The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

22 December 2006

Hideous automotive excrescences

Autoblog's Dan Roth has a list of Things Which Must Die next year, and some of them make sense to me:

Big cars that were once small: The Civic was once a small car, now it's almost as big as Accords once were. The Nissan Versa and Dodge Caliber are similarly not-too-small cars being marketed on the pretense of being compact. The Fit is a step in the right direction, and we realize that all the required safety gear makes light cars largely a thing of the past, but the efficiency-lovers among us can't square the fact that these cars were once small and efficient, and now they're larger and less efficient.

I wince a bit as I type this, since I'm now driving the biggest damn car I've ever had in my life (this critter was an inch or two longer, but weighed about 300 lb less), but it still makes me jump to see, as I did last week, an 80s Nissan (maybe even Datsun) Maxima that would fit in the shadow of today's Sentra. In my Celica days, I coveted Toyota's Cressida, not only because there weren't a lot of cars named after Trojan women with round heels, but because it seemed like such a grandly spacious car by comparison. This year's Corollas (two price classes down) dwarf it.

Split decision on this one:

Auto-magic everything: Auto-dimming rearview mirrors never fail to blind the crap out of me. The auto climate-control tends to blow cold air on my feet when I wanted it to stay warm till I decide. Rain-sensing wipers? Come ON! All of this automation adds up to eventual failure points. Not only that, they remove the driver from the act of driving. If you don't want to be bothered to turn on the windshield wipers, perhaps you should telecommute.

I've never had any issue with the auto-dim on the mirror, but I admit I have had trouble adjusting to Gwendolyn's set-it-and-forget-it climate control, especially with Nissan's decree that no air will be sent to the floor vents until the temp gauge creeps up to the middle of the C. No rain-sensing wipers, though.

And thumbs down on this:

Manu-matics: What useless pieces of crap. The only thing worse than an automatic with a "manual gate" is a poorly programmed automatic. A lot of times, you get a twofer with trannies like this — they're never in the right gear and constantly second guessing you, and the manual modes are dopey, slow and worthless. Maybe this is the easy way to make people feel like they can "drive real good." We'd rather have three pedals and a stick connected to something.

I admit to having driven only one manumatic — the 5-speed in the previous-generation Infiniti G35 — and it's indeed slower at shifting than a true stick, but it's quicker than waiting for the throttle-position sensor to inform the slushbox that your right foot has indeed moved, and assuming that my knees aren't going to get much better in my declining years, I'd just as soon have this.

Posted at 6:30 AM to Driver's Seat

The Civic was once a small car

...and if it still were, I couldn't ride in it.

Posted by: McGehee at 7:08 AM on 22 December 2006

The only time I like power windows is when I want to roll down the window on the other side of a wide vehicle. Thing is, my Bronco has manual window cranks, but the Civic, in which I can reach through the opposite window to adjust the mirror if I want to, has power everything.

The one geegaw in Roth's gripelist that I would actually want badly enough to seek it out, would be the rain-sensing wipers.

And maybe daytime running lights though your excerpts don't mention those. Around here I've almost defaulted to headlights on all the time, simply because people here regard the double yellow line as a gentle suggestion (are they putting in center-line rumble strips on two-lane roads in Oklahoma? We have them here, in some places) and even my giant truck seems sometimes too small and unassuming to get oncoming drivers' attention until they're reading the logo on my grille.

Posted by: McGehee at 7:15 AM on 22 December 2006

We haven't even gotten a rumble strip on the edge of the shoulder in some cases.

I don't particularly like DRLs, though this may be a function of the fact that most of the major surface streets around here are straighter than Pat Boone, which means you get all that extra time to stare at them. On something like Old 66 between here and Tulsa, they'd probably be a small-b boon.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:38 AM on 22 December 2006

We haven't even gotten a rumble strip on the edge of the shoulder in some cases.

Here too -- seems there's this prerequisite for shoulder rumble strips, which is, the road has to have a shoulder.

Posted by: McGehee at 10:08 AM on 22 December 2006

I actually like my auto dimming rear view mirror and my auto headlights (Chevy Silverado). If I leave an envelope on the dash, and it covers the sensor, it is night to my truck, though. My HVAC is still manual. I also like power windows and mirrors - nice to be able to move the mirror to see the parking space line if you are backing in.

But when all these tech goodies age and quit, whoo boy look out for the repair bill....

Posted by: Jeffro at 12:58 PM on 22 December 2006

In high-line cars, automatic features work just fine that annoy the daylights out of the owners of less exalted marques.

My Mercedes ML-500 has all the conveniences of a digital, V-8 powered whorehouse, and every one of them works perfectly. Yes, even the auto-dimming rear-view mirror. However, its predecessor, my Chrysler 300M, also had all those bells and whistles, and keeping them from "helping" me was one of my main burdens in this life.

There's a moral in there, somewhere.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at 2:29 PM on 22 December 2006

Of course, FWP, your M-Class is still under warranty. The electrickery had damned well better be working.

All of Gwendolyn's gewgaws are functional, though the indicator light for the driver's-side seat heater doesn't glow. (The heater itself will have one's fundament glowing in minutes.) However, I am pretty much used to manual everything, so there's a learning curve.

Posted by: CGHill at 5:13 PM on 22 December 2006

Add me to the list of auto-magical HVAC stuff haters. The latest Big Red F150 has the dumb digital thermostat thing, but it lacks a crucial element you'd find on a 1950s thermostat: heat or AC switch. You'd think turning off AC would turn on heat, but it seems very confused sometimes. I miss that old HEAT switch causing a blast of V8-warmed air on my tootsies at times. And getting a very light draft of lightly-warmed air wafting over my fingertips is very bothersome.

Basically, I just don't like having to learn new stuff at this age.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin at 7:10 PM on 22 December 2006

Gwendolyn has such a switch, but it's labeled "ECON." Not my idea of intuitive. Okay, it may save a few tablespoons of gas with the A/C compressor off, but that's not a major objective, at least for me.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:17 PM on 22 December 2006

Porretto-That's the first time I've heard an engine likened to a brothel. The best little V8 in Texas?

Has anybody driven one of those continuously variable automatics? Seems odd, but it would have to be an improvement over my Accord with its jarring gear changes.

Posted by: John Salmon at 10:57 PM on 22 December 2006

My tractor has a hydro-static CV trannie...

Posted by: Scott Chaffin at 12:00 PM on 24 December 2006

Does it work well? (And should we assume that if it's used in an automotive application, there will be a vague agricultural feel to it?)

Posted by: CGHill at 12:02 PM on 24 December 2006