Features that ensure a safe, smooth ride are what car buyers really want when it comes to big in-demand options in 2005, according to a CBS Marketwatch report.

Discerning drivers may still long for cutting-edge audio systems, satellite radios and fancy navigation systems, but the prevailing focus is back on safety and driving performance, it said.

“Customers have been calling for increased flexibility and more drivability and the automakers are really responding,” Brian Chee, automotive editor at Autobytel.com told CBS Marketwatch, referring to online trends he’s researched across the company’s various websites.

Software that alerts drivers to potentially dangerous conditions has grown in popularity and, in many cases, will become a standard feature in more than just the high-end vehicles, while electronic stability control systems, though slower to catch on domestically than overseas, are gaining traction in the US, the report said.

CBS Marketwatch cited Continental Teves, supplier of Ford‘s AdvanceTrac system, as saying that recent studies by the University of Iowa showed such technology increases driver control by 34% and cuts the number of crashes by up to 35%.

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The report noted that other safety enhancements include all-wheel drive, which, though hardly new, is being offered on a wider range of models like Chrysler’s Dodge Magnum and Ford’s Freestyle, while devices that warn drivers of inadvertent lane changes via a dashboard light and an audible buzz are becoming more prevalent.

Tyre pressure monitoring systems are already standard equipment on many luxury autos but soon will be required on all new vehicles, CBS Marketwatch said. Extensive testing by the NHTSA has revealed that tyres lacking proper pressure have become a serious problem.

“In a country where 1 in 4 passenger cars and 1 in 3 light trucks have a significantly under-inflated tyre, and only 1 in 4 drivers know how to determine the proper tyre pressures for their vehicle, tyre pressure monitoring systems have the opportunity to provide a substantial benefit,” NHTSA said, according to the report.

Russ Dratz, spokesman for independent tyre tester The Tyre Rack, told CBS Marketwatch: “Regulations soon to be passed down on these systems will be equivalent to requiring air bags.”

The report said curtain, or canopy, air bags are also more commonplace these days, and added that Chee believes they’ll be standard within five to seven years.

Steering toward functionality, Chrysler’s Stow ‘N Go seating, which took 18 months to develop at a cost of about $US400 million, will be standard equipment on the 2005 Town and Country as well as the Dodge Caravan. This new feature allows drivers to fold passenger seats into the floor, increasing cargo space by up to 12 cubic feet. When the seats are not stowed, the sub-floor space can be used for storage, the report noted.

“As consumers rediscover the convenience and utility of minivans, Chrysler is poised to raise the bar with what may well be an industry-leading seating and cargo system,” Autobytel.com’s Chee told CBS Marketwatch.

It’s not all about convenience and safety, the report added. Mac-making giant Apple, for instance, worked with BMW early in the summer to enable its iPod digital music player to be incorporated into certain vehicles like the 3 series, Z4 roadster, X3 and X5. The adapter costs $149 plus installation and only takes about an hour to install.

According to the report, other features that have been around for a while and are still gathering momentum include: keyless entry and remote ignition; Bluetooth wireless features that allow for, among other things, hands-free cell-phone usage; adaptive headlights; and blind spot cameras.

None of these are fresh off the assembly line, but they certainly take their place alongside some of the desired new features in 2005, CBS Marketwatch said.