Google is one of those proper names, like TiVo and Xerox, that has morphed – to the chagrin of corporate lawyers and grammarists – into a verb for the act of using the company’s core product. For now, “to Google” means to plug a word or phrase into an internet search engine. There may come a time, however, when “Googling” means something quite different.

Fascinating Cars of 2014

Editor Matthew Phenix and deputy editor Jonathan Schultz revisited the most fascinating cars of the year. Click here in coming weeks for more honorees.

In May, the Silicon Valley giant revealed a prototype for its Google Self-Driving Car, and promptly announced plans to put a fleet of 100 of the little bubbles on the road. The two-seat electric runabouts, which will negotiate urban traffic, traverse complex interchanges and brave mall parking lots with no human intervention, stand to change the definition of getting around for a generation of motorists. “I’m Googling to the grocery store,” they will say, or, “Can you give me a Google to work?”

A brief ride in one of the autonomous pods at London’s Heathrow Airport demonstrated – to someone who loves driving enough to make a career of it – just how pleasant it can be to sit back, gaze at the scenery and leave the motoring to the car. But while the Heathrow pods operate along a closed loop between Terminal 5 and the business car park, the Google car is intended for the real world: stopping at red lights, yielding to pedestrians, swinging through the Starbucks drive-through, all of it.

Atop the roof is a spinning array comprised of 64 lasers, which maps the world as the car moves, recording more than a million data points each second. This spatial information, and position data from GPS mapping software, allow the car to navigate public roads – and share them with human-driven cars. And Google’s greatest vote of confidence in its car’s autonomous gifts? The car lacks any sort of manual override controls. There is no steering wheel, no brake or throttle pedals, no shifter.  

It is a product-planning decision that only highly driven individuals would make.

Second Opinion: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf

The Volkswagen e-Golf looks, feels and behaves like a Golf. If that seems like faint praise, consider that the seventh generation of VW’s best-seller is, by global consensus, also the best-executed vehicle in its segment.That it absorbs an electric powertrain so nonchalantly is remarkable enough, but the crowning achievement of VW’s first pure EV is its polish. Even dialled to “touchy”, brake regeneration never causes a driver’s head to jerk forward, and power – available from zero rpm – is meted out in big, proton-packed dollops. The e-Golf is not marketed as a luxury vehicle, yet it is unquestionably a trophy car. – Jonathan Schultz

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