- Ford Escort Cosworth. This is not overrated.

4 overrated things the automotive industry sells you on that you don't need

Some things you just don't need, or can even hamper your driving experience

2y ago

These days it feels like many car models are basically a list of features drawn up by the marketing department and handed to the engineers and designers to figure out amongst themselves.

That's why we have infotainment systems with overcomplicated menus, driving assist systems that torture you with constant interruptions, volume buttons instead of knobs and even, once in a while, square cupholders.

All of this has been complained about before, but there are actually bigger fish to fry here, so let's go a little more in-depth on the *really* overrated things the automotive industry is selling us.

4. A lack of turbo lag

If you've read a review of a turbocharged car recently, you've probably read an automotive journalist complimenting the car on a lack of turbo lag, or bemoaning any sign of it. Which is fine if it's a car with low displacement that's using forced induction for economy reasons.

In an economy car, the idea is that the car is for commuting or ferrying the kids around and giving the driver a reasonably smooth driving experience is part of the expectation. However, in a turbocharged full-on sports car, or even just a performance orientated car, something is often missing. And that is the joy that a proper dose of turbo lag can bring.

On a technical level, the lack of lag is also why people wonder why their turbo powered car runs out of puff early in the rev range. To get rid of turbo lag, the turbo has to come in a lot earlier and be smaller so it can wind up faster. There are other clever ways to mitigate lag that can involve two turbos or creating that effect, but the result is younger generations who are missing the experience of wondering where all the power is until 4000 rpm before suddenly being violently shoved into the back of their seat as the world starts coming at them considerably faster.

Granted, letting the revs drop too low then accelerating out of a corner and suddenly finding you need new underwear isn't ideal, but it's all part of the experience.

3. Leather seats

Leather seats give an air of class and luxury to a car's interior. It's expensive, it looks good, and actual leather seats smell great as well. Unfortunately, in the winter they are cold to sit on when you get in the car, and in the summer they are hot all the way to your journey's end.

In a world of synthetic fibres that can be manufactured to have any qualities you want, somehow leather seats are still sought after, to the point where some luxury manufacturers don't even offer a cloth option. Which is far from ideal if you live in a part of the world where it gets very hot or very cold for a long part of the year.

As an aside, the irony here is that the vast majority of what people think are leather covered seats are, in fact, a modern vinyl. For example, Honda very carefully label their seats as 'leather trimmed', and Mercedes brands their not-leather as 'MB-Tex'. This not a bad thing as, in many ways, the plastic materials automakers use are better than leather even before you consider the fact they require little maintenance. However, they still suffer the basic too hot or too cold issue leather does.

2. Oversized wheels

This has gotten silly and the auto industry knows it. I remember watching a video recently where someone was at an auto show, and looking at a new special edition SUV, the host commented on how big the wheels were and how skinny the tires looked. The PR guy admitted that it did affect the ride quality, but they did it that way because that's the look customers want.

The big wheels thing is just as dumb on a sports car. We have the research and experience to understand that 17-inch and 18-inch wheels give us the sweet spot across grip, braking performance, steering feel, and ride comfort. The jump to 19-inch wheels takes us over the tipping point though, and the excess weight affects fuel economy, ride quality and 0-60 times negatively. That effect will vary on different sized cars, but there's always a point of diminishing returns.

1. All-wheel-drive

AWD and 4WD is all the rage right now. Even BMW has slowly but surely moved from being rear-wheel-drive only to having AWD offered across the range, and even in their pure M cars. Subaru has built its bones on AWD along with Audi, but now everyone is happy to sell you their AWD or 4WD platform for an average of about $1000 bucks extra for something you'll likely never use the potential of.

I'd rather have a Camry on four new snow tires than the best all-wheel-drive vehicle on all-season tires.

Popular Mechanics

AWD aids forward traction. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. However, it comes with both added complexity and extra weight. So, when you see that guy in a Range Rover driving to work as if there isn't a layer of snow on the ground and assuming his 4x4 drivetrain means he's safe, steer clear.

But, even for those who want or need to go places in the snow, a set of decent snow tires on a set of spare wheels to swap around is the long term cheaper option and the short term better option. With the amazing technical levels traction control and anti-lock braking systems have reached, a set of snow tires on a 2WD vehicle is more than enough for the vast majority of people that actually have to deal with snow.

If that's true for snow, it's certainly true for rain with all-weather-tires. For those of you that occasionally go up a dirt trail a few times a year to a hiking spot or whatever, guess what? If it was that challenging, you would have bought a Jeep, Land Rover, or whatever off-road vehicle you prefer. Of course there are edge cases, but we're dealing with a generality.

What we can say with absolute certainty is the your next door neighbors that optioned their Lexus with AWD to drive to get to work and pilates now has a heavier car to both stop and start again. That means worse fuel economy as well as working through consumables such as tires and brakes faster.

"But what about improved handling?" is the cry of the enthusiasts. For those, I'll repeat: AWD aids forward traction. That's it.

AWD is great for preventing the rear-end from stepping out under power or pulling out of a corner on loose dirt but, again, that is AWD aiding acceleration. It can give you an edge in certain places but, unless you're a rally driver or doing your track days in the wet, that's added expense and weight for not a lot of return. Spend your money on high performance tires so you have better grip all-around.

Join In

Comments (108)

  • I agree with your first three points, turbo lag isnt really that bad, leather seats dont do anything and bigger wheels just ruin performance. However living in Michigan and havin driven a fwd car, a rwd car (both on snow tires) and an awd car in the snow the awd is definately worth it. Also with most 4wd cars you have the option to switch to rwd with simply hitting a switch or going into your cars settings in good conditions in order to save fuel and your tires. Snow tires on the other hand you have to take the time to intall them yourself or pay to have a shop do it. The other issues with reling on snow tires that while great in the snow you dont want to wear them down by using them in dry conditions so if you live in a place with erratic wether i.e. the midwest. It might be insanely snowy one week and dry as a bone and 40 degrees the next week so having to switch back and forth can be a real hassle. It might not be worth it to you but 4wd and awd is certainly not overrated.

      2 years ago
    • I wish I could bump your comment about 40 times! You are absolutely correct about awd in the Midwest where it can be sunny and dry one day and have 2 feet of snow the next. Living in Muskegon it can be snowing like mad at my house and 2 miles inland...

      Read more
        2 years ago
    • Darn right and it really does make a difference when it comes to cornering as well as straight line starts

        2 years ago
  • Mate, get up here to sweden. There is a good reason we prefer 4 wheel drive over two wheel drive. Go north and get out on any roads besides the main highways and youll see what we mean. We can get a feet of snow more in a very short time, and belive me its not fun to be stuck. So yea, this might apply down south but not here where we actully have snow.

      2 years ago
  • #MakeTurbosLaggyAgain

      2 years ago
  • Another one to add to the list is vastly overinflated servicing costs

      2 years ago
  • Blind spot monitoring, just set up your mirrors correctly.

    Forward collision warning & Lane keeping assist: just pay attention, you do know you're driving a car?

    Oh and my favourite Alcantara (sp?) steering wheels the worlds most inappropriate material for something you use 100% of the time, they look shit inside a month.

      2 years ago
    • If they can be covered with mirrors, why are they called blind spots?

      Real reason is down to increased safety standards for rollovers resulting in thicker pillars and less window. If you get the chance, check out the new Honda Accords...

      Read more
        2 years ago
    • There go youtu.be/16yJbz8vB0M

        2 years ago