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Car Gadgets: All I Want Is My OnStar And XM Radio

I’ve been reviewing cars for about five years. And if I’ve learned anything after driving more than 200 vehicles, it’s that every manufacturer has a terminology “spin” for what it believes is its revolutionary automotive technology.

Some of the parlance is clever and represents great innovation; Other descriptions are shameless, meaningless hype.

Regardless, with the admission that I’m a minimalist, I think it’s fair to say some manufacturers’ equipment offerings have reached critical mass or perhaps exceeded it.

In short, some cars have too much stuff, some of which just doesn’t work well. Hypersensitive electronic sensors, rear view navigation systems with blurry visual quality and inefficient braking systems all come to mind.

Yet, two items stand out among as the best of the worthwhile technology wonders.

Neither feature is likely to impress engineering wizards or car buffs. But I think every car would be better if it featured satellite radio and a voice-command navigation system.

One of my recent weekly test drives, a 2007 Chevrolet HHR, offered both. The retro wagon’s appearance, styled after the 1950s Chevrolet Suburban, attracted attention. But the car’s exterior color, “sunburst metallic orange” garnered even more stares and comments.

But what I liked about the car most is that it featured XM satellite radio and the new OnStar “turn-by-turn navigation system.

Satellite radio is available on an increasing number of vehicles, and for me it’s now a disappointment when it’s not available. The vast music, news and sports channels are ideal for long drives. And satellite radio is also an great way to eliminate the annoyance of commercial overload on AM/FM]]> channels.

The new OnStar system, available on select 2006 General Motors’ cars and most 2007 editions, features both a digital display and voice command for directions.

During my week with the HHR, the OnStar system, called “Turn-By-Turn Navigation,” worked well. Its ease-of-use functionality was impressive, even for someone who appreciates the motto: “The fewer the gadgets, the better.”

The new OnStar system works in four steps:

1. When seeking directions, push the blue OnStar button on the rearview mirror and wait for a connection to an OnStar advisor.

2. Tell the OnStar advisor where you need to go. Turn-by-turn directions are sent to your vehicle and appear on a digital display on the radio face.

3. Directions are also then provided via audio, the volume of which is determined with the radio volume control.

4. Arrive at your destination, push the OnStar button.

My tests of the system were to destinations to which I already knew  directions. I didn’t arrive at every destination exactly accordingly to the countdown mileage distance via the satellite information, but it was close. And there was a slight delay the first time I used the feature as well as a slight new user’s learning curve.

But generally, the system worked well and the OnStar advisors I spoke with were prompt and professional.

In addition to the “Turn-by-Turn” feature, the new OnStar system also offers: vehicle diagnostics, emergency services, stolen vehicle location assistance, remote door lock, automatic deployment of airbags, handsfree telephone calls, roadside assistance, remote horn and lights, ride assist and an advisor information and convenience services.

Of course, XM satellite and the OnStar systems are not free. In m y HHR, the one-year OnStar “Safe & Sound was priced at $695 and the XM radio option was $199 for a year with an additional three free months.

Nevertheless, for a car buyer considering option packages, XM satellite radio and the new OnStar system warrant serious attention.

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