Cars have too many features - there, I've said it.
And with manufacturers adding more and more tech to their vehicles, it seems like this trend won't stop anytime soon.
Back in the days regular cars didn't have much in terms of equipment: ventilation with some minor controls, manually adjustable windows and mirrors, this was all you needed. Even a tachometer was an option or a sign of a better engine specification. Nowadays, it seems like we can't do without an advanced infotainment system, a handful of assists and electrically regulated seats. Admittedly, many of those features make driving a car a far more pleasant and enjoyable experience. However, I think that in certain areas car manufacturers have gone crazy in terms of features, adding cost and complexity whilst not providing any benefits for driver and passengers.
Simplicity at its finest - no redundancy, no unnecessary complexity, no distractions
Let's look at the basics
As I've said, in my opinion not every car feature is redundant, I'm not here to say that we should drive in spartan conditions and get rid of anything that isn't absolutely necessary for a car to work. As an example, power steering, a feature we take for granted nowadays, made it possible for less muscular men and women to drive a car (a subject for a whole different article). Overall, to get a gist of what is really necessary, we can look at the features offer by, I think, the only budget car manufacturer left in Europe - the great Dacia. Their cars do not come with anything redundant, as their clientele wouldn't be interested in such toys and gadgets.
So what do we really need?
Dacia's cars feature air conditioning - fair enough, it makes you comfy and adds safety, as it prevents your windscreen from fogging up. Bluetooth radio - an option, but an option worth selecting, as it makes it legal to be on the phone whilst driving. Heated seats - Dacia Sandero doesn't know such words. To be completely honest, it's understandable - material conducts heat much worse than leather does, so seats feel warmer, thus heating is not necessary. To the long list of features (Dacia lists 37 distinct Sandero's pieces of equipment, I'm not kidding, check it out for yourselves) I would add Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as it allows you to use sat-nav from your phone on the infotainment screen of your car. Speaking of the devil...
Dacia, despite being a budget manufacturer, still manages to find over 3 dozens of features in their cars
Now we get to a ranty bit. First of all - in-built satellite navigation. Let's face it - if you buy a car with in-built sat-nav, you probably already have a smartphone. And if you have one, you probably already know, that Google Maps is just better. It offers you live traffic updates, knows about roadworks, speaks your own language - and the list goes on. Pair it with an app like Yanosik, where you have a huge database of radars and user-based information about speed controls, and you are going to have a great journey without speeding tickets. In-built satellite navigation, an option you sometimes can't unselect (as was the case with my mother's most recent car), is just another way for manufacturers to make money after you buy a car. Think about it, it is nearly impossible to update those maps outside the dealer and after initial year or few of free updates, it costs few hundred quid to do so each and every time. The only reason for using in-built navigation system I can see is that it might be displayed better than the one on your phone, for example on a head-up display (as you will see later). However, in most cases, just use your phone, seriously.
Whether you like it or not, Google Maps is just better
Something tosh for the posh
Luxury cars are in the category of their own for this. First one on the tapis - remote control. I have just one issue with that - this feature is inherently selfish. In essence, it allows you to park in a spot where you wouldn't be able to get out of your car. It might work in tight garages, but it also lets you block other people in with your SUV or whatever without any discomfort of yours. What a great feature!
Secondly, gesture controls - I mean, come on, we have knobs and buttons on the centre console. For more convenience and safety, we've developed buttons on the steering wheel. Then, we've developed voice control for even more comfort. But suddenly, some manufacturers decided that the best way to improve driver's comfort is to allow him to raise the volume by making exuberant gestures that make him look like an utter pillock to anyone else. And it isn't even safe - you have to take the hand of the steering wheel and engage your mind to make a gesture clear enough for the computer to understand. Why does a thing like this even exist?
Lastly, screens instead of regular gauge clusters. Some may say they promote safety, as you don't need to look at the centre screen to know where to go. But we've developed head-up displays just for that (and Mercedes is working on augmented reality navigation for even more comfort and safety). Not only that, but screens make your eyes tired. They aren't eco-friendly, as they require a lot of rare materials to make. And lastly, they just look cheap. The most stylish and the most expensive watches are analogue, not digital. Screens instead of the regular gauge clusters remind me of a teenage boy with a G-shock rambling on about how it can withstand pressures of up to 100 bars.
Gauge clusters have changed, but was it a change for better?
A case for safety features
Safety is a rather sensitive subject, but I will try to be gentle. Yes, things like blind spot monitoring, various trailer and lane assists have probably saved many lives and many hundreds of pounds in prevented damage. However, active cruise control or automatic steering on motorways among other things make you... lazy. You get accustomed to only checking the tiny icon on the mirror if you want to change a lane. You are getting used to giving less attention whilst driving, as in many cases, the car will take action for you. You create mental shortcuts that make you reliant on all of those systems. But what if this system fails? Or weather is bad, so the car just shuts it off?
Why do manufacturers do so?
I think there are two main reasons for that, one has to do with us and the other one with the manufacturers themselves. To begin with, we just like new things. It's a pleasant experience to have something well-engineered and with many features, as it is easier to justify spending a lot of money on it. It is equally pleasant (at least for some) to be able to brag about what latest and greatest bells and whistles your new ride has when you show up somewhere. And naturally, we like comfort, and many of the new features just make our lives easier.
But manufacturers have their axes to grind there too. I think that many of those features are here in preparation for the future, which seems to be autonomous. Even though autonomous vehicles are still years and years away from us, there are already significant developments made in this area. And new cars are a great way to test many of those technologies. I am almost sure that in today's interconnected world cars constantly send or at least store data about the functioning of all of the systems. What is more, putting all this tech in a new car bumps up its price, which is an added bonus.
Tesla's cockpit - a lot of autonomous driving features and a lot of equipment to cheer you up and keep you entertained
Cars in the last decade or two have made a quick switch from analogue to digital era. Nowadays, they are more like a phone with a steering wheel than a mean of transport. Don't get me wrong, there are many great benefits we can reap from this switch. However, it is important to find a balance between the number and complexity of features and their cost and future reliability.
Thanks for reading! I will be trying to post regularly on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so stay tuned!