Kelly Carlson was among the scads of prospective car buyers who attended opening day of the Twin Cities Auto Show last Saturday at the Minneapolis Convention Center to check out 2016 models, roam the giant showroom, sit in driver's seats, open hoods and trunks, and just see what's out there these days.

Like Carlson, many of those visitors may have been surprised to discover all the high-tech features that have become available since the last time they car-shopped.

Carlson, who lives in White Bear Lake, has been driving a 1999 Honda Accord with 185,000 miles and a spoiler that's about to become unattached. Time for a new car. She hadn't picked a specific model, but she had a couple of items on her wish list.

"The two things she wanted were a rear-view camera and seat warmers," said her husband, Ben Herkenhoff.

She wound up with a lot more than that.

Carlson won a contest sponsored by the nonprofit tourism organization Meet Minneapolis, receiving a two-year lease on a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. The Malibu not only has seat warmers, it has seat coolers. Not only does it have a backup camera, it has, well. ...

"What doesn't it have?" said Fred Ligouri, a Chevy spokesman, sitting behind the wheel to demonstrate the Malibu's embellishments.

The car was loaded with options: OnStar 4G LTE service and a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot. Smartphone connectivity, allowing the driver to vocally send text messages or get directions to, say, the nearest coffee shop. A setting that lets parents keep track of how fast their teenagers drive and limit how loud they can crank the music. An embedded navigation system. The ability to find parking spots and steer into them. Plus a host of high-tech features designed to enhance the car's safety.

"We need to go on a road trip or something," Carlson told her husband after she won the car.

High-tech safety

If you haven't looked at new cars in a while, you might not be aware of all the things vehicles can do these days. Some of the options on Carlson's new car are frills or fancy extras (the Teen Driver feature is exclusive to the new Malibu; OnStar and Wi-Fi are subscription-based) that pushed the $27,770 base price for the Malibu Hybrid up to a $36,550 sticker price.

More common, though, are the advanced safety technologies that help cars avoid collisions. Using cameras, lasers or radar, they detect potential problems and alert drivers, even triggering brakes or steering when needed.

Forward collision avoidance warns the driver if traffic ahead suddenly slows down, deploying the brakes if an impact appears imminent.

Lane departure warnings detect when the car strays across a lane marking without a turn signal, alerting the driver or steering the car back on course.

Rear cross-traffic alerts warn if there's anything behind the car when it's in reverse.

Blind-spot monitors inform the driver of adjacent vehicles, or sound an alert if the driver starts to move toward a car in the blind spot.

Adaptive headlights twist to illuminate the road when rounding a curve.

Parallel and perpendicular parking assistance reduces fender-benders.

Adaptive cruise control maintains a set distance from the car ahead, slowing as needed.

These safety features are becoming increasingly popular. Many are already standard on higher-end cars and are trickling down as options for lower-priced models. Like antilock brakes and airbags before them, some may eventually become standard. Electronic stability control, which helps prevent skidding, has been required on all new passenger vehicles since 2012.

At least a couple of new featuers are already proving effective. Forward-collision avoidance and adaptive headlights have been found to reduce insurance claims, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Too complicated?

Not everyone is a fan of all the new gizmos. Howard Wittels of Minnetonka, who was at the auto show although he has no immediate plans to replace his two Porsches, suspects that some high-tech upgrades are an excuse for raising car prices and may be more distracting than helpful.

"I think a lot of these things that people are forced to buy are actually safety hazards," he said.

Aaron Penning, a mechanic in Sioux Falls, S.D., said cars with a lot of electronic equipment are harder to repair. Diagnosing an electronic problem is more time-consuming, he said, and more complex features will jack up repair prices.

"It's more electronic stuff to go bad, things to figure out when they don't work," he said. "For my profession, they're more of a headache."

But many in the car business expect the features to catch on as consumers become more aware of them. Ellen Williams, a Toyota product specialist at the show Saturday, pointed to a list of Toyota models on which some of this safety equipment is already standard.

"I think next year you'll see more on this list," she said.

"It kind of filters in slowly ... as people begin to expect certain things," said Bill Kerney of the Buick marketing department, who was manning the Buick display at the show. "Four years ago, five years ago, rear-view cameras were a big deal."

Now backup cameras are standard in many vehicles, and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has mandated them on all new cars starting in May 2018.

"We like to say we're democratizing these technologies," said Ligouri, the Chevy spokesman. "We're making a lot of investments in them and have the ability to adapt to changing trends."

Katy Read • 612-673-4583