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Carmakers going overboard with all the bells and whistles

Every time I make a lane change in a BMW, I feel like an idiot.

It's a blinker thing. When I turn the left indicator off, I somehow activate the right one. I end up clicking the stalk up and down a half dozen times, not so much announcing a turn as that I'm a schizophrenic tourist.

As it turns out, once a Bimmer blinker is on, you tap the stalk to cancel it rather than pushing it the opposite direction, as in other cars.

Dear engineers: Redesigning the blinker is not clever. It's annoying.

It's one example of idiosyncrasies that drive owners nuts. Every carmaker has design foibles, almost always the case of engineer overthink or an automaker just not paying attention.

Sometimes it's a matter of poor placement of a control. Mercedes-Benz puts a long column on the left side of the steering wheel that looks like the blinker but is actually the cruise control. (The blinker is the less obvious stick just below it.)

Next gripe is for U.S. automakers. We know your phalanx of attorneys are worry-warts, but please stop with all those electronic gongs, beeps and buzzing chimes that come when we open doors, insert keys or don't put our seat belts on in record time.

My father's 2008 GMC Sierra pickup makes more electronic noises than R2-D2 in Star Wars. For heaven's sake, I know the door is open — I'm getting out. After a week in the Ford Fiesta, I was convinced that Ford put together a focus group to determine the most annoying noises known to man.

If I can afford an expensive car with gobs of power, I don't need GM hovering over me. Yet the $64,000, 556-horsepower Cadillac CTS-V Coupe I tested will not allow the use of fundamental parts of its navigation system while actually on the move.

In other words, if the wheels are turning, my passenger cannot program in a destination. Sorry, but that's when I need directions — when I'm lost and driving someplace.

Navigation systems are a major source of complaints I get from passengers. The Japanese generally make the best. Within moments of tinkering, you can program in a destination, find a radio station and get moving. Honda's cheap Fit hatchback bests most luxury cars, and the Koreans aren't far behind. The Germans treat the navigation interfaces like a game of technological one-upmanship, delivering radically different systems such as BMW's inscrutable, first-generation iDrive. Even today, best settle in for a fortnight to learn their operations. Then there's the British. Drop a pile of cash on any Bentley or Aston Martin and you'll end up with fuzzy graphics and an arcane interface.

Finally, while American drivers demand a proliferation of cup holders, I'd be happy with a cubby for my cell phone. Car designers must be aware of the omnipresence of mobiles, so is it too much to ask for a simple niche which will hold a smart phone securely and upright, so I can see who is calling? I promise both the attorneys and other drivers that I won't pick it up and text.

I grant that many issues which plague drivers can be solved by one simple solution — but as far as I'm concerned, reading the owner's manual is only for quitters.

Carmakers going overboard with all the bells and whistles 10/06/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:48pm]
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