more due to open in Swindon next year) but the 342-mile range and 9.6-seconds to 62mph performance figures make it an enticing, if expensive package and one to watch for the future. Oh, and it emits nothing but water from the tailpipes, so that's the planet saved. Thanks Toyota.
BMW 7 Series' gesture control
BMW deserves a second place on this list simply because it crammed the 7 Series with so many gadgets, it would put any branch of Maplins to shame. The iDrive infotainment system now harnesses the power of an infrared camera, which is located by the rear-view mirror, to pick up hand movements from the driver or front passenger.
Drivers can use a limited number of hand gestures to control various functions on the infotainment system: a swirl of the index finger increases or decreases the media volume, depending on which way you swirl, while a swipe of the hand rejects an incoming call.
It feels slightly weird to use at first and many will likely stick to the traditional steering wheel-mounted volume controls rather than twiddling a digit but it previews what a powerful gesture controlled future could look like. A future where superfluous buttons and dials have been committed to the history books.
Tesla Model S Autopilot
It's absurdly cool that Tesla Model S owners can now enjoy a suite of fully autonomous driving functions in their electric vehicles but it's made even more stupendous when you realise that this functionality was added via an internet update.
Elon Musk claims that Autopilot is currently in its 'beta' stage and as such, drivers shouldn't really be hacking around while answering emails but the system harnesses powerful ultra-sonic sensors, radars and cameras to map the world around it, meaning hands-free driving is theoretically possible... when the law catches up.
That said, Model S drivers have already flagged up a number of issues, including the fact that roads need to be clearly marked in order for Autopilot to work properly but Tesla hopes with a few tweaks it will have a fully legal fully autonomous car on roads by 2018.
Volvo XC90 T8 with Sensus Connect
It's a tech double-whammy with Volvo's stylish SUV, as the T8 plug-in hybrid not only packs some serious performance and admirable fuel efficiency figures but it also hosts the sleek Sensus Connect touch screen media system.
The T8 fuses a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre petrol engine with a hefty battery pack and powerful motors so the giant family wagon can lurch from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds. The other benefit of this hybrid powertrain is a tax-avoiding 49g/km CO2 and 134.5mpg on the combined cycle.
Inside, Sensus Connect takes care of navigation, climate and multimedia functions with a blend of tablet-style gesture control and innovative drop tiles that allow the user to effortlessly move back and forward through menu screens. Slick doesn't begin to describe it.
Audi R8 Virtual Cockpit
Ok, so Audi technically unveiled Virtual Cockpit on the latest TT model earlier this year but it just fits perfectly with the range-topping R8. The 602bhp 5.2-litre V10 monster is the absolute pinnacle in terms of high-performance Audis but the forward-thinking supercar also features one of the coolest instrument binnacles ever made.
An improved MMI navigation system is paired with a 12.3-inch screen that sits where the typical speedos and dials would. The Virtual Cockpit acts as a hub to control almost every function in the car, as well as offering rad performance readouts, such as G-force, lap times and tyre pressures.
Audi has hinted that it is to expand upon these LCD screens, potentially replacing parts of the dash with them so passengers can also enjoy some interactive japes.