One of the perks of being an auto writer is that you get to drive a lot of new cars. Most are interesting in one way or another, and very few fall into either the “superior” or “epically bad” end of the spectrum. Jump into your own car after driving a new one, and you’ll be amazed at just how far technology has progressed in a few short years. The voice recognition in my wife’s 2006 Acura TSX is primitive, and saying “call home” is just as likely to dial a random number in the phone book as it is to actually call our home phone. My 2006 Mazda MX-5 doesn’t even have an audio in, which means no MP3 player in the car (in fact the audio system is so bad it usually stays off anyway). That said, I can’t help but think there’s some room for improvement in car design, and below are the top five things I’d like to see changed about new cars.
Flush the touch screen audio; give me knobs and buttons
Touch screen displays in cars are technology for technology’s sake. They’re harder to use than knobs and buttons, they’re more prone to failure and they’re more expensive to replace when something does go wrong. I understand that manufacturers want to simplify, and combining the nav system with the climate control and entertainment system is one way to do so. I’ll say it up front: I don’t like it. Give me knobs and buttons for the audio and climate controls, and I promise not to complain about the touch screen nav (as long as you give me a separate display for audio).
Simplify voice commands
If I want to change from one radio station to another, I don’t want to recite commands the length of the Gettysburg address. How about “Change station to XM Lithium” instead of “Menu, Audio, Satellite Radio, Change Station, 47” or whatever the specific commands are for each manufacturer. I know that speech recognition is an emerging technology, but it needs to emerge farther to be even remotely practical.
Give me ABS I can switch off
I know this will never happen because of the safety implications and potential for lawsuits if a driver forgets to turn the system back on. Still, most cars allow you to turn off traction and stability control, so why not the ABS as well? Granted, I don’t spend much time driving in snow or on gravel these days, but I hate knowing that my stopping distances on loose surfaces aren’t as good as they could be.
Give me a throttle cable
I know that aircraft have used fly by wire for years, and I know that there’s no documented proof that it’s anything but entirely safe, but it’s also unnecessary technology if you ask me. Yes, I understand that it precisely measures slight changes in throttle input and communicates this to the electronic throttle. Guess what? A properly tensioned throttle cable does the same thing, for much less money. Sure, you have to lube it from time to time and adjust it regularly, but a throttle cable still has less points of potential failure than an electronic throttle does.
Stop the wheel size madness
The Buick Regal Turbo I drove a few weeks back came with 19” allow wheels. These may help the cars looks, but have you priced 19” tires lately? Do you have any idea how heavy 19” wheels are? Even if I were building a track car, I doubt I’d go larger than 17” wheels, so why is 19” the new norm for a “sporty” sedan? How do you think customers will react when they find out replacing four tires will cost more than a mortgage payment?
There’s plenty more I could rant about, but these are my top five. What’s your take?