What features can we do without?

I was reading a review of a BMW 335i Convertible at The Truth About Cars the the following passage stuck out to me:

Exploring the gizmology, I became convinced that Bimmer’s boffins have decided to make it as difficult as possible to make adjustments, so that iDrive seems better by default. For example, I wanted to adjust the turn signal so that it winked thrice when lightly touched. The manual doesn’t explain this procedure, so I will.

First, the vehicle must be running but not in motion. Next, push down twice on the toggle switch located on the front of the turn signal stalk. Then engage another switch at the tip of this same stalk. Flip the first switch five times and the one at the tip once. Flip the first switch once and then the one at the tip again and be quick about it; if you take more than eight seconds, it reverts back to the original display and setting. Done.

There’s a couple of things that stick out here. First, this guy actually thought about it enough to want his turn signal to blink three times when lightly touched?! Who thinks that? And why haven’t they got more important things to think about?

My brother-in-law used to be the service manager for a Porsche dealer in Vancouver and he actually had a customer come in once and complain that one seat had more stitches than the other. People like this should not be allowed to own cars like that, although maybe it’s because they’re like this that they get to, but I digress….

I’d make a case that no-one actually needs to be able to program their indicators in this way, and the fact that they can is just another thing that can go wrong.

Whenever I’ve test driven a modern Saab, the most useless item I’ve found are the rain-sensing wipers. What I find is that when a feature like this is present, I become way more conscious of it. This annoys me for two reasons:

1) It distracts me from the pleasure of driving the car. I’m thinking more about the wipers than I am about the handling, for instance.

2) I’m distracted because I see a few spots of rain, I’ve done whatever the heck it was I thought I needed to do to get these puppies working and……..they’re not working when I want them to.

The BMW article above also mentions iDrive, which I haven’t used, but which I’ve heard plenty of negative things about.

Are car companies making things more and more complex just becuase they can?

Would you rather have a car that comes with just the essentials (great engine, gearbox, handling and basic entertainers, comforts and essential safety equipment) or do you need sixteen speakers, satnav, rear cameras, blindspot indicators, compass, garage door opener, recording devices, changeable engine mapping, programmable seats, indicators & heardrests and a myriad of other features that people tell us we need?

I love driving a modern car, but I also loved my 99Turbo, which brings back memories of me, a steering wheel and a turbocharger. Nothing else mattered.

What do we need, and what do we not need? What are the most useless features being offered by Saab or by anyone else. If car companies want to trim some costs, maybe cutting down on useless items is a way they can do it.

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17 Comments

  1. Swade, you’re bang on – not for nothing does my satnav take me through a screen where I have to accept responsibility for using it whilst in motion – the darn thing is a total distraction (and in the MY06 at least also hopelessly outdated – I spend most mornings apparently driving through open fields rather than roads which have been there 2 to 3 years, but I digress). The other annoying feature in my MY06 9-3 SC is the supposedly ‘auto’ climate control – no matter how much I try, I can’t trust it. Call me a control freak but on a hot day it freezes me and on a cold day it is stuffy, all supposedly at the same 20C.

    By the way, am I the only one (I know I’m not, I have friends with identical models) to notice Saab can no longer make a decent heater that heats the interior (a) quickly and (b) enough!?

  2. I agree with you 99%. But headrests? Don’t take those away from me. My 9-3 was actually my first car with a usable, correctly-positioned headrest.

    Also, while we’re on the subject — the “air scarf” that comes in Mercedes convertible headrests is pretty damn neat. A very Saaby feature the Germans thought of first.

  3. Sorry Jeff,

    That’s poor expression on my part.

    “programmable seats, indicators & heardrests” were all meant to be emphasised bcause they are all offered as programmable items on some marques.

    I have programmable seats and like it, but have used the memory setting around 3 or 4 times in 18 months. I definitely don’t need programmable headrests.

    I’d never advocate getting rid of headrests at all, especially Saab’s award winning active units.

  4. Self parking, end of topic.

    OK, not end of topic. Carmakers are tying to integrate all the audio controls into the built in satnav screen and I HATE it. I need tactile feedback.

  5. “Are car companies making things more and more complex just becuase they can?”

    I would say yes. sort of. they’re making things more complex so that they can have more checkmarks on those comparison sheets like you showed for the 9-5 vs. bimmer 5-series the other day. With all of the advanced electronics already in place in cars these days, features like you describe in the post are pretty much “free” from the manufacturer’s point of view. Take, for example, tire pressure monitoring systems. With anti-lock braking and traction control systems, there’s a lot of sensors that are able to detect just the slightest bit of wheelspin. These sensors can also be queried by the car’s computers to detect any hint of wheel irregularities. From these irregularities the computer can easily extrapolate that a tire is indeed low or high on pressure.. all with just a few lines of code in the car’s software.. no recurring costs (such as extra sensors).

    I don’t have a problem with a manufacturer adding some of these extra features since they’ll pass on at least some of their cost savings to me (hopefully); I just wish they’d put some more time into integrating them into the interface a little better so that a nightmare like iDrive doesn’t result. Ahh well.

  6. “I definitely don’t need programmable headrests.”…
    Reminds me of the programmable rear-view mirrors on my Arc. Every time I hit a memory button on the seat, the darned mirrors got out of whack. Wasn’t until I searched a Saab Central forum for “out of whack” mirrors that I realized they are programmed with the seat. They were out of adjustment when I programmed the seat, so that’s where they would faithfully return every time;-)

  7. Twat (nice name, there):

    That lady was pulling OUT of the spot, not pulling INTO it, so no, it wouldn’t have done a thing. And self parking only works with parallel, as far as I can tell.

    If you can’t park, you shouldn’t drive. If you’re too lazy to park your car yourself, get a chauffer or stop driving. That’s why I hate it. Cars should NOT drive themselves. My 900S is in the shop right now and I’m driving an 04 Volvo S40. The first thing I noticed was that the car basically drives itself and I can’t feel the road at all. That sucks. I miss my bumpy steering wheel and lateral hip motion.

  8. Jeff, Their is self parking that will drive your car forward into a spot and reverse the car back out. BMW has been working on it for a couple of years now (although not sure if it is commercially available) They saw it will be great for those americans who have there Garages so full of junk that they cannot fit the car in their, They advitise this as only needing a space large enough for the car itself with tollerance of only mm’s. I agree though, if you cannot operate a car at low speeds properly how good are you going to be be at operating a car in emergency situations at high speeds.

  9. Ok, so right now it’s just parallel. Even so, if your garage is so cluttered with crap that you only have a few mm of clearance for your Bimmer, then you have other problems. I just think luxury cars do laughably too much for their drivers. Once you get past the power seats/power whatnot and ultra-plush interiors and big size, everything else is less luxury and more laziness…but that’s just me.

  10. Twat wrote:
    -well is Mrs Suzuki had self parking, she probably would not have destoyed Olav’s bike and SAAB.-

    That’s a good point ;/)

    Jeff wrote:

    – That lady was pulling OUT of the spot, not pulling INTO it, so no, it wouldn’t have done a thing. And self parking only works with parallel, as far as I can tell. –

    Ha, ha, ha, another good point, but I have to say that her ‘angle of attack’ was a rather ‘paralell’ one. She dragraced from one parking spot 20 m from my vehicles, crossed the floor and while trying to avoid hitting the opposite wall she almost paralell parked. Well, parked and parked….. ;/) ;/) ;/)

    Back to the subject: I agree with Swade and others about most of the fancy electrical and programmable bells & whistles in many modern cars. But I have to admit that I am really fond of my 9-5s rainsensors, parking sensors and the memory seats. Especially the seats – my wife and I are both driving the car and we have very different seat positions, then it is great to just push a button to have the seat and mirrors adjusted.

    A balanced mix of equipment, yes thanks. But cameras and radars all over the car, no thanks.

  11. I totally agree! If you can not park your own car, then you should not be driving. In addition to my 2003 9-3 SS, I have had my 1972 MGB for the last 26 years. There is no power steering, power brakes, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors… hell, it does not even have a heater to keep the beer warm! It does have the original radio (working I might add) that I keep turned off, preferring the exhaust note. There is nothing on my B to distract from the pure driving experience and nothing missed.
    For daily driving though, I am very thankful for the ice cold a/c and audio system in my 9-3. I don’t feel slighted in the least for not having iDrive, self parking, or integrated hvac air freshener…

  12. I’d think that if these features can be implemented nicely I’d like to have them. But at the same time, I’d like to not be burdened by them.

  13. Some of the electronics have and will become standard fare, especially the safety features. I like the little back-up “look down” feature on the passenger side mirror of my car. Airbags are standard and anti-lock brakes seem to be universal in our world. Some others make me nervous, like the new Lexus electronic guidance system that won’t let you follow too closely while cruising. You barely have to drive while on cruise control. Sounds like a recipe for falling asleep.

    I like what my friend, who is chief service manager for our local Mercedes dealership says. He told me to look for cars without the gadgets. They just break “and I have to charge them $1,400 for a new chip.”

  14. How about the new volvo S80 that flashes a red warning light on a HUD to warn you that you are about to rear end someone. I just prefer to drive a reasonably speed and keep a resonable distance. Call me crazy!

  15. Swade, I agree with you on the rain sensing wipers. I have them on my 9-5 and I always seem to wait anxiously for them to work. Eventually they kick in but in light rain they don’t always come on as quickly as I would like.

    As they are there I feel like I can’t use the manual function. Silly isn’t it?

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