The Most Annoying New-Car Features
They say the devil is in the details and that's certainly the case when it comes to new cars and trucks. Most achieve admirable levels of performance, get stellar fuel economy, earn top safety ratings, and come packed with more features for the money than ever, but still no car is perfect.
Motorists and automotive reviewers alike seem to be particularly frustrated with some of the motoring world's latest high-tech features these days - particularly complex infotainment systems that require a steep learning curve, and once mastered can still be difficult and distracting to operate. Dissatisfaction with common items like Bluetooth hands-free phone interfaces and voice recognition systems is causing some models to receive lower marks in owner surveys conducted by both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power.
Feel free to weigh in with your least favorite new-vehicle features in the comments section, but here's out list of the most irritating annoyances car shoppers should be on the lookout for when taking a test drive.
• Auto Stop-Start. This well-intentioned feature, fast becoming standard on new vehicles, automatically disengages the engine while the vehicle is at a stop light or is otherwise at idle, during which time a car gets zero mpg. The engine starts up again almost immediately when the driver removes his or her foot from the brake pedal. While it's purported to save a few mpg in city driving, it's downright intrusive on some vehicles, particularly larger vehicles and sporty cars. The roar of a Porsche 911 engine on startup can be exhilarating, though it can quickly become annoying when it's repeatedly doing so in stop-and-go traffic or over a route filled with traffic signals. Fortunately, most cars allow drivers to switch off this function.
• Lane Departure Warning. Here, cameras monitor lane markers in the road and sound both an audible and visual alert (some cars vibrate the seat or steering wheel) if the car is crossing them unless the turn signal is engaged. Unfortunately, many motorists neglect to signal their intent to change lanes when there are few (if any) other vehicles within proximity, which results in an abundance of alerts. Poor weather and ill-marked roads, combined with sharp curves and stretches of narrow lanes further contribute to what drivers interpret as spurious warnings. Most drivers soon tune them out or find the switch that deactivates this feature,
• Lane Departure Intervention. Some models take the lane departure warning concept a step further and automatically employ braking and/or steering intervention to help "nudge" a wandering car back into the center of a lane if it drifts across the markers. This can be a test of nerves if the reason you're treading the lane markers on the left is to keep a comfortable distance from the big semi-trailer that's encroaching into your lane from the right. Again, this function can usually be switched off, but it then becomes a waste of money.
• Touchscreen Infotainment Systems. It seemed like a good idea at the time to combine several of a vehicles controls and functions in a touch-sensitive screen to help consolidate systems and reduce dashboard clutter, but some are easier to operate than others. Virtual buttons tend to be unresponsive and difficult to locate, and such systems often rely on complex menu-driven commands, which can be both difficult and dangerously distracting to operate while the vehicle is moving.
• Navigation Systems. As it is, most GPS systems can be cumbersome to program in a dashboard environment, but many cars disable this and a few other touchscreen-based functions while the vehicle is moving to help keep the driver's attention focused on the road. That's admirable, but it's also unnecessary if there's a front-seat passenger who can accomplish such tasks without running the car off the road. As it is, using a smartphone for GPS navigation is generally simpler to program, costs far less, and can be more easily updated than OEM systems.
• Touch-Sensitive Controls. Some cars (though happily, fewer of them of late) swap conventional knobs and buttons for odd "touch points" incorporated into the dashboard or as part of display screens that compound the problem with complex menu-driven commands. As with touchscreens, they tend to be less intuitive to operate and slow to respond. The worst are audio system volume controls that are operated not by a dial, but by a swipe on the dashboard that's hit or miss at best.
• Parking Proximity Alarms. While they can come in handy while parallel parking in a tight space, radar-guided distance alarms that go off loudly and insistently (and muting the car's audio system in the process) when a car's transmission is shifted into reverse are often more annoying than they're worth. Fortunately, they can usually be switched off. A rear back-up camera serves the same purpose and is far less unnerving.
• Knobless Radio Tuning. While some models still feature good old analog controls for the audio system, the worst involve tuning the radio via up/down buttons one station or frequency tick at a time that makes slow and irritating work of what should be a quick and simple task.
• Visibility Issues. Modern auto designs often throw up roadblocks to a driver's outward visibility. It can be difficult, for example, to spot a pedestrian crossing the street or a bicyclist riding alongside one's car if they're hidden by a too-thick front window pillar. Swoopy roof lines and tall trunk lids often make back windows so narrow that they compromise a rearward view, and virtually necessitate having a backup camera for easier and safer parking.
• Voice Commands. Here's yet another seemingly good idea meant to reduce driver distractions that's often too exasperating to operate. Many such systems force motorists to speak like engineers to execute commands ("audio system…Bluetooth…play artist…track, etc.), and at best they tend to misinterpret many commands, especially from drivers with accents or other speech affectations.
• Mammoth Key Fobs. Keyless push-button entry/start systems can be a great convenience, but the key fobs required to operate them have grown to the size of yesterday's flip-phones. They're especially huge among luxury-branded models, where we're told they're meant to be status symbols in their own right. Bigger is not necessarily better here - is that your car keys in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?
• Car Alarms. Does anyone even pay attention to auto alarms anymore, especially on busy streets where they tend to be set off more by passing trucks than thieves? The latest auto security systems can alert a motorist via his or her smartphone if the car is being tampered with, though getting a false warning remotely is no less annoying than hearing a car alarm going off from your bedroom window.