Given that the average age of cars and trucks in the United States now tops 11 years, most new car buyers are unprepared for some of the new trends and technologies they’ll find when they climb behind the wheel of a new car or truck.
More importantly, they could be annoyed, a realization that may not come until after the paperwork is signed, they’ve driven off the lot and it’s too late. So, in the interest of alerting drivers to the newest features that could irritate, annoy and aggravate, here are some things to consider when you test-drive that new ride:
—Seeing is believing: The past decade has seen rear windows shrink in size to the point that some are no larger than a mail slot. If the car you love has this design affectation, be sure to opt for a rear-view camera. It comes on when the vehicle is shifted into reverse. If you’re buying an SUV or pickup truck, consider it a mandatory safety option.
—Pressing their luck: One Japanese luxury car has more than 50 buttons on the instrument panel and steering wheel, in addition to controls on the touch screen. If you’re considering a vehicle with a similar design faux pas, try using them while driving, to see if they’re easy to use or are guaranteed to have you driving into a ditch.
—High tech, low expectations: Consumer Reports has ferociously knocked Ford’s glitch-ridden MyFord Touch system, which replaces many buttons and knobs with a touch screen. The problems stem from the software, which was written by Microsoft. But Ford is far from the only automaker with infotainment systems that are not intuitive and are slow to respond.
—Stop nagging: A number of new safety systems should help prevent accidents. But many are so irritating, they’re liable to cause them. The worst? Attention Assist from Mercedes-Benz. The car tracks your vehicle inputs, and when it determines that you’re getting tired, it flashes a coffee cup icon and suggests you take a break. A close second? Any safety feature that constantly beeps or flashes.
—I’m waiting: In order to extract better fuel economy, many automakers are replacing large engines with smaller, turbocharged ones. Turbos provide extra power, but because they are merely turbines driven by exhaust gas, there’s a lag between the time power is sought by the driver and the time it’s delivered. This is called turbo lag. Every turbocharged engine has it, some more than others.
—No automatic assumptions: It used to be that an automatic transmission was an automatic transmission. Not anymore. You might get a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, which has an infinite number of gears, or a dual-clutch transmission, which is a manual transmission with two engine-actuated clutches. Both feel markedly different from conventional automatics.
—The rest is history: Fold-down center armrests are usually left off some trim levels in order to save money. In the rear seat, they help separate squabbling siblings and provide an extra measure of comfort for adults. Up front, it can make driving long distances much more tolerable.
—What was that? Automakers see voice activation as a solution to distracted driving. It could be, but there are caveats. First, the voice system must accurately understand what you’re saying; that isn’t always a sure thing. Secondly, some systems respond to certain commands when stated in a certain order. And if you get frustrated, most don’t understand curse words.
—Flat out of luck: The lighter the car, the less power needed to move it. This, in turn, can improve fuel economy ratings. Keep this in mind when you get that first flat tire in your new ride. Instead of a spare tire, you may find a lightweight tire inflation kit, a solution that in many cases will be useless.