As an automotive writer, I get to drive a lot of different cars. Some are innovative, well built and deserving of praise; others, not so much. Over the past ten years there seems to be a trend of adding technology for technology’s sake, not because it improves the vehicle or enhances the driving experience. Sometimes, we have to take a step back and admit that what we thought was progress (Flooze, HD DVD, Sony Betamax), really turned out to be a step backwards.
When it comes to cars, here are my top five examples of how cars are de-evolving. If something works, stick with it, because change isn’t always for the better:
The death of cloth seats.
Maybe I’m nuts, but I much prefer cloth seats over leather, and just a few years back nearly every manufacturer had decent cloth seats as an option. Leather is hot in the summer, cold in the winter (until the seat heaters warm up), a pain in the ass to properly maintain and uncomfortable on bare skin. Pleather, or any other name for vinyl, is even worse. In fact, it was the leather-or-vinyl option that kept me from buying a second VW Passat back in 2006. If you can make cloth seats for your EU customers, why not include them on US models? If the cloth is nice enough, I’d even pay a premium for it over the cowskin-from-a-test-tube shit currently offered.
Want to make the world a better place? Gather every CVT transmission that’s ever been built, put ‘em on a boat, tow it to the middle of the Atlantic and then sink the boat. Yes, I know about all of the theoretical advantages that a CVT offers, but in ten years I’ve yet to drive a single example that felt like it was working properly. Every single CVT I’ve ever driven feels like a slipping automatic transmission or a manual transmission with a burned-out clutch. They don’t make smooth, linear power, they don’t maintain the motor at peak torque and they aren’t more pleasant to drive. In fact, I probably use more gas with a CVT since I have to rev the living snot out of them to make anything that approximates forward motion. I’ll make this pledge right now: I’ll take the bus before I’ll ever consider buying a vehicle with a CVT.
Hybrid nav / entertainment / information systems.
Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I like a radio with control knobs and buttons. I don’t want to access a touch screen to change a radio station, I want to press a button. Likewise, I don’t want to scroll through 37 screens to kick up the bass a bit. And nav systems built into cars? That’s so 2000: these days, everyone has a GPS-enabled smart phone with an intuitive nav system that actually has current and useful maps. Why am I going to spend ten minutes programming a GPS system for an address I can drive to in five? Kill these systems and give me back a place to put my iPhone.
The death of the manual transmission.
Manual transmission offerings are declining faster than BP’s popularity at an EarthFirst! convention. I don’t care home much faster a computer can execute a gear change; when it comes to sports cars, I want to row the gears myself. I’ve spent a lot of time learning to rev-match on a downshift, and I enjoy the feel of the shifter going smoothly from gate to gate. I’m not fond of executing a shift via computer, because there’s no sense of accomplishment and no way to take pride in your driving ability. Of course the damn computer is going to get the shift right – where’s the fun in that? And manufacturers, if you’re going to turn us all into mouth-breathing, slushbox-driving-lemmings, at least standardize how paddle shifters and shiftable automatics work. I”m tired of having to learn a new system every time I get behind the wheel.
Water based paints.
Yes, I know they’re better for the environment and I know they reduce harmful VOCs. They also suck monkey ass when you compare them to old fashioned lacquers and enamels. Take my Acura TSX, for example: it’s a great (but soul-less) car except when it comes to sheet metal and paint. If you sneeze around the car, you’ll dent the door or the hood, and the paint has the durability of hardened cheese rind. The TSX is the only car I’ve ever owned that can get stone chips in the driveway. I don’t mean to single out Acura, since they build fine automobiles, but there has to be a way for manufacturers to provide quality paintwork without punching a hole in the ozone layer or killing off spotted owls. If you can figure out how to simulate leather out of a test tube, then I’m pretty sure you can give me better quality paint.
I could rant on about other things (like throttle by wire and event data recorders), but I’ll cut myself off before I sound like Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes. Let’s hear it, RideLust readers – am I on to something here or do you disagree? What are your top five examples of automotive de-evolution?