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Five Things I’d Change About Modern Cars

Posted in Car Accessories, Car Tech, Cool Stuff, General by Kurt Ernst | January 28th, 2011 | 16 Responses |

A big block Cobra. Not much needs changing here.

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?

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16 Responses

  1. Nicholas says:

    6. Give me a manual transmission option.

  2. Kurt Ernst says:

    Nicholas, excellent point. Too many cars are losing the manual transmission option or reserving it for their cheapest models. I just drove the new Hyundai Elantra, and the six-speed transmission absolutely rocked. Too bad you can only get it on GLS trim levels, and not on the Limited models.

  3. Lee says:

    I read this book written in the 1970’s on high performance driving and they are saying all the same things we say today about the end of the manual transmission, I’m just saying I think it may have found its place in the market at this point and it might just sit in that niche.

  4. BigRuss says:

    7. dont name the color something that people cant say its not “Artic Nordishlainamignahalanda” its WHITE
    8. Dont install wheel locks on my car and dont give me the key, i dont want to buy the “cheap” tires you sell at the stealership i want to put the tires i want on it
    9. Add some character to your cars, i dont want a boiled rice styled car, ie let automotive design history repeat itself

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Russ, my press fleet car this week is painted “Sizzling Crimson Mica”. Looks like maroon to me, about the same shade as the Olds Delta 88 from the early 70s…

  5. I agree with touch screen being inconvenient. With knobs we can manipulate them without having to take our eyes off the road since most of us know our cars pretty well. With a touch screen you gotta look down at the screen; another distraction.

  6. Turbosrt says:

    FOR THE LOVE OF GOD Manual Transmission option. Make Stability control, traction control, or any assists OPTIONAL. I dont think its right that they are forcing consumers to have that junk on their vehicle and saying it comes standard as if its a bonus. WTF.

  7. Werty says:

    Along the same lines as the throttle cable, give me a cable clutch too. The hydraulic ones feel spongy. The shifter should not fell like it is connected to the transmission with rubber bands either. The Chrysler Crossfire and Mercedes-Benz SLK320 are probably the worst ones for this.

  8. ptschett says:

    -I’d change how the fog lights switch works. A lot of cars (my Dakota and Challenger included) will remember for all eternity that the fog lights were turned on once, putting out extra glare with the park lights or lowbeams until the driver remembers to hit the switch again (late model Chevy pickups are especially bad). I think the ‘fog lights on’ setting should only persist till the engine is shut off.

    -It should be possible to figure out how to set a radio preset without resorting to the entertainment system manual. I was playing with the radio in my mom’s new CTS4 and wanted to set a few XM presets for her, and gave up after 10 minutes without the book.

    -Re: ABS, my Dakota has an interesting feature: the ABS has a loose surface mode that’s activated by shifting into 4WD. There’s a noticeable difference in how it modulates, and it seems to let the wheels slide a little bit and pile up material in front of them instead of the usual programming of keeping the wheels rotating at all costs.

  9. Canrith says:

    Weight. If they would just give you more options to save weight on modern cars they would make me happy. Who needs a 6 cd changer that can pour you a coffee in the car anyways? Just an option to end the frivolous junk would save money for everyone involved.

  10. Jen says:

    I’m with you 100% on the wheels. Every new car I’m considering has standard 18″ wheels. That mostly look like Cuisinart blade rejects. I guess I’ll be in the aftermarket for 17’s when the time comes.

    I also agree with your point on the touchscreens. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’m on the fence about the 2012 Focus. I have not read one single, completely positive thing written about MyFord Touch, including the systems already in the Edge.

    Last one, I wish that options (and packages of them) weren’t so ridiculously complicated. What if I just want HID’s and a sunroof? Why do I HAVE to get the leather??? I don’t WANT leather but they’re always bundled together. And then, sometimes I have to buy package a (which I dont care about) to get what I want in package b.

  11. Taylor says:

    How about bringing back the options list. I know that some manufacturers still offer options lists but at the same time they lock particular options to a greater option “package”. I don’t want to buy a whole package just to get the option I want.

    Also, the fact that a technology from 2006 can be called primitive without a second thought is just damned funny.

  12. Siddharth says:

    An OPTIONS LIST is a must, i think i can a pay a bit more for the choice of equipments i WANT, don’t like the ‘package’ system at all.

  13. 68SportFury says:

    Give me a manual transmission option and don’t charge extra for it.
    Give me colors outside of black/white/silver/gray and don’t charge extra for them.
    Let me specify the upgraded suspension and/or tires without going up to the next trim level.

  14. Kurt Ernst says:

    I agree with all of you on the options thing, but expect it to get worse, not better. Automakers have realized that they can boost margins by building fewer specific models; Honda has realized this for years, and now Hyundai has figured it out. Even Ford’s reduced the number of configurations per model compared to previous years.

    That’s one reason I tend to buy cars with strong aftermarket support. If you can’t get it from the factory, chances are good you can add it after the sale.

  15. BigRuss says:

    More factory performance options… bring back the days of the muscle cars… sure you can go to the Toyota, Honda, Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep dealership and have factory performance parts added to your car at an additional charge… why not just have these parts installed on the factory line? sure you can get the “performance” exhaust from the factory but really what your getting is a new set of mufflers with some new tips….