Misfits of modern-day machines

A look at the inefficient features and annoying attributes in the current crop of cars and SUVs

By George Kuruvilla

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Published: Mon 27 Nov 2023, 1:11 PM

The automobile has come a long way since Karl Benz introduced the world’s first gasoline-powered vehicle in 1886. Over the last century, we have witnessed cars evolve into technological marvels with a multitude of convenience and safety features and electronic gadgetry. They are now capable of taking verbal instructions to change radio stations, apply brakes automatically if they sense a collision, and even drive themselves across the country with minimal human input.

While these modern software-integrated rides seem all-capable, they are far from perfect. Many of them are equipped with features that are inefficient, annoying, obstructive, and even detrimental. Here’s a look at some of those design faults.

Poor UX design

They say that the smartphones we use today are powerful enough to send a rocket to the moon, but the average person only uses about seven per cent of the phone’s capability. Similarly, infotainment systems in modern cars are very powerful and they have a plethora of features but these features are usually buried in a maze of menus and hence, not readily accessible. The implementation of these overly complex multimedia systems seems to have become a widespread malaise in today’s vehicles. So, if you aren’t young and curious or tech-savvy, expect to gain little to no advantage from purchasing high-tech luxury vehicles.

Delayed touch screen and voice-control response

As we transition into a fully digital age, several automakers are replacing hard buttons and knobs for the aircon controls, volume, and radio tuner with digital buttons. Couple this with the delayed response of touch screens, and it becomes a chore for the driver to adjust things, especially on the move. Very often, it calls for deliberate staring at the screen and exaggerated pushing of these onscreen buttons to engage functions, which takes your eyes away from the road and increases the chance of incidents.

Voice control systems have been a disappointment too. They don’t catch what you are saying and misinterpret commands, requiring drivers to repeat themselves, thus defeating their intended purpose.

Intrusive driver-assist systems

Modern cars are equipped with driver-assist systems. But like an uncle who is absent for most of the year suddenly forces unsolicited life advice on you, these poorly calibrated safety features become active abruptly and interfere with your driving. Sometimes it’s the blind-spot monitoring system that sees a vehicle a mile away and pulls the steering back, and sometimes, it’s the autonomous emergency braking systems that engage the brakes when the situation doesn’t call for it.

Jerky stop-start systems

This remarkable feature has been designed to save fuel by shutting off the engine at idle and thus reduce tailpipe emissions while you are sitting at a traffic light. Although I haven’t faced any significant issues, a Porsche Cayenne SUV I drove a while ago had an overly enthusiastic stop-start system that switched off the motor every time I went over a speed hump. Several other folks have complained about the noise and vibration associated with frequent engine restarts in stop-and-go traffic.

Large wheel problems

Decades ago, 18-inch rims were a luxury and now we see even cheaper crossovers with wheel sizes up to a gargantuan 21 inches wrapped in low-profile tyres. While it’s a great aesthetic choice, these larger wheels compromise on ride quality and increase road noise, taking a toll on the occupants over a long drive. Cheaper vehicles aren’t usually fitted with appropriate sound-deadening materials or softly sprung suspension to negate these issues.

Ineffective air conditioning systems

The residents of the UAE have to bear summer months where temperatures can climb up to 50 degrees Celsius or thereabouts, and for this reason, it makes sense that all vehicles available here should have a properly functioning and adequately powerful aircon system. Yet, this is not the case. While Toyotas and Nissans do well, most other vehicles struggle to cool their interiors in a reasonable time, even when the aircon is set to the maximum. Instead of sweating outside the vehicles, we just end up getting soaked inside the vehicle. The irony is some of these vehicles come with heated steering wheels and seats.

Inadequate storage space cupholders

In our daily commutes and recreational travels, we often take along a lot of knickknacks, luggage and stuff in general. Hence, modern-day machines are required to have an acceptable volume and variety of storage space, which some don’t provide. Either the glovebox and central cubby are too small or the cupholders are too few or small. Mclaren vehicles can’t store more than a wallet’s worth of items and the Ferrari Roma has one cupholder. Just one!

Unmusical chimes

While seatbelt reminder chimes are essential for safety and do come in handy, especially if you often drive the elderly and children around, in some cases, these systems can be overly persistent, sounding off repeatedly, which is not exactly music to the ears.

And that completes our short list of faulty features and annoying attributes. Have you faced similar issues in vehicles that you have owned or driven? Let us know.

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