Cars are the ultimate modern convenience: you get in, you drive where you need to go, you come back — all without the need to feed a horse or develop marathoner lungs. Innovations like automatic transmissions, power steering, and electronic window wipers have improved our cars to the point where almost anyone can safely operate one, and now we’re rapidly barreling towards full autonomous vehicles. Maybe driving is the most inconvenient part of driving?
Until we’re fully written out of the picture, however, automakers still need to entice drivers to their cars with new innovations. And as luxuries become standard over time, how do they keep innovating? Easy: They throw in every gadget and doodad they think will make our lives easier. Sometimes it works — and sometimes, the hassle outweighs the benefits. Here are a few of the inconvenient luxuries I’ve stumbled across recently.
Let me turn that off for you
You’re an engineer tasked to make a car use less fuel. You snap your fingers together as you think, “Aha! Cars waste fuel when they’re idling, so we’ll just shut the engine off whenever the car isn’t moving!” It’s a good idea that makes a real difference in fuel economy – particularly for city driving — but that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying.
For starters (hah), having the engine switch off at a light is unsettling. For decades, we’ve been programmed to think something is wrong when that happens. It’s not just drivers, either. Everyone within earshot turn to look instinctively when your engine sputters to a halt, wondering “Did that person just stall out?” The bigger the engine and fancier the car, the more jarring the effect. Who expects an Audi S5, Jaguar F-Type, or Bentley Bentayga to simply turn itself off? Yet they all do now, along with more pedestrian rides from GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
It’s not just aesthetics. The delay to fire it back up once the light turns green keeps other motorists waiting, and that’s not cool.
Sometimes, the hassle outweighs the benefits.
Most of the time, there’s a dedicated option to turn this option off, but most cars with this feature default to turning it back on next time you start your car. Sure, it’s a simple button push, but adding another step in a driver’s daily startup sequence is a backwards move.
In the worst cases, like the Cadillac XT5, there’s no discernible way to disable it. Why? A GM representative told me that giving drivers the option to choose affects the car’s EPA rating. That means if an automaker wants their car to score high, they’ll opt for an always-on “latched” system. Any car that allows auto start/stop to be switched off still saves fuel, but doesn’t benefit from a higher rating.
Have a seat
Most of us will have to share a car with someone else, and since we all come in different shapes and sizes, motorized seat positioning is a great convenience. It makes minor adjustments a breeze and lets you save them so your preferences can be recalled with a push of a button. Seat memory is incredibly convenient.
Some automakers take this concept too far, like when the driver’s seat is programmed to slide all the way back once the door is opened, then slide back into place once the car is started. Cars like the Genesis G80 sedan do this. It’s impressive at first, as if the car is inviting you to sit down and politely pulling the chair back. “How classy,” you think, as you lean forward, awkwardly trying to start the car – then learn that your much shorter wife was previously at the wheel, as the driver’s seat politely mashes your knees into the dashboard.
I’ve encountered some cars where the engineer seemed to think the solution to the knee bashing was to have the seat pull back automatically … and then stay there. So now it’s up to me to slide the seat forward and position each time. How thoughtful.
Even if you don’t mind seats that try to compact you like the end to the first Terminator movie, it’s still a gimmick that wears thin. Ever been in a hurry and have minute things chip away at your already crumbling patience? Waiting for your seat to slide back and forth at its leisurely pace can become a tedious eternity.
Stay in your lane!
Lane Departure Warning is a handy way to alert a driver that’s fatigued or otherwise distracted that they may be straying out of bounds. Drive over the line without signaling, and you get a beep or vibration in the steering wheel. Lane Keep Assist takes it a step further, automatically turning the wheel to physically keep you in line. Fair enough. When it works.
This technology has been around long past the novelty period, and it should work much better.
When it bugs out while you’re driving like a saint, then it becomes a distraction. You find yourself focused on why it’s being triggered, not what’s ahead. Consider the Honda CR-V: The pull of the steering away from the lane marker feels like a demand rather than a suggestion. It’s as if the car resists your commands.
Unlike the previous gripes, these systems are quite optional, and they usually stay off when turned off. Still, this technology has been around long past the novelty period, and they should work much better. Just ask Tesla .
It’s an area where a touch of thoughtful engineering can go a long way. Take Nissan and its ProPilot assist tech. It’s essentially a combination of lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control, which adjusts your vehicle’s speed in relation to the one in front of you.
It’s a hands-on system, meaning it’s not meant to be any sort of autonomous driving solution, but it has a backup plan in case you relinquish the wheel. Other systems that suspect a driver’s being inattentive will flash a warning or two, beep, then just switch off. ProPilot does that, but considers that there might be a problem other than laziness happening. Trying it out in the Nissan Rogue, I let the SUV take notice of my absence and it displayed a message accompanied by a steady tone that increased in frequency as the seconds passed. Imagine, appropriately, the targeting computer noise at the end of Star Wars and you’re on the right track. After a few more seconds pass, the Rogue did a double brake check, pumping them twice in quick succession to get my attention.
If I had continued to ignore the warning signs, the Nissan would have turned on the hazards and come to a gradual stop, suspecting that maybe something bad happened to the driver. I can’t speak to the execution, but things like this should always be part of the conversation when developing drive assists. We have the technology, we’re just not using it to its fullest potential.
Make my life easier, not harder
Maybe I’m just a grump and all these are awesome things people love. I just think a bit more thoughtfulness could go a bit farther than throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. Either way, these are just my car tech gripes. What do you think? Got any that I missed?
Published at Tue, 26 Sep 2017 10:15:06 +0000