The Bottom Ten: Less-Than-Spectacular New Car Technology

There’s no doubt that modern vehicles are equipped with amazing features that enhance convenience, safety and performance. Some features, however, may belong on the “What were they thinking?” list, or even “Were they thinking at all?” Karl Brauer, analyst and editor at Kelley Blue Book, recently put together a list of ten car technology fails for We’ll share a summary here.

Number one on the fail list is fake exhaust noise. Some automakers have cleverly rerouted vehicles’ actual exhaust noise through different baffles to produce a more powerful sound; however, some makers use fake exhaust sounds enhanced by the vehicles’ audio system. This is high-tech at its silliest.

Listed next are the excessive and inaccurate warning light systems on many vehicles. Brauer’s example is a friend’s Ford Escape, which notified him with every light on the dashboard (including “hill climb assist not available”) about what turned out to be a simple airbag wiring harness that needed repair. His friend had no idea what was wrong with the vehicle until he took it to the mechanic. With such advanced technology available, can we not receive an accurate, concise message on the dash?

Mechanical vs. electronic issues are at numbers three and four and five on the list. Critical functions, such as charge port access and rear hatch release on the Tesla Model S, for example, are relegated to a touch screen. So what happens if the screen fails? The point is, important functions should be controlled by hard buttons to avoid disaster. Similarly, electrically powered doors are a problem, mostly due to overly complex backup systems that are potentially unsafe in the event of an emergency. Additionally, keyless entry systems are wonderfully convenient, but should warn drivers immediately if the key is not in the cabin. Current warning systems are still inadequate and slow.

Tech fail number six is the not-yet-perfected idle-stop feature that is becoming increasingly common as the EPA forces automakers to meet new standards. It does work to reduce emissions, but the repeated noise and vibration caused by most stop-start systems is annoying and exhausting.

Bauer mourns the loss of the manual transmission at number seven, making the very strong argument that it is ridiculous for an exotic sports car with a six-figure price tag to not offer a manual transmission option. Especially ridiculous is the argument that it is a cost issue for the brands.

Next on the list is restricted access for passengers to features like phone and map services. Yes, driver distraction has become an enormous problem, but there is no reason to prevent a passenger from safely accessing driving directions or communications services.

A need for smart display screens is at nine on the tech failure list. Back-up cameras greatly improve safety, of course, but the camera view takes over the entire display screen when the car is in reverse. You can’t, for example, adjust the heating system or answer a call using the screen if your vehicle is in reverse.

Finally, the number ten fail is the ever decreasing amount of control drivers have to maneuver due to increasing control of another safety feature—the stability control system. Bauer says that over the last ten years, our ability to control our vehicles has evaporated considerably, and could one day threaten our ability to, say, turn the wheel sharply and quickly to avoid a threat that we see that the computer cannot.

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