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Originally published November 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 9, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Other emerging car technologies

Three technologies you may never have heard of are about to make cars safer, more powerful and more fuel efficient. They are blind-spot alert...

Detroit Free Press

Three technologies you may never have heard of are about to make cars safer, more powerful and more fuel efficient.

They are blind-spot alert, direct gasoline injection and dual-clutch transmissions.

So far, only a few luxury and performance vehicles benefit from them. But they're about to go mainstream.

Direct gasoline injection will make driving thriftier and more fun, because it wrings extra economy and performance out of your engine. It uses a high-pressure pump and lightning-fast electronics to squirt just the right amount of fuel into each cylinder at precisely the right time.

Direct injection started out in diesel engines. It's been around in high-performance gasoline engines for a few years, but the breakthrough comes this year with the Cadillac CTS, the only direct-injection engine that recommends regular gasoline instead of pricier premium. Direct injection ratchets the CTS' horsepower up 15 percent, improves fuel economy 3 percent and reduces startup hydrocarbon emissions 25 percent.

Dual-clutch transmissions use electronic controls to automatically shift a gearbox that's mechanically similar to a manual. They reduce fuel consumption as much as 6 percent and give you the option of taking over the controls for quick shifts in sporty driving. They've been around for a while, but the early ones had rough head-snapping shifts.

That's changed. Volkswagen makes its own line of dual-clutch transmissions, using them to boost performance and fuel economy in models like the Audi TT. Chrysler is expected to be the first Detroit automaker to install a dual-clutch transmission, on its Dodge Journey crossover sometime in 2008.

Blind-spot alert systems started out in high-end models from Audi, Infiniti and Volvo. They warn the driver when another vehicle is over his or her shoulder, in the spot toughest to check before changing lanes.

GM's take on the technology hits the road in the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS this fall, and is the most useful I've tested so far. It calculates relative speed, so the warning lights in the sideview mirrors don't go off every time you pass somebody. The amber light also flashes urgently if you indicate a lane change while another vehicle is too close.

Driving purists will dismiss blind-spot alerts as another nanny system, watching over your shoulder to protect you from yourself.

But, at one time or another, we've all been saved from a lane-changing disaster by dumb luck or another driver's quick reaction. If a couple of sensors and a warning light can make the roads safer, bring on the new technologies.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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