A while back, I wrote a piece on the worst new car trends, intending it to be a one-time-deal. Drive enough cars, though, and you soon realize that there’s an endless supply of things automakers do that leave you scratching your head, contemplating just what the hell they were thinking. If the past year is any indication, this trend isn’t reversing any time soon; in fact, I generally cringe when I get into the latest, greatest models these days, wondering exactly what automakers have improved to death over the last generation.
With that in mind, I give you my list of the “Five Worst Car Trends, Summer 2011 Edition.” I don’t expect automakers to change their ways based on what I write, but I’m here for you, faithful reader. Learn from my misadventures to make your next car buying experience that much less painful.
Every single high-volume automaker is trying to come up with a way to cram more features into their existing product lines. One trend is the move away from separate audio and nav systems into overly complex “infotainment systems” that do everything except wash your laundry and cook you dinner. I’ll admit that I’m a cro-magnon throwback, but why would I need the ability to update my Facebook profile in my car? Why would I want to load MP3 files from a flash drive to an onboard hard drive, when I have around 20 gigs of music on my phone already? Why would you think it’s easier to scroll through six menus to change a radio station, instead of simply pressing a center-console mounted button?
This gives me a great idea for a business, removing “infotainment systems” from new cars and replacing them with a dash-mounted portable nav and a center-stack-mounted audio system. You’ll give up the ability to watch “Brady Bunch” re-runs in rush hour traffic, but let’s be honest with each other – do you really need to see those episodes again?
Copying Flawed Designs
Hyundai bases their “sport-shift” automatic transmissions on a Toyota design, including the flaws. Want an example? Come to a stop and select first gear. Punch the gas and prepare to grab second gear, just before redline. The problem is, you won’t be able to do so, since Hyundai’s “manual” automatic will grab second long before redline. Don’t expect quick upshifts or downshifts either, which completely negates any advantage of having a manually-shiftable automatic. Hyundai does so many things right that it stupefies me when they get something this basic wrong; if you’re going to copy an automatic transmission, why not focus on something good, like the dual-clutch gearboxes from Volkswagen, Mitsubishi or Porsche?
Smaller Engines For Better Fuel Economy
If you haven’t had the opportunity to drive a full size car with a four-banger engine, go take a 2011 Buick Lacrosse for a spin. Whatever you do, don’t try to pull into traffic at speed, because it simply isn’t going to work. The car is slow around town, but horrifyingly slow at highway speeds. In their defense, most Lacrosse buyers won’t top the 70 mph barrier, ever, but it would be nice to have that option. On the plus side, GM’s new eAssist mild hybrid system will add some much-needed grunt to four-cylinder Lacrosse models, so maybe I’m venting about a problem that no longer exists.
Increasing New Car Prices
It’s Economics 101, boys and girls: as demand goes up and supply goes down, prices increase. Ford and GM are both realizing this, so their discount rates have dropped over the past two months. Ditto for any Japanese car manufacturers affected by supply shortages. If you want to buy a new Prius these days, you’d best plan on paying more than the sticker price indicates.
A few months of disappointing sales will have car dealers scrambling for business again, so don’t be surprised to see deep discounts by fall. Don’t expect to get much of a deal on a new car this summer, though.
The Death of the Manual Transmission
Fewer and fewer cars are available with row-it-yourself gearboxes these days, and that’s a shame. Yes, I know that dual-clutch automatics shift much faster than I can, but it’s not all about lap times. There’s a connection between car and driver when using a manual transmission that just isn’t there when using paddle shifters. Rev-matching on the downshift, much like conversation, is a dying art. Frankly, I’ll miss a properly executed downshift more.