Sony’s Afeela must be more than a feeling

It’s been four years since we called Sony’s concept car the best surprise of CES. And I understand: you don’t build a car company overnight. But here at CES 2024, it feels like Sony Honda Mobility is still building a concept car – dare I say, a vision – rather than a vehicle aimed at the road. Maybe that’s part of the charm?

The Afeela has has become more car-like in some ways since last year’s full announcement: big side mirrors, wireless phone chargers and some more up-to-date car specs. The all-wheel drive prototype has two 180 kW (approximately 483 hp) motors, a 91 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and DC fast charging up to 150 kW.

But when we first climbed into the Afeela’s cabin at CES, as you can see in our embedded gallery and video, Sony Honda wasn’t focused on the car part. On the contrary, Sony Honda wanted us to know that its car is a thumping cinema and entertainment cockpit, despite its narrow (but impressively wide) screen strip, and that the front bumper can help you create a rolling ad for Sony movies and Sony videos. games (no joke) by pressing a button in the dedicated smartphone app.

We were allowed to briefly touch the steering wheel and open the doors, but everything else was hands-off – we were there just to experience the feeling feeling of being in an Afeela, and that’s it. (I would describe that feeling as “soft neon.”)

While the company maintains that the car will be available for pre-order in 2025 and delivered in 2026, it’s still not done adding more conceptual features, forming new partnerships with Microsoft to use Azure to create a AI “conversational personal agent” to create and interact with Gran Turismo developer Polyphony Digital to “develop vehicles that bring together the virtual and the real.”

The driver’s seat rumbled impressively while watching one Gran Turismo movie trailer; Less impressively, we discovered that the ability to play PlayStation games on that strip of screen is currently just a PlayStation Remote Play connection to your PS5 at home: a PlayStation Portal on wheels.

At least for now. Whether a real PlayStation will appear in the car is one of many things still undecided, says Sony Honda Mobility president and COO Izumi Kawanishi. The edge. The car’s speed and range have not yet been determined, and even basic driving functions are not yet known, although the car will be made in a Honda factory and benefit from Honda’s expertise. When I ask what keeps him awake at night, Kawanishi says it’s the AI, because key features like Level 3 self-driving and the personal assistant aren’t there because the AI ​​itself hasn’t been finalized yet.

From the start it felt like Sony really wanted this car to feel different from its peers, and maybe it does, but not yet in the way Sony Honda wants. Kawanishi, a longtime Sony executive who has worked on the PS3, PSP, Sony Mobile phones and the fourth generation Aibo, says his goal is to “contribute to the evolution of the future of mobility.” When I ask him how Afeela will do that, he says that he believes that the future of mobility is autonomous driving and the personal assistant – that this car must be intelligent. That is not the case at the moment.

I certainly wouldn’t mind driving a concept-like, high-tech car instead of one where the edges have all been sanded down to cater to the masses, and I suspect that’s one of the reasons why Tesla has been so successful with its software updatable cars. vehicles – including controversial features that go too far. But Sony Honda hasn’t given us enough concrete reasons to want an Afeela yet.

The next time we slide into the cockpit, we hope it won’t be a hands-off experience with a Sony Honda rep at the controls – but we the driving a car smart enough for gearheads and nerds alike.

Photography by Sean Hollister / The Verge

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