All posts by Lawrence Ulrich

Bosch’s Smart Visor Tracks the Sun While You Drive

Post Syndicated from Lawrence Ulrich original

The automotive sun visor has been around for nearly a century, first affixed in 1924 as a “glare shield” on the outside of a Ford Model T. Yet despite modest advances—lighted vanity mirrors, anyone?—it’s still a crude, view-blocking slab that’s often as annoying as it is effective. 

Bosch, finally, has a better idea: An AI-enhanced liquid crystal display (LCD) screen that links with a driver-monitoring camera to keep the sun out of your eyes without blocking the outward view. The German supplier debuted the Bosch Virtual Visor at the recent CES show in Las Vegas. 

An Internet of Tires? Pirelli Marries 5G And Automobile Wheels

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The term “5G” typically makes people think of the smartphone in their hand, not the tires on their car. But Pirelli has developed the Cyber Tire, a smart tire that reads the road surface and transmits key data — including the potential risk of hydroplaning — along a 5G communications network. 

Pirelli demonstrated its Cyber Tire (also known as the Cyber Tyre) at a conference hosted by the 5G Automotive Association, atop the architect Renzo Piano’s reworking of the landmark Lingotto Building in Turin, Italy. That’s the former Fiat factory where classic models such as the Torpedo and 500 (the latter known as Topolino, or “Little Mouse”) barrelled around its banked, three-quarter-mile rooftop test track beginning in the 1920’s. Engineers of that era, of course, couldn’t begin to fathom how digital technology would transform automobiles, let alone the revolution in tires that has dramatically boosted their performance, durability and safety. 

Using an Audi A8 as its test car, Pirelli’s network-enabled tires sent real-time warnings of slippery conditions to a following Audi Q8, taking advantage of the ultra-high bandwidth and low latency of 5G. Corrado Rocca, head of Cyber R&D for Pirelli, said that an accelerometer mounted within the tire itself—rather than the wheel rims that send familiar tire-pressure readouts in many modern cars—precisely measures handling forces along three axes. That includes the ability to sense water, ice or other low-coefficient of friction roadway conditions.

The sensor data can be used to the immediate benefit of safety and autonomous systems onboard a car. It can also be used in the growing realm of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) or vehicle-to-x communications (V2X), which means the once-humble tire could become a critical player in a wider ecosystem of networked safety and traffic management. Obvious scenarios include a car on the freeway that suddenly encounters ice, with tires that instantly send visual or audio hazard warnings not only to that car but also to nearby vehicle and pedestrians, as well as to networked roadway signs that announce the potential danger, or adjust prevailing speed limits accordingly.   

“No other element of a car is as connected to the road as the tire,” Rocca reminds us. “There are many modern sensors; lidar, sonar, cameras, but nothing on the ‘touching’ side of the car.’” 

Virtually every new car is equipped with anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) systems, which also spring into action when a car’s wheels begin to slip, or when a car begins to slide off the driver’s intended course. But the Cyber Tire could further improve those systems, Rocca said, allowing a car to proactively adjust those safety systems, or automatically slow itself down in response to changing roadway conditions. 

“Because we’re sensing the ground constantly, we can warn of the risk of hydroplaning well before you lose control,” Rocca says. “The warning could appear on a screen, or the car could automatically decide to correct it with ABS or ESC.” 

Aside from data on dynamic loads, the Cyber Tire’s internal sensor might also communicate in-car information specific to that tire model, or the kilometers of travel it has absorbed. 

Pirelli is also developing the technology for race circuits and driving enthusiasts, with its Italia Track Adrenaline tire. With tire temperatures dramatically affecting traction, wear and safety, this version monitors temperatures, pressure and handling forces in real time. That combines with onboard GPS and telemetry data to help drivers improve their on-track skills. The system could deliver simple real-time instructions — such as color-coded screen readouts as a tire rises to or beyond optimal operating temperature—or using popular telemetry tools, a granular analysis of the tire’s performance after a lapping session. (At the highest levels of Formula One racing, cars are equipped with roughly 140 sensors, which collect 20 to 30 megabytes of telemetry data every lap). 

With 5G, V2V and V2X systems still in the development phase,  Pirelli can’t say when it sensor-enabled hunks of rubber will reach the market. Automakers ultimately lead the adoption of new tire technology, and many are leery of new tech until they’re sure consumers will pay for it. Car companies are also cautious about ceding the networked space in their cars to outside suppliers—witness their glacial, grudging adoption of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But Pirelli says it’s working with major automakers on integrating the technology. And Rocca says that, like ABS in its nascent stages, smart tires could become common on vehicles within a decade.  It’s almost enough to get us wishing for a winter storm to try them out.

An Electric Motor That Works in Any Classic Car

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Anyone who’s owned a vintage car can tell you—and boy, will they tell you—how much time, money, and maintenance is required to keep their baby running. And don’t forget the gasoline, garage oil puddles, or tailpipe pollution involved. 

A California startup may have the answer: A plug-and-play innovative motor to convert that finicky old gas-guzzler into an  electric car. Eric Hutchison and Brock Winberg first gained attention by rescuing a moldering, V-8-powered 1978 Ferrari 308—you may know it as the model that “Magnum: P.I.” drove on TV—and transforming it into an electric marvel.  Now, the co-founders of Electric GT have developed a DIY, electric “crate motor” that will let traditional gearheads or EV fans do the same.

“A lot of guys go out for a weekend in a classic car that’s 40 or 50 years old, but they get a ride home with AAA; it ends up being a one-way trip,” Hutchison says. “Here, you’re taking out 95 percent of the maintenance, which is the biggest problem with classic cars. So this is for enthusiasts who love their cars, but want a fun, reliable car that’s good for 100 or 125 miles on a weekend drive.”

New Lamborghini’s Digital Brain Helps Manage Its Supercar Brawn

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Powerful central processor predicts the car’s ideal path and helps the driver achieve it

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (or “ADAS”) tend to be about slowing drivers down: braking cars automatically, or preventing errant maneuvers into looming obstacles. But Lamborghini is helping drivers go faster, via the new digital wingman in its latest supercar, the Huracan Evo.

With a 5.2-liter, naturally aspirated V-10 engine at the center of its alluring body, the Huracan produces a bellowing 640 horsepower. That power plant, and a light-but-strong chassis formed from aluminum and carbon fiber, let the supercar go from zero to about 100 kilometers per hour (60 mph) in 2.9 seconds; its top speed is a heady 325 km/h (202 mph). Strapped aboard this $265,000 Italian bull, some drivers will want all the help they can get.

I first tested the Huracan at Willow Springs International Raceway in California. The track’s historic “Big Willow” circuit—with just nine turns over 2.5 miles, roller-coaster elevation changes, and infamously high speeds—was a fine proving ground for the Lambo’s newly integrated systems.

Like many modern supercars, the Huracan is obsessed with getting all that engine power to the pavement as safely and efficiently as possible: The Huracan features a slick “torque vectoring” all-wheel-drive unit that can instantly apportion power to any of its wheels. All-wheel-steering can automatically turn the rear wheels either in opposition to the fronts, to boost agility at lower speeds, or in tandem with front wheels to aid high-speed stability. 

But the Huracan’s big new brain is the real advance. The company calls it LDVI, for Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Integrata. That’s a mouthful, but LDVI is actually a powerful central processor that analyzes a driver’s behavior, compares it against feedback from onboard sensors and systems, and combines it all to keep the car on the pilot’s intended path. This happens even at the extremes of speed, when one wrong move might otherwise send the car spinning into a ditch.

That onboard tech includes a comprehensive set of gyroscopes and accelerometers, located at the car’s center of gravity. They measure the car’s acceleration along lateral, longitudinal and vertical axes, as well as the body’s roll, pitch, and yaw rates. The latest version of Lamborghini’s magnetic suspension continuously adjusts the dampers at all four corners in response to data from those dynamic sensors. And the brand’s familiar “ANIMA” controller lets drivers select Strada (street), Sport, or Corsa (track) modes that change the car’s driving personality.

Previously, Lamborghinis could only react passively to the driver’s inputs to the steering wheel, throttle and brakes, and make adjustments in a familiar feedback loop. But the new LDVI applies “feed forward” logic so that it’s no longer simply reacting, but actually predicting the ideal set-up for the moment to come. Driver inputs are processed in real-time, and systems are adjusted in lightning-quick, 20-millisecond increments. External conditions are monitored via the aforementioned sensors that measure tire grip and cornering forces at all four wheels, and feedback from the active suspension.

The result is a supercar with a sixth sense for the person behind its wheel and for the situations it’s encountering. The basic Strada set-up is ideal for newbies or a chill commute. Here, the digital nannies won’t allow injudicious lead-footing: A clumsy pilot’s demand for, say, more acceleration when he’s already dialed in too much steering on a corner will be met with countervailing forces to quickly right the ship. But dial the Huracan to Sport mode, and the Lamborghini is primed for Fast and Furious hijinks, allowing a skilled driver freedom to slide sideways and otherwise push the handling envelope. In Corsa mode, everything is buttoned down for the track with the aim of achieving the fastest possible lap times. Among the adjustments is diverting more power to front wheels to maximize traction and balance. Lamborghini data shows that LDVI allows drivers to carve a faster, more-efficient path through curves, with fewer human steering corrections.

Of course, some drivers—count me among them—enjoy being in full control and having to correct their own mistakes. For the most part, LDVI does work transparently and behind the scenes: Unlike primitive stability and traction systems of 20 years ago, you never get the sense that the car is withholding full power or dumbing down the experience. My one quibble was with the operation of the active rear steering, which sometimes seemed to tweak the car’s cornering attitude when I wasn’t looking for help, thank you very much. But moments of obtrusiveness aside, LDVI advances the modern supercar, and that’s a great thing. Its smarts make high performance fun, safe, and accessible—including for image-conscious buyers who have more money than driving talent.

Smartphones Replace Fobs for Keyless Vehicle Entry

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Lincoln and Amazon are the latest companies to harness smartphone apps for easy vehicle entry

Roll-up windows. Cigarette lighters. Physical ignition keys. All of these features have gone virtually extinct in modern automobiles. The quaint metal key gave way to transponder fobs, which led to “proximity keys” that don’t leave your pocket at all. Now, smartphones are becoming the new gatekeepers, as car companies roll out features that let drivers unlock and start their cars through an app.

Volvo began offering its subscription-based On Call service in 2016; it allows owners to use the company’s smartphone app to lock, unlock, and start their cars. With it, users can also remotely check vehicle fuel levels, receive service alerts, or send destinations to the onboard navigation system.

Tesla, which has never been shy about beta testing on its customers, then attempted to sell a car with no fob at all: The Model 3 sedan was initially available with only smartphone-based entry and ignition, and a backup RFID card. Beset by customer complaints of spotty operation, Tesla began offering a familiar fob last fall for an extra US $150. Yet that fob didn’t allow the “passive entry” of the smartphone system, requiring owners to push a button to enter or lock the car. 

Now it’s Lincoln’s turn. Ford’s luxury division will bring two SUVs to market this year, the midsize 2020 Aviator and compact 2020 Corsair. Traditionalists will still receive a standard fob, but adventurous types can pay extra for the Lincoln’s app-based, optional “Phone as a Key” system. 

The Ram 1500 Hybrid Merges Pickup Power With Sedan Fuel Efficiency

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Frugal with fuel in stop-and-go traffic

The 2019 Ram has been garnering early praise for several technologies unheard of in full-size pickup trucks: a Tesla-like touch screen, a coil-spring rear suspension and self-leveling air suspension. But its best tech trick is under the hood: mild hybrid power. It’s called eTorque, and it’s standard on every V-6 Ram and an option on Hemi V-8 models.

Mild hybrids can’t propel themselves on electricity alone, but they can supplement gasoline power and trim fuel consumption. On the Ram, a liquid-cooled motor/generator connects to the Pentastar V-6’s crankshaft to deliver an electric boost of 8.9 kilowatts (12 horsepower) and as many as 122 newton meters (90 pound-feet) of torque. It’s powered by a 48-volt electrical system, the new wave in automotive electricals, with a DC/DC converter and a compact, 0.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery.

That 48-V system permits the use of engine stop/start tech that cycles so seamlessly that it’s nearly undetectable: The Ram rolls from stoplights under electric power before it cranks the gasoline engine to whispery life, without the shuddering or noise that make typical stop/start systems so annoying.

Throw in an incredibly creamy ride, and a back seat (in Crew Cab models) with more legroom than any full-size luxury sedan, and you realize how far we’ve come from the days when the General Motors GMT 400 was hailed for having independent front suspension with torsion bars.

Ram says the eTorque system saves 5 centiliters (1.7 ounces) of fuel for every 90-second stop. Do that just 10 times a day and you’re conserving 190 liters (50 gallons) of fuel a year. It also saves energy through regenerative hybrid brakes. The latest, 227-kW (305-hp) Pentastar V-6 adds variable intake-valve lift and cam phasing that can run the efficient Atkinson combustion cycle, familiar from hybrids like the Toyota Prius. The 295-kW (395-hp) Hemi V-8 adds its own goodies, including fuel-saving cylinder deactivation, electronic mass dampers on frame rails and active cabin-noise cancellation, the latter two techs designed to erase telltale vibrations when the Ram runs on just four cylinders.

The upshot is the kind of fuel economy once associated with family cars. The V-6 Ram has an EPA fuel economy of 12.4 liters/100 kilometers (19 miles per gallon) on local roads and 9.8 L/100 km (24 mpg) on the highway, and an unmatched driving range of 1,000 km (624 miles) on a tank of gasoline. Even the burly V-8 eTorque model manages up to 17/23 mpg, in a truck that can tow a whopping 5,783 kilograms, or approximately one African bull elephant.

Ferrari’s Fastest-Ever Street-Legal V8 Takes Design and Tech Cues from Its F1 racers

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It’s a turbo with the satisfying sound of an air-breathing monster

When I get my first knee-wobbling glimpse of the 488 Pista and its zesty racing stripes, I’m not thinking about technology, I have to confess. But when I strap aboard the Pista at Ferrari’s fabled Fiorano test circuit in Maranello, Italy, I’m soon saying grazie for the sheer technical prowess of the fastest V-8 Ferrari ever produced.

A midmounted, dry-sump, twin-turbo V-8 spools up 529 kilowatts (710 horsepower) from just 3.9 liters of displacement, in a Ferrari that weighs just 1,382 kilograms (3,047 pounds). That’s 6 percent lighter than a 488 GTB, the standard version of Ferrari’s midengine marvel. The diet that slimmed down the Pista included carbon-fiber wheels that weigh 40 percent less than standard rims.

The result is a new idea of insanity in a street-legal Ferrari: The 0-to-100-kilometer-per-hour run (62 miles per hour) takes 2.85 seconds. You get to 200 km/h (124 mph) in 7.6 seconds, which is faster than many cars take to reach 100 km/h.

Engineers trimmed 23 kg (50 lbs) from the engine alone, using carbon-fiber intake plenums and titanium connecting rods, just like in Ferrari’s F1 racers. The engine’s total rotational inertia—created by its moving parts and by friction—is reduced by 17 percent for faster, more-joyous revving. The Inconel-alloy exhaust manifold is just 1 millimeter wide at its thinnest sections, and it saves nearly 9 kg (20 lbs). The design minimizes energy losses incurred when the engine pumps out exhaust. It also helps deliver the fortissimo sound that went missing in the GTB, a major challenge as supercars switch en masse to more-efficient turbocharged power plants.

Engineers also added more “color” to the sound of the engine by augmenting the richer, more-pleasing frequencies. Turbocharger speed sensors on each cylinder bank measure how well it’s working in real time to enable engine controllers to maximize power, regardless of altitude or ambient temperature.

The Ferrari takes aerodynamic and handling cues from Ferrari Challenge racers, along with the 488 GTBs that have dominated FIA Endurance Racing. Compared with a standard GTB, the Pista enjoys a huge 20 percent gain in aero efficiency, including up to 240 kg (529 lbs) of downforce at 200 km/h (124 mph). Giant carbon-ceramic brakes feel strong enough to halt Earth’s rotation. The S-Duct, a Ferrari showroom first, channels air through the front fascia and over the hood to clamp front tires to the road surface. Front radiators are inverted and canted rearward to direct hot air along the underbody but well away from side intercooler intakes.

As in Challenge cars, the engine is actually fed from the rear, where air intakes mounted just below the rear spoiler take advantage of the high-pressure atmosphere there; the 488’s signature cleavages in rear fenders are now put to use feeding air into turbo intercoolers and cooling the engine bay. The rear diffuser incorporates three active flaps that can rotate up to 14 degrees to minimize drag, hastening runs to the car’s top speed of 340 km/h (211 mph). The result is a track-day carnival.

The car’s coolest hand-me-down from racing tech may be the new “wall effect” rev limiter. Traditional engine-speed limiters, Ferrari says, cut off the fuel well before the engine gets to its redline. In the Pista, there’s no sudden slump in power, the dispiriting thrustus interruptus that you feel when a car’s engine bangs off the rev limiter. Instead, the Ferrari continues to accelerate right up to the engine’s peak, and holds it there. All 710 of these prancing ponies are on tap, anywhere from 6,750 rpm to the 8,000-rpm redline.

Ferrari will build just 500 Pistas for the world’s consumption. If only technology could make the Pista multiply while sharply reducing the price.

All-Electric Jaguar Earns its Racing Stripes

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A production EV, refitted for the racetrack

Making an electric car go fast in a straight line on the street is one thing; making one that can withstand the rigors of racing is another. Jaguar’s I-Pace eTrophy showed the difference in December by kicking off the world’s first all-electric, production-based championship with a historic run in Saudi Arabia. That eTrophy series, a global undercard for the FIA’s Formula E, included pro women—such as Katherine Legge with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team—competing against men in the kingdom for the first time.

I did my laps in that same car at the Silverstone circuit in the United Kingdom. And if the I-Pace isn’t the fastest race car I’ve tested—give this technology time, please—it was definitely the quietest. As I shot around Silverstone’s Stowe Circuit, I could barely hear the motor’s gentle whir above the groans of the suspension and the rumbling of the 56-centimeter (22-inch) Michelin Pilot Sport tires.

Jaguar’s Special Vehicle Operations has built 20 of these groundbreaking racers, which use as a starting point the same electric I-Pace you see in showrooms. The racers have the same 90-kilowatt-hour battery, for example, and also the same dual synchronous motors with 294 kilowatts (394 horsepower) and 700 newton meters of torque. Despite a 610-kilogram battery, the racers trim 225 kilos from the road-going version’s hefty 1,965 kg.

In this newfangled series, durability and safety matter as much as performance: Motors are designed to last for the series’ entire three years, or 30 races, with only the battery getting replaced after each season. The Terra 51 Charge Station, a DC fast charger with roughly 50 kW of power, is custom-designed to be compact and easily portable, for transport and racing. Those races last for 25 minutes plus one lap, or roughly 100 kilometers (62 miles), depending on the course.

I’m strapped into the car, sharing its safety cage with the battery, which is cradled inboard for safety. Gasoline fire has always been a prime danger in racing, but the Jaguar’s electrical system, with 389 volts and up to 550 amperes, brings its own challenges: If I crash, I’ll need to toggle separate switches that trigger two levels of electrical isolation and minimize the chance I’ll be electrocuted. Lights on the Jag’s exterior and dash glow green when there’s no live electricity but glow blue or red for potential threats. In that case, emergency workers are equipped with rubber gloves, mats, and specialized gear to aid the driver and car.

To maximize cooling, the race version has hood and fascia openings larger than those in the showroom car, as well as double the A/C system capacity, the better to cool the battery pack. Regenerative brakes create up to 0.4 g’s of deceleration. When the battery is fully charged, no energy recovery is possible, but as the race proceeds, drivers can adjust the regenerative brake over 11 settings. The results are pretty impressive for a two-metric-ton crossover: The racing I-Pace scoots to 97 km/h (60 mph) in 4.5 seconds, with a top speed twice as high, at 121 mph.

But this competition is also about putting Jaguar on the EV map, according to James Barclay, director for the Panasonic Jaguar Racing Team. “We have 9,500 engineers in [England] developing this technology,” Barclay says. “As a British company, we’re the first to have gone racing with our electric car, and we’re very proud of that.”

The New Lexus ES 350 Ditches Side View Mirrors for Digital Cameras

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Who needs mirrors when you’ve got cameras?

For years, automakers have teased us with sleek concept cars that ditch conventional side mirrors in favor of digital cameras. Now, Lexus becomes the first automaker to bring the technology to showrooms, albeit only in Japan for now: The all-new ES 350 sedan will beat the Audi E-tron’s “virtual mirrors” to market by mere months.

Lexus calls theirs the Digital Side-View Monitor: a pair of slender exterior stalks housing digital cameras that beam a high-definition view to 5.0-inch LCD screens mounted on either side of the cabin. The main benefit is to save fuel by reducing the aerodynamic drag of chunky conventional mirrors and damping the wind noise that’s been a longtime challenge for car designers. Lexus says the cameras and interior monitors deliver better visibility in foul weather, with the lenses heated and tucked into housings to ward off raindrops, ice, or snow. Drivers can adjust screen perspectives, or the camera can automatically adjust— zooming in when drivers hit their turn signals, or highlighting and alerting to cars that loom in blind spots.

Now, if only American motorists could get a peek. Though regulators in Japan and Europe have already approved the digital cameras, U.S. regulations prohibit them.

The Newest BMW 3 Takes the Worry Out of What’s in Your Rear View

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Reverse assistant gets you right back where you started from

BMW’s franchise model, its 3-Series sport sedan, has been slipping in sales and reputation. It’s been hammered lately by the Alfa Romeo Giulia, among other sporty chariots. But an all-new 3-Series has armored itself for the battle with loads of new tech. First things first: The new 3-Series is fun to drive, in the way BMW fans demand. I learn this firsthand in Portugal while romping an M340i on the devilish Portimao circuit.

The car’s 285 kilowatts (382 horsepower) are a nearly 20 percent jump from last year, even though the car has a similar 3.0-liter in-line 6 at its core. The upgrades focus on the turbocharger: Fuel-injection pressure is nearly doubled, and the twin-scroll unit is lighter and more efficient, inhaling exhaust gas at a toasty 1,000 °C.

When drivers aren’t pushing the BMW’s limits, they can relax and enjoy the tech treats. Semiautonomous functions, including hands-off driving on highways, are managed through radar and three bundled cameras from MobilEye, an Israel-based Intel subsidiary that produces imagers and software for driver-assistance systems. Another feature, called Narrow Passage Support, keeps the BMW centered in white-knuckle maneuvers, such as driving between giant trucks. The built-in Intelligent Personal Assistant follows orders like an onboard Siri. Blue-laser-powered high beams can illuminate the road ahead for a remarkable 600 meters. And a plug-in hybrid version, designated 330e, heads to showrooms in 2020.

Now, let’s back up and talk about Reversing Assistant: At speeds below 35 kilometers per hour (22 miles per hour), the BMW records the car’s path in continuous 50-meter increments. Go ahead, drive along that dead-end forest path, a steep uphill driveway, the trickiest courtyard or parking garage. You can even park the BMW and get a good night’s sleep. When you return, the BMW will automatically steer itself to mirror the inbound path at up to 5.5 km/h, with the driver touching only the brake and throttle. The system worked like a charm, precisely reversing and scanning for pedestrians, cars, or obstacles, while I monitored its progress on a display screen; all without me having to crane my neck and worry about crunching into something. If every car had the BMW’s system, insurance claims due to reverse maneuvers gone wrong would drop faster than a shorn-off side mirror.

Like Magic, Land Rover Makes Its SUV’s Hood Disappear

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The automaker’s new wheels-eye-view feature gets rid of the ultimate blind spot: the point where the rubber meets the road

Venturing off-road in a four-wheel-drive SUV can whiten the knuckles of even experienced drivers. So, even as engineers race to bring self-driving cars to paved roads, Land Rover is harnessing similar technology to help vehicles navigate the roughest terrain. The British automaker’s latest advance, which it calls Clear Sight Ground View, provided a literal eye-opener in Greece during my test of the sumptuous new Range Rover Evoque.

Like every new bit of semiautonomous tech, the groundbreaking system expands on an existing suite of hardware, sensors, and software. The latest Rovers could already robotically manage their acceleration, braking, suspensions, and four-wheel-drive traction well enough to tackle daunting climbs and descents and traverse terrain that would rattle the nerves of off-road novices. All that was left for the human driver was to steer, which reduced the mental and physical workload. Now, Clear Sight Ground View removes even more stress and uncertainty from the equation. At speeds up to 30 kilometers per hour (18 miles per hour), forward-facing cameras mounted on the side mirrors and front grille deliver a 180-degree view of the front wheels and the ground beneath and ahead of the vehicle—a perspective that’s typically obscured by the hood of a high-riding SUV.

This real-time view is fed to the Evoque’s center touch screen, along with a graphical, transparent overlay of the vehicle’s sides and corners. Computer controls slightly delay the images from the front camera and stitch them together with side-mirror views to create a seamless real-time feed. Rover engineers say the system makes the Evoque’s hood—or, these being Brits, its “bonnet”—virtually see-through. It’s definitely like having another set of eyes outside the vehicle. And that’s precisely the point.

Proponents of autonomous cars talk about replacing fallible drivers, but the Rover system could help replace another occupation: the spotter that traditionally guides an off-road adventurer through particularly tricky off-road obstacles. When I aimed the Evoque up a steep, narrow goat trail overlooking the Aegean Sea, the virtual view showed precisely where my front wheels were pointed, as well as the rocks and ruts I needed to clamber over or steer around. This eliminated any need to have a passenger climb out and hand-signal me as I picked my way up the slope. The system again came in handy on a vertigo-inducing crossing of a rusting, out-of-service railway bridge that spans the Corinth Canal, the spectacular shipping channel that separates the Greek mainland from the Peloponnese peninsula. The screen view offered precise, reassuring confirmation that my wheels were straddling the railroad tracks, and that I wasn’t at risk of making a roughly 90-meter plunge to the azure waters below.

Speaking of water, the all-new Evoque can ford bodies of water up to 60 centimeters (23.6 inches) deep—or 9.9 cm deeper than earlier models could withstand. To be on the safe side, a new ultrasonic sensor measures and displays the water’s depth as you proceed, again bypassing the need for guesswork, a pair of waders, or a sharp stick to poke into a rushing stream.

It’s all very clever. But for this off-roading fan, foolproofing the experience with electronic guardian angels raises some important questions: Isn’t doing it yourself half (or even more than half) the fun of trekking an SUV through challenging terrain? Isn’t experiencing the attendant sense of adventure and overcoming obstacles skillfully the point of the exercise? Would Lewis and Clark have preferred a mountain-lion sensor and a set of Google Maps? (OK, it’s a definite “yes” to the third question.)

Nathan Hoyt, U.S. communications chief at Jaguar Land Rover, the marque’s parent company, notes that engaging the various helpers is optional. Owners are welcome to do it the old-fashioned way, relying on their own skills and senses when traveling off-road. But expensive as Range Rovers are, Clear Sight Ground View will likely find its primary use in keeping them pristine when negotiating urban and suburban obstacles such as narrow passages or tall curbs. The viewpoint it provides lowers the odds of scraping a pricey alloy wheel on a curb or dinging a body panel on the base of a light post in a shopping mall parking lot.

Furthermore, says Hoyt, “the [new suite of driver assistance] systems will help you get up a steep driveway in winter, or across a muddy soccer pitch without getting stuck.” In other words, even if your posh Rover spends more time in valet lines than the rugged wilderness, these technologies may still come to the rescue.