Automakers have always tried to cram as much tech as they can into their cars – within the financial parameters set by bean counters – to try to entice customers with bells and whistles.
This game of one-upmanship has been a feature of the auto industry for decades, and is even more commonplace today. The pipeline that runs from the creative minds of automotive engineers to the auto buying public is usually quite prolific, including those gained from lessons learned on a race track (especially F1 or endurance racing).
As much as car buyers have benefited from a dizzying array of useful and innovative features that may otherwise not have ended up in their cars, they have also suffered the misfortune of serving as the equivalent of laboratory mice for some ridiculous automotive inventions. We would like to share some of the more outrageous of these, in no particular order.
20 Gesture Controls
Since turning audio knobs, pressing stereo or climate control buttons, and other such simple activities in a luxury car – that have apparently become too much of a hassle – automakers decided to bless us with gesture controls.
The imprecise act of “air motioning” has apparently replaced those previously simple, tactile, and precise actions. This is an unfortunate phenomenon that doesn’t save time or help convenience or safety.
19 Automatic Start-Stop
A certain candidate for the most annoying new car feature is this brilliant piece of technology that shuts off the engine when a vehicle comes to a stop in order to save on fuel consumption and help with emissions.
To the chagrin of millions of drivers, the system is obtrusive, non-transparent, and a dubious invention in the name of efficiency – not to mention it’s quite annoying.
18 Paddle Shifters in Ordinary Cars
What’s the best way to create an illusion of performance other than to add a couple of letters such as GT or Si to the back of a car? Easy! Put in a couple of paddles to show that this car doesn’t just have a regular automatic transmission, but a high performance, paddle-shifting, super deluxe contraption.
A Corolla or a Versa’s silly paddle shifters make any ordinary driver feel like they are the second coming of Lewis Hamilton negotiating Casino Corner in Monaco, but do not serve any real purpose.
17 Third-Row Seats in Compact SUVs
Why stuff a third-row seat into the already cramped cargo area of a small SUV? It’s all about the marketing, baby! You can claim it’s a 7-passenger family hauler when the poor saps who are banished to these torture seats are doing all they can to avoid the inevitable effects of claustrophobia.
16 Social Media Integration
Social Media has permeated every aspect of our lives, and there are precious few places that one can escape to where one can be free from its influence. It used to be that our cars were a sort of a sanctuary from this 21st century phenomenon. However, some carmakers have breached this last bastion of sanity in our modern world.
Banishing Social Media from the automobile will go a long way towards maintaining reason and common sense when operating a motor vehicle.
15 Voice Controls
This is yet another well-intentioned feature that's designed to help with safety and sanity but is instead fraught with missteps, even years after its introduction.
Most anyone can relate to the poor abilities of a car’s voice control interface system to decipher our spoken words. Dictating a sentence into your iPhone is one thing, correcting the unfortunate mistaken reactions of your voice control system in your car, while driving, is quite another.
14 Digital Shifter/Confusing Gear Shifters
There was a time when a gear shifter was simply a lever with one or two buttons and served to mechanically engage a gear in an automobile. Nowadays, there are far too many cars that have so-called gear shifters that seem to resemble phasers from '60s Star Trek episodes, with complicated electronic features that may or may not have anything to do with putting a car into or out of motion.
Let shifters resemble shifters and bring sanity (and simplicity) back to changing gears.
13 Touchpad Controllers
A mouse for a car is basically all that was missing in automakers’ journey towards turning some vehicles into computers on wheels, and thus we were blessed with touchpad controllers.
These silly and inaccurate interfaces have become poster children of how technology can go awry in the carmakers’ quest to cram more useless features down the car buyers’ throats. They need to be banished into the dustbin of useless automotive gadgets once and for all.
12 Inefficient Cup Holders
Seriously, how hard is it to build efficient and usable cup holders? These ubiquitous and pedestrian automotive must-haves come in many configurations but it’s seemingly too much to ask some carmakers to create usable ones. Square, too-small or inconveniently-located ones are more of a norm rather than the exception these days.
It shouldn’t take a team of engineers more than a day to redesign those, and forever earn the praises of thirsty commuters the world over.
11 Blank Switches
Tacky and ungainly eyesores of the plastic variety, these automotive equivalents of “missing teeth” are supposedly there for a valid reason, i.e. to allow the owner to tailor them according to his or her needs.
However, all they seem to do is to point out the fact that the buyer did not opt for whatever other features were available, and chose frugality and economy instead. Not a look you would want your friends and co-workers to notice the moment they enter your vehicle!
10 Too Many Steering Wheel Buttons
The function of a steering wheel is, well, to steer the car! Instead, many of these essential automotive components have been turned into a control panel with enough buttons and features to seemingly be able to launch ICBMs or tune into the Hubbell Space Telescope.
These electronic switches should forever be banished from the average car to simplify and streamline the design and functionality of this device, and restore safety to the act of driving. We are not all Formula 1 drivers, after all.
9 Digitized or Channeled Exhaust Sounds
Welcome to the age of the fake exhaust sound! Whether we are talking hybrids, electric cars, or merely gas engines that are less than sonorous, augmenting, or simply adding fake, or channeled exhaust sounds to a car has become de rigueur for certain manufacturers for some reason.
This does not advance automotive technology or add anything to a driver’s experience. It’s akin to adding a video game type of reality to the car experience, and one that should go away.
8 Eco Buttons
Do we really all need a button to cut back the performance of our vehicle to help with fuel economy and better emissions? Is this a case of buyer’s remorse for having purchased a thirsty car instead of a hybrid or electric? And finally, how hard is it to simply drive using common sense, use less than full throttle on take off, and dial back on one's proclivity to play Ayrton Senna on every on-ramp?
We submit that it isn’t hard, and everyone should know enough about their car to be able to avoid engaging some silly “Eco” button.
7 Missing Radio Knobs
What’s wrong with good, old-fashioned radio knobs? They are among the oldest and most useful of features of any audio system, and somehow, some car manufacturers have decided that their cars are too good to utilize such agricultural features.
The case of the missing radio knobs and their tendency to head towards gradual extinction (albeit and thankfully very slowly) is a head-scratcher.
6 Traction Control You Can’t Turn Off
Traction and stability control systems are great inventions that have saved many lives so far, and that’s not even up for debate.
However, when the “safety nanny” is all-too-powerful and beyond reproach, we are left feeling cold and unwilling to yield to the omnipotence of such devices. The ability to have absolute control over a car and all of its performance parameters in all types of environments should be non-negotiable.
5 Hidden USB Ports
USB ports have been indispensable in cars for many years now. What has been challenging, however, has been the hide-and-seek game some car manufacturers have been playing in placing these little openings in weird and unusual places.
How many times have you been in a rental (or a friend’s) car and felt all kinds of frustration in trying to locate the USB port?
4 Fuzzy Backup Cameras
It’s a well-documented fact that backup cameras aid safety tremendously. We all need our backup cameras, especially if we are driving our beloved SUV or Crossovers or anything that is bigger than a Miata. Video technology has progressed to a point where 4k cameras are supremely inexpensive. So the logic behind automakers trying to save mere dollars by placing cheap cameras in their not-inexpensive cars is a mystery on par with those of the Great Pyramids.
3 Giant Key Fobs
Have you seen some of the new key fobs, especially the ones from BMW, Tesla, etc. ? These mammoth, enormous things that resemble cell phones from the early 2000s can not be carried comfortably in a normal pants pocket seem to be de rigueur nowadays.
It also appears that this was a case of reinventing the wheel when our simple integrated key fobs seemed perfect, certainly over these giant TV remotes.
2 Car Alarms
These ancient relics and remnants of the '80s car culture need to be banished once and for all! How many times have you heard a car alarm blaring and did everything you could possibly do to ignore it and get on with your life? You and a billion others surely can relate to that.
The truth of the matter is that no one pays any attention to a car alarm going off. There are far better security measures already available, to a point where we certainly don’t need sirens, honking horns, and flashing lights to remind us of a car being overly sensitive to its environment.
1 Fake Exhaust Tips
These are some of the most egregious automotive faux-pas, and are really so offensive that they belong to their own class of infractions. Compromising the aesthetics of a motor vehicle with fake exhaust tips is simply unforgivable. Whether trying to give off the impression of resident power or inherent speed, they fail to do either miserably and present an embarrassing charade akin to a well-dressed man sporting a fake Rolex.