9 Things That Grind Our Gears, Automotive Edition

A list of trends in the automotive industry that ruffle our feathers

Words by: Adam Allen

We love cars. Really, we do- those of us with petrol running through our veins can find even the most minute detail to get excited about. The LED lighting on many FCA products these days? Wonderful. The sound of a Porsche 911 flat six? Beguiling. Heck, we even get excited about the brake caliper design that BMW’s are sporting these days. Yet as many facets of the car biz minutiae that elicit a smile, there are some things that never cease to starch our knickers. As card-carrying gearheads, we love cars just as fiercely as we are willing to complain about them. Self-help books have been telling us for years that it’s good and healthy to vent, to open the floodgates and let the negativity flow freely.

So without further ado, here are nine current automotive trends that have us all bent out of shape:

 

Yup, they’re faking it

Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Lexus- we’re singling you out but let it be known there are many other offenders of this annoying aesthetic practice. You know what we mean; rear facias that feature exhaust tips that are non-functional. There are still exhaust exits at the rear of the car, they’re just tucked up under the bumper so that on a cold morning smoke pours out of an unseen outlet. Similarly, we point the finger at those brands that insist on using huge, gaping, clearly-way-too-big-to-be-a-real-exhaust tip exits where you don’t even need to be looking particularly close to see the itty-bitty real ones behind the plastic maw. Or, in the Lexus IS-F’s case, using an ingratiating vertically stacked design that not only isn’t particularly attractive but alsop clearly shows the minuscule profile of the actual exhaust pipe.

 

Seeing is believing

When driving a projectile comprised of steel, glass and rubber weighing in excess of a tonne (and in some cases, a lot more) packing a fearsome amount of kinetic energy, you should be able to clearly see where you’re going, right? Apparently some cars didn’t get the memo that outward visibility is a thing, much less a critically important one. Take the Chevy Camaro, for example. The current generation is a revelation to drive, and the Alpha platform bestows the venerable pony car with a host of dynamic gifts making it extremely rewarding to drive. Only when you’re flogging it on your favorite backroad does the glaring lack of poor sightlines begin to fade from memory. The first time we sat in one we wondered how anyone vertically challenged would be able to safely pilot one of these. Again, the Camaro isn’t alone- have a seat in a Land Rover Evoque or a Dodge Challenger and you’ll see what we mean. The stylists employed by these companies are not entirely to blame, however. Crash safety mandates are getting ever stringent and require cars to be built in such a way that they’ll protect their occupants in a collision. Therefore, belt lines will consider to rise, blind spots will get bigger an A-pillars continue to thicken.

 That’s infotainment!

Automotive technology has made great strides in the last decade, and the pace of innovation shows no sign of letting up. We wonder why, with the vast financial resources and engineering talent available to the manufactures these days, do the majority of infotainment systems continue to baffle and generally annoy? It’s not all bad news. FCA’s Uconnect, Ford’s SYNC3 and the once loathed/now lauded BMW iDrive systems all work pleasingly well and clearly illustrate that providing a useful and intuitive digital interface with the cars they’re installed in is indeed possible. Which makes an experience behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S, Acura TLX or Subaru Outback is an exercise in frustration. Either they are plagued by an unacceptable lag, the graphics look outdated and poorly rendered or they are just plain difficult to use without frequently consulting the owner’s manual. We have been able to make the home computer easy enough to operate that even the most hardened luddite can point and click their way around to get what they need- why can’t infotainment systems follow suit? A free bit of advice to the car companies- perhaps it’s time to adopt some sort of standardization, kind of like Android’s operating system for smartphones. It will save an enormous amount of money and consumers will benefit, too.

Yup, they’re faking it, Part 2

A note to the Honda Civic Type R- it’s not that we’re hating on you. Actually we love you: you are the most brilliantly executed front-wheel drive car in recent memory, and you are faster around many racetracks than your chief rival, the mighty Ford Focus RS. You have a terrific engine, wonderful manual gearbox and brakes that just won’t quit. Why, then, must you be so offensive to look at? The Type R would be the perfect car if they just toned down the styling and not make it resemble an anime catfish whose genes were spliced with a Civic hatchback. It’s not just the revered Type R that is responsible for an assault on visual cortexes everywhere- we’re looking at you, Toyota Prius, Mercedes Benz GLA and Nissan Juke- and we wonder out loud how some of these styling flights of fancy actually got green lit by their corporate overlords. Don’t even get us started on non-functional aero bits or vents.

You call those brakes?!?

As vehicle curb weights continue to climb, so too do the wheels that manufactures install on them increase in size. We get it; big wheels look cool and tell the world you’ve splurged. With that said, they can also ruin the ride, demand expensive replacement tires when the factory supplied units wear out and are easily destroyed if you have a brush with a curb. There’s another offence committed by these oversized rollers, and that is they make the brakes peeking out behind them look freakishly small. Ever seen a Hummer plodding around on massive wheels? The brakes look like CD’s clamped by meek looking calipers. You could add gargantuan rotors with multi-piston calipers, but that’s costly, is overkill in terms of braking power and heaps on the unsprung weight. We’d recommend leaving the setup alone that came with whatever you might be driving and call it a day.

Invasion of the 2.0 litre turbo

Remember when everything on the road wasn’t powered by a 2.0 litre turbo inline four? OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but darn near close to every automotive brand offers one. In European markets, BMW will even sell you a 7-sereis with one toiling away under the hood. This engine architecture was designed for one thing- to deliver sparkling fuel economy numbers when subjected to government testing regimes. When you’re not into the boost, they do return good mileage. Yet in the real world and working in the cut and thrust of urban traffic, these engines drink greedily from the gas tank. The fine print that states “Your mileage may vary” is hilariously on point. Some brands have got this layout down pretty good- think Volkswagen and the aforementioned unit from BMW- but for the most part they’re thirsty little things that sound bored or strained (or both) with you give them the beans. Bring back more naturally aspirated engines!

Diesel feasible?

Although a few years removed from the when you-know-what hit the fan with VW’s diesel scandal, the reverberations of that discovery continue. You used to have a healthy choice of diesel powered cars prior to Dieselgate- nowadays, the only recipient of new diesel engines is the pickup truck segment. Some major European cities are even mulling over the idea of completely banning oil burners from plying the roads within their geographical limits. But it doesn’t have to be this way. When done properly, diesel engines offer a thick torrent of torque at lower engine speeds, offer a significant fuel economy advantage over their gasoline powered counterparts and are built more robustly so they tend to be more durable and last longer. We hope we haven’t seen the last of the diesel engine.

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?

As Buffalo Springfield asked back in 1966, what is that sound? It’s become a recent trend for OEM’s to pipe engine noise into the passenger compartment. This is counterintuitive for two main reasons: one, interior designers have spend untold hours trying to make this environment quieter, not louder. Two, the sound that is broadcasted inside obviously fake and simply doesn’t sound good. Volkswagen’s Soundaktor is among the worst offenders, and in the Lexus GS-F, which is blessed with one of the best naturally aspirated V8’s currently for sale has this synthesized soundtrack played through the speakers that is trying way too hard, not to mention it doesn’t need the help. Some cars allow you to turn this off, others do not. If it were up to us, we’d put this technology to bed and never speak of it again.

The winter of automatic transmission discontent

We asked earlier why manufactures have a wealth of ability to churn out some great cars and the technology that goes along with that. This leaves us scratching our heads on the current state of automatic gearboxes. On one hand, they’ve gotten seriously good, so much so that sometimes they’re a better option than a manual. Ever tried Porsche’s PDK or any car with a ZF 8-speeder? They’ll both make you forget every negative stereotype you’ve learned over the years towards autoboxes. With that said, we can’t figure out why we still encounter poor shifting and general bad manners in cars for sale today. Mostly, its uncertain shifting in low speeds or a jerkiness that is as unsettling as it is annoying. Why do we have to deal with this when Grandpa’s 1997 Chevy Lumina with its 4-speed slushbox shifts smoothly in every situation? The cure for this demerit is easy- spec a manual any time you can. Problem is, that’s getting harder and harder to do as do-it-yourself shifting continues its march towards irrelevance and eventually, extinction.

PHEW! We feel better already.

Now that we’ve unleashed our inner curmudgeon, we can’t help but enjoy being washed over by the relief of letting it out*. Despite our torrent of rage, we’re still hopelessly, utterly and unequivocally in love with cars and the affliction shows no signs of abatement. For any manufactures that want hear more so they may deploy our brilliant counsel on how to make the cars they build that much better…let’s talk. Until the day comes where the phone rings with an offer, we want to know; what’s eating you when it comes to automotive trends that grind your gears?

*Since we didn’t cover everything in our rant, a few other bits that deserve (dis)honorable mention: clunky start/stop systems, garish chrome wheels, hopelessly fingerprint prone piano black interior trim, clear taillights and charging thousands for metallic paint…we’ll stop there for now.