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What Are The Worst New Vehicle Trends?

Posted in auto industry, Car Buying, Car Tech, Design, Featured, Fuel-efficient, Safety by Kurt Ernst | December 6th, 2010 | 10 Responses |

It's ugly, but it's safe...

Bob Dylan said it best, almost 50 years ago – the times, they are a changing. Nowhere is this more clear or more focused than in the automotive industry, where recent upcoming requirements for vehicle safety and fuel economy have manufacturers scrambling to come up with viable solutions. Mandating improvements based on existing technology is one thing, but mandating improvements based on technology you assume will exist in a few years is something else entirely. It’s no wonder that automakers are in full on panic mode when it comes to designing the next generation of vehicles.

Change isn’t always a good thing, as evidenced by things like bumper pads, automatic seat belts, digital dash boards and talking cars. Thankfully, many of these previously adopted “future trends” have gone the way of the dinosaur, but other equally bad ideas have taken their place. Below are my picks for the worst new vehicle trends you’ll encounter over the next few years.

Exaggerated Pedal Offset

Pedals in my '06 MX-5; this is how they SHOULD be laid out.

I’m not sure this is related to the Toyota “unintended acceleration” mess yet, but several manufacturers have already begun using gas and brake pedal assemblies with an exaggerated offset. GM, for example, uses these on the Cadillac SRX and on the Buick LaCrosse, both of which are aimed at “mature” drivers. With a conventional pedal layout, I can lift my foot from the gas and rotate over to the brake in one quick and smooth action; with these revised pedal assemblies, I need to come all the way off the gas, continue to raise my leg, then apply the brake. I simply don’t have the range of motion in my ankle to brake without moving my leg, and I suspect I’m not alone in this.

Sure, this may make these cars a little safer for driver’s who’d easily confuse the gas and brake pedals, but it makes them less safe for drivers with average ability. Even if my reaction time is only increased by 1/10 of a second, at 70 miles per hour that translates to 10 additional feet. And this makes the average driver safer how? Wouldn’t it make more sense to require driver re-certification at regular intervals above, say, age 65? Or is that not allowed because it’s profiling?

Forward Leaning Headrests

The 2011 Mustang: yes, those headrests are as uncomfortable as they look.

I love the new the new Ford Mustang GT and the Cadillac CTS-V, but damn, do I hate their headrests. To comply with new government crash regulations, headrests have been moved forward to reduce head and neck injuries in rear impact crashes. This may make cars safer for the small percentage of those injured in such crashes, but it comes at the expense of every-day driving. Trying to wear a helmet in the car, for track days, becomes a truly painful experience as your head is thrust forward. Speaking for myself, I know how to properly adjust a headrest and I promise I won’t sue the manufacturer in a rear impact crash. Can you offer me a headrest I can use on a daily basis without requiring a chiropractor visit, if I’m willing to sign a liability waiver?

The Hybridization Of Everything

If I want a hybrid, I'll buy one. Don't make it my only alternative.

Do you like hybrids, and do you aspire to own one? As evidenced by sales of hybrids, very few people would answer “yes” to this question. I have my own biases, but then again, I’m a car guy: with the exception of the six speed manual equipped Honda CR-Z, I’ve never driven a parallel hybrid that I’d even remotely consider buying. They’re heavy, underpowered, ill handling and when mated to a continuously variable transmission, utterly joyless to drive. They’re the automotive equivalent of eating plain white rice and washing it down with warm water.

Like them or not, hybrids will soon be coming to a dealership near you, as manufacturers scramble to build cars that meet 2016 CAFE requirements (39 MPG across cars, or 35.5 MPG across cars and light trucks). You have a choice to buy them or not today, but don’t expect to have that same choice a few years from now.

Why are manufacturer’s avoiding diesel? They don’t see it as cost effective, since it increases the cost of cars (so does hybridization) and U.S. emission regulations for diesel automobiles are stricter than the pending Euro 6. In other words, it would cost carmakers a bundle to certify diesel engines for U.S. use, and they wouldn’t easily recover that investment.

Continuously Variable Transmissions

You say CVT, I say boat anchor.

I understand the principle behind them, and I know that they’re supposed to produce seamless acceleration, but in my eyes they produce a lot of noise with very little forward motion. Maybe it’s my heavy-on-the-gas driving style, or maybe I’ve never driven a good combination of CVT and engine. Whatever the reason, I find that CVTs utterly destroy the soul and personality of a car, and in my eyes the world would be a better place without them.

That’s not going to happen, since manufacturers can boost fuel economy ratings by using CVTs. You’ll see more of them, on vehicles of all shapes and sizes, in the coming years.

It’s not all doom and gloom, and cars like the Volt prove that future vehicles won’t necessarily be bland. Still, the days of being able to buy a new car with a 400 or 500 horsepower V8, and a proper six speed gearbox, are rapidly coming to an end. Many people will tell us that’s a good thing, but I doubt they’ve ever experienced the thrill of a V8 at full song, or a properly executed downshift.

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10 Responses

  1. Those foot pedals that are far apart from each other look weird! I never drove a car with a layout like that before, but wouldn’t it be more difficult to switch between gas and brakes since there is a huge space between the pedals? I have really small feet (my feet are the size of a child, size 5 Women’s and narrow), so I can imagine that it’s possible for my feet to hit AIR and land BETWEEN the pedals when attempting to brake. That could actually increase the risk of accidents for me.

  2. BigRuss says:

    100% right man… few cars are offered with “proper” pedal placement and too many are available with that crappy CVT… major issue with my ram was the headrests…. uncomfortable with them on and looked 100 times better with it removed… and the Full Sized SUV’s with the hybrid power train get worse milage than the standard models… “sure you can be a baller in your Escalade but it shows you care with the Hybrid model” what happened to the diesel powered Suburbans of yesteryear?

  3. […] to come up with viable solutions. Mandating improvements based on existing technology is […]Read more… Categories: Uncategorized Tags: […]

  4. Canrith says:

    Not necessarily a feature trend, but more of a consumer trend in terms of the beige movement. Just in my lifetime i’ve seen cars go from being something people enjoy to something they regret having to purchase.

    And the same trend for companies, going from producing cars that are fun to drive, to bland econoboxes with just enough power to get from point a to point b to suit the majority. A few companies/models have fought the trend, but its just a losing battle. (example:death of Chapman’s lotus for one that appeals to a larger market.)

    That, to me, is the worst trend. Sorry for being off track.

  5. Kurt Ernst says:

    Canrith, expect to see a lot more beige as manufacturers downsize engines to meet looming emission standards. We’re pretty much at the horsepower apex now.

  6. Canrith says:

    The downsizing of horsepower wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they would deal with model bloat. I just want something fun to drive(and at least looks good)…sadly I think I will be moving even more toward bikes in the future.

  7. Kurt Ernst says:

    Canrith, bikes will always be the best bang for the buck as far as performance goes. Manufacturers keep loading up even entry level cars, and things like leather seats, 12 speaker sound systems and 20″ wheels add weight. With the exception of dedicated sports cars like the Porsche GT3 RS, the Porsche Boxster Spyder, the Mazda MX-5 and the upcoming Mazda RX-9, I think model bloat is here to stay.

  8. Alex says:

    I completely agree with your thoughts on the CVT…My earlier experiences with CVT’s were those found on the 6th generation civic HX. 1.6L and a CVT made for a horrible little car.

    Then I drove a Nissan Altima 3.5SE equipped with one. During normal driving, you don’t notice the lack of gear changes. Throttle response is quick and the ratios change quickly when you need get going. Full throttle with the VQ35 and CVT is pure joy. I’m a manual transmission guy and would prefer the 6spd, this combination works and works well.

  9. p mart says:

    Worst trend to come ? Generalization of xenon front beam . Where is the security improvement if you dazzle all the incomming traffic . Just remenber that the overall occidental population in the ( …no more ) rich country tend to be older & with age more occular problem will occur.It’s scientificaly proved that blue ligth is the most annoying of all wavelength ligth frequencies .

  10. Charles Klivans says:

    I own the best car ever made, the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe. Some of its features are:
    1. Tt’s performance is better than cars costing 3x as much.
    2. It is practically silent in operation. The tires make no noise because it was designed to be very fast and very quiet.
    3. It is startlingly quick. Cadillac is racing two of these cars in SCCA racing now and they have two drivers of the two racing Cadillacs in first place as well as the brand leadership. They are leading such teams as Porsche 911 GT3 and Corvette.
    4, The fit and finish of the cars are first class. Your first response after driving the cars is; This is the car that will rescue America! It is startlingly attractive, quiet and valuable. Nothing is this available and worthy.