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Dear engineers: No more clever gizmos, please

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Dear engineers: No more clever gizmos, please

Jason H. Harper / Bloomberg News

Every time I make a lane change in a BMW, I feel like an idiot.

It's a blinker thing. When I turn the left indicator off, I somehow activate the right one. I end up clicking the stalk up and down a half dozen times, not so much announcing a turn as that I'm a schizophrenic tourist with commitment issues.

As it turns out, once a Bimmer blinker is on, you tap the stalk to cancel it rather than pushing it the opposite direction, as in other cars.

Dear engineers: Redesigning the blinker is not clever. It's annoying.

It's one example of idiosyncrasies that drive owners nuts. Every carmaker has wonky design foibles, almost always the case of engineer over-think, lawyer interference or an automaker just not paying attention.

Sometimes it's a matter of poor placement of a control. Mercedes-Benz puts a long column on the left side of the steering wheel that looks like the blinker but is actually the cruise control -- a function I use as often as an electric turkey carver. (The blinker is the less obvious stick just below it.)

To make matters worse, this is no simple cruise control. Mercedes' Distronic Plus maintains a certain distance between you and other cars, even bringing you to a stop in stalled traffic. So after unwittingly turning it on, I feel like I've activated the people-killer Skynet system from the "Terminator" movies.

Next gripe is for the U.S. automakers. We know your phalanx of attorneys are worry-warts, but please stop with all those electronic gongs, beeps and buzzing chimes that come when we open doors, insert keys or don't put our seatbelts on in record time.

My father's 2008 GMC Sierra pickup makes more electronic noises than R2-D2 in "Star Wars." Lucky for dad that his hearing is iffy, as it drove me to the brink. For heaven's sake, I know the door is open -- I'm getting out.

After a week in the Ford Fiesta, I was convinced that Ford put together a focus group to determine the most annoying noises known to man. The less-than-dulcet tones that come with opening a door actually made me nostalgic for the 1980s-era cars which robotically announced, "Your door is ajar."

(Incidentally, the most tolerable auditory alert comes from BMW, a light gong that is musical and Zen.)

If I can afford an expensive car with gobs of power, I don't need GM hovering over me like an overprotective mom. Yet the $64,000, 556-horsepower Cadillac CTS-V Coupe I recently tested will not allow the use of fundamental parts of its navigation system while actually on the move.

In other words, if the wheels are turning, my front-seat passenger cannot program in a destination: The touch-screen commands become inoperable. Sorry, but that's exactly when I need directions -- when I'm lost and actually driving someplace.

Navigation systems are a major source of complaints I get from passengers. The Japanese generally make the best. Within moments of tinkering, you can program in a destination, find a radio station and get moving. Honda's cheap Fit hatchback bests most luxury cars, and the Koreans aren't far behind.

The Germans treat the navigation interfaces like a game of technological one-upmanship, delivering radically different systems such as BMW's inscrutable, first-generation iDrive. Even today, best settle in for a fortnight to learn their operations.

Then there's the British. Drop a huge pile of cash on any Bentley or Aston Martin and you'll end up with fuzzy graphics and an arcane interface which make the original Atari game console seem revolutionary. By these standards, the Brits would never have got off the island to colonize the world.

Speaking of video-game-worthy graphics, the latest hybrids have super snazzy graphics that give too much information, as if we were playing the newest version of "Halo" rather than driving. Most present a complex diagram of the moment-by-moment flow of energy between battery, engine and wheels. A mechanical engineering degree is optional but wouldn't hurt.

You'll get a series of screens to scroll through in your spare time in the new Chevy Volt or Porsche Cayenne Hybrid, so you can parse every ounce of energy usage.

Ford's Fusion Hybrid actually "grows" green leaves on the screen, indicating how efficiently you're driving. It's so pretty! Oh, I'm expected to keep my eyes on the road?

Finally, while American drivers demand a proliferation of cup holders, I'd be happy with a cubby for my cell phone. Car designers must be aware of the omnipresence of mobiles, so is it too much to ask for a simple niche which will hold a smart phone securely and upright, so I can see who is calling? I promise both the attorneys and other drivers that I won't pick it up and text.

I grant that many issues which plague drivers can be solved by one simple solution -- but as far as I'm concerned, reading the owner's manual is only for quitters.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100918/AUTO03/9180319/1149/auto01/Dear-engineers--No-more-clever-gizmos--please#ixzz10BvX3sXW

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Amazing...M-B is still putting the cruise control on a stalk? They were like that 25 years ago! I've still never gotten comfortable w/ the power window switches on the center console/center stack (and I have a fair amount of familiarity w/ them).

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Amazing...M-B is still putting the cruise control on a stalk? They were like that 25 years ago! I've still never gotten comfortable w/ the power window switches on the center console/center stack (and I have a fair amount of familiarity w/ them).

Huh? GM had the cruise control on the Grand Prixes on a stalk in 2004... and likely that lasted until 2008. I like the old stalk style cruise control.

I don't like the window controls on the console, either, but Mercedes has good safety reason to put them there. I prefer them there to having those new "pull up" window controls. Of course, with AC and EZ Pass, who puts their windows down anymore? I only do at the drive-thru.

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Huh? GM had the cruise control on the Grand Prixes on a stalk in 2004... and likely that lasted until 2008. I like the old stalk style cruise control.

Yeah, I know GM had it like that for decades...back to the late '70s, I think. I was thinking of M-B only. Personally, I prefer CC controls on the steering wheel like on various Ford and Chrysler models..

I don't like the window controls on the console, either, but Mercedes has good safety reason to put them there. I prefer them there to having those new "pull up" window controls. Of course, with AC and EZ Pass, who puts their windows down anymore? I only do at the drive-thru.

After 5 months of continuous A/C use, I'm actually looking forward to driving around some in the fall w/ the windows down...the first time it was cool enough to drop the windows in months (2 weeks ago), one of my power window motors failed. AUGGGGHHH.

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I was pondering what a mess it will be in 5 to 10 years from now when the car someone ordered with navigation becomes useless but due to the dash design they won't be able to replace it.

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I was pondering what a mess it will be in 5 to 10 years from now when the car someone ordered with navigation becomes useless but due to the dash design they won't be able to replace it.

Think of the cost on top of that.

Imagine how much it will cost to replace a busted iDrive controller, say, if someone should want to restore a previous-gen 7-series in the future.

Personally, I can live without power windows, door locks, cruise control (like the author of the article, I only use it once in a blue moon if I really have to conserve gas), heated and cooled power seats, power mirrors, overhead consoles with built-in compasses, navigation, OnStar, Sync ... the list goes on and on. You can add the automatic transmission to that list as well.

Give me crank windows, manual locks, some sort of stereo, and a row-your-own gearbox and I'm set.

I've been thinking of ways to lease a base LS model Camaro (or a base SE Challenger or Mustang) lately (lease it for two years, then finance the depreciate value for four-years when I get out of college), and I still can't believe that I can't save a few extra bucks by deleting "standard equipment" that I don't want. The F4 cars were flexible about that. The F5 isn't.

Edited by whiteknight

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This is a lot of what were left with: change for change's sake, rebranded as 'new tech'. Blech.

With a large truck, I could use power folding mirrors, and I do like power windows... and A/C, but most of the rest is questionably-useful fluff.

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I was pondering what a mess it will be in 5 to 10 years from now when the car someone ordered with navigation becomes useless but due to the dash design they won't be able to replace it.

That'd be hardware and OS dependent. Theoretically, the five year old GPS system would be 'updateable' through software and firmware. Of course, whether automakers will or have allowed this to occur is a different story.

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I have yet to have a car w/ NAV or OnStar, Sync, etc. Though I'm sure I will eventually. One simple, basic feature besides a good map that I find invaluable to navigate w/ is a compass. So few rentals seem to have them.

As far as gotta-have basics for me, they are A/C, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, power seats (not just back-forth, got to have up/down, tilt, etc), heated mirrors/rear defogger, good sound system, good cupholders, keyless entry. Power folding mirrors would be a nice to have, esp. on an SUV. An outside thermometer is a nice to have. Automatic lights have been nice to have, but not a necessity. Never had dual zone or automatic A/C, might be nice to have but not a necessity. A low range as well as full time and part time 4wd settings are preferable on an SUV. A start/stop button seems silly to me, a normal key works fine. I like sunroofs, as long as they don't cut too much into the headroom.

Heated seats have been a nice to have feature, would like to try heated and chilled seats. After 10+ years w/ leather, I'd be content w/ a quality cloth material (esp. in a hot climate), but most any vehicle in my price point seems to be leather only equipped the way I want it.

I like both manual and automatics--manual for small cars or fun cars; automatic for daily drivers (SUVs or a largish luxury sedan).

Edited by Cubical-aka-Moltar

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I was pondering what a mess it will be in 5 to 10 years from now when the car someone ordered with navigation becomes useless but due to the dash design they won't be able to replace it.

That's why I like base cars....

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I thought it was just me that noticed you cannot get options the way you want them and then they have things you do not want or need.

Right now what sucks is when GM only offered bench seats on base models like they did with the last Bonneville. It would have been since to see an SLE with the options the SLE with a bench seat option. I know you can get one on DTS, but is an option. It is not just the bench seat, it is other things too. I like the seat controls on the door. Mercedes Benz is now the only one who does it along with Lincoln in the Town Car. You do not spend good money to stick your hand on the side of the seat.

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One simple, basic feature besides a good map that I find invaluable to navigate w/ is a compass.

+1. :)

My old '96 Pathfinder had one, but my wife's '99 Maxima doesn't. I don't feel safe exploring new frontiers in her car because of it.

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