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I sat in Sony's car of the future, and it's lacking more than legroom

 Afeela prototype shot at Westfield mall in San Jose, CA.
Afeela prototype shot at Westfield mall in San Jose, CA.

I climbed inside Sony and Honda's prototype future car at the mall this week, and the things I saw in there left me with a lot of questions.

For starters, who is this (prototype) electric car for? Why would I want to ditch door handles in favor of cameras that verify my identity before letting me in? How did I live without a nearly wall-to-wall touchscreen for a dashboard? And is this really enough legroom for most people?

Most importantly, do Sony and Honda really expect people to buy cars like this?

I'm talking of course about the Afeela, a prototype car in development from Sony Honda Mobility. It's a joint venture from the two companies that we've known about since the Sony Vision S electric car prototype was unveiled at CES 2020, and by CES 2024 we were watching Sony exec Izumi Kawanishi remotely drive an Afeela prototype onstage using a PS5 controller.

This week I had a chance to sit in another Afeela prototype at the Westfield Valley Fair mall in Santa Clara, and though the PS5-based features weren't functional everything else about this concept car felt quite real—including the lack of legroom for a big fella like me. But hey, I tend to drive SUVs for a reason.

While the versions of the Afeela we've seen so far are prototypes and not final models, Sony Honda Mobility does intend to start taking preorders for this car in 2025 and shipping in 2026. And though there's no word on how much it will be just yet, the way a company rep scoffed and chuckled when I floated a starting price of $45k suggests the actual cost of this futuristic EV won't be cheap.

Afeela prototype shot at Westfield mall in San Jose, CA
Afeela prototype shot at Westfield mall in San Jose, CA

But then, why would it when it's equipped with 30+ cameras inside and out, including a full LIDAR sensor array mounted on the roof? A company rep told me Sony Honda Mobility is aiming to make this car capable of up to Level 3 autonomous driving on most roads, which would mean you'd theoretically be safe to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road when the system is active.

The Afeela is designed to encourage that, and when operating with an Internet connection (presumably via 5G or smilar solution) it's capable of streaming videos and games to multiple screens throughout the car. In addition to the touchscreen dashboard there are two more tablet-sized screens mounted on the rear of the front seats, so passengers in the back can also tap into the car's entertainment system.

Afeela prototype shot at Westfield mall in San Jose, CA
Afeela prototype shot at Westfield mall in San Jose, CA

The Afeela has what looks like a pretty robust operating system sporting customizable elements like a dashboard, accounts and more. While PS5 functionality wasn't working on the model I demoed, the goal is for PS5 owners to be able to remotely stream games to the car via Remote Play. Sony Honda Mobility is also working on ways of using the car's camera system in conjunction with the built-in screens to overlay graphics or other fun details over real-world data like maps.

Tapping and swiping your way through your car's OS is new territory for me, but I watched a company representative cycle through a few different themes for the Afeela's operating system (including a few featuring PS5 games like Horizon Forbidden West) before pulling up a giant real-time Google Maps readout and found it all pretty compelling. When he put on the Gran Turismo movie and we started watching on the dash while the car's 360-degree sound system fired up, I was intrigued. When he pulled up the karaoke app and started singing Imagine Dragons, I got out of the car.

Afeela dashboard promo image courtesy of Sony
Afeela dashboard promo image courtesy of Sony

But I'm intrigued. I love cars and would hate to give up the joy I get from driving a manual, but also I love trees and the planet and would love to not spend hundreds of dollars a month on gasoline.

So an electric vehicle is probably in my future, and there are real upsides: less money wasted, less damage to the planet, and maybe even less time spent swearing in traffic, if autonomous driving ever becomes a thing. Sony and Honda's Afeela prototype makes me even more excited for that future, in a way, because it shows us what fun we could have in our autonomous future cars.

I'm not exactly overjoyed at the thought of telling my car where I want to go and having it take me there, because so much of the fun of driving a manual is having something to do with your hands while you're on a long trip. But if we do end up in a Jetsons-like future where your car drives you to work in the morning, I see the appeal of owning an Afeela, because at least then I can stream some PS5 games while I'm headed to the office.

But I just can't get excited about the prospect of a future car without door handles. What happens if the cameras on the driver's side die and I can't get in, or some OS update freezes and causes the whole car to lock up while I'm on a road trip somewhere?

I'm hoping that by 2026 Sony Honda Mobility will have some answers, as well as some production-grade Afeela EVs rolling off the line and into garages around the country. Maybe then I'll finally get a chance to see someone playing God of War: Ragnarok on the way to work.

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