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
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
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
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
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.