'Must have' extras are often plain annoying

By David Linklater

Tablet info screens are a tease and look silly. Photo / Supplied
Tablet info screens are a tease and look silly. Photo / Supplied

Carmakers have great ideas and implement them quickly. If all technology-based industries were half as clever and efficient, the world would be an even more amazing place.

We celebrate those great ideas all the time in these pages. But let's face it, they're not all keepers. Sometimes, new automotive features come along that we could really do without. Here are five, but there could be so many more.

Armrests

Such a simple thing. Such an annoyance. Somewhere along the line, the automotive world decided that modern cars virtually drive themselves, therefore you can kick back and relax when you're behind the wheel. Cosset your elbows on a nice, soft armrest. After all, you don't need to use your arms to control the car or anything.

All armrests in cars are ludicrous. But there's a certain design of central armrest used on a variety of Volkswagen Group products (including Skoda and Audi) that's particularly bad.

When deployed for cruising-and-snoozing, it's in the way and you bang your elbow on it every time you operate the gearlever. When it's folded upright it's still in the way, and you bang your elbow on it every time you operate the gearlever; just in a different place.

Economy lights

It's quite the thing these days: "coaching" lights that encourage you to drive economically by telling you when the powertrain is running efficiently. They come in many forms. Toyota's, for example, is simple: a little illuminated "Eco" graphic flashes up on the dashboard when things are going well. It flashes a lot, but usually only momentarily. On and off. On and off. On and off.

Honda goes all-out on some models and gives you variable dashboard illumination. Put your foot hard down and the lighting around the instrument panel goes blue. Lift it off and there's an aqua haze while it works back to green.

Economy lights are, without exception, an unwelcome distraction. Nobody wants a car that works on a driver-information system of nag-and-reward. At least you can turn the Honda system off.

Electronic handbrakes

Electronic handbrakes are awful. They make weird noises when you set them. Their ability to automatically disengage when you drive away is a potential selling point, but instead they usually make the car lurch uncomfortably while the electronics work out whether you really want to go or not.

Carmakers tell us that these devices free up space in the centre console by removing that ungainly handbrake lever. That's theoretically true, but I've never seen an car interior that really takes advantage of this miraculous extra space: it's just more scope for cupholders and ugly bits of shiny plastic trim. Even Porsches have electronic handbrakes now. It's like the world is ending.

Head-up displays

A head-up display projects important information on to the windscreen in front of the driver, or sometimes (as with Peugeot) on to a little piece of Perspex. Wow, just like a fighter jet.

The idea is that you can keep your eyes on the road all the time, making you a safer driver.

I don't think it's such a bad thing to glance down at the instruments every now and then; it gives your eyes a chance to refocus on the road. A fresh look means another chance to spot potential hazards. Because we're just driving cars, right? Not having a milliseconds-count dogfight with a MiG.

Polarised sunglasses are recommended for driving. They're fabulous. But if you wear them in a car with a head-up display, it disappears. That's funny.

Tablet info screens

BMW and Mercedes-Benz are the worst offenders: multi-media displays on high-res screens that look like portable tablets. They are not portable and they are not tablets: they tell you the same stuff that any other car-information screen does.

They're a tease and they look silly.

So car people, keep the tabletesque dashboard architecture until you can actually offer something that serves its purpose when connected to the car, but can also be unplugged and enjoyed using an Android, Apple or Windows operating system in other places.

- NZ Herald

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