Based on driving lots of late-model rental cars, here’s a list:
- Surveillance. Nearly all new cars come built to spy on you. And there’s not much you can do to stop it.
- Entertainment systems that are hard to use and dangerous on the road. (Few are good. Most are bad. Some are truly awful.)
- Making AM and FM listening harder than ever. Some of this is by putting too many functions in too many menus you have to poke at. (While driving, knobs and switches beat buttons for usability. Ask a pilot.) Some of it is by burying antennas in windows, which will never work as well as a whip antenna (preferably the retractable kind that can survive a car wash). But a thumbs-up to cars offering HD Radio, which adds many more stations to FM and far better sound to AM (on the sadly too few stations that feature it).
- Way too much optionality among features with non-obvious meanings that you control through buttons with whaaa? symbols or half-buried menus that can be as dangerous to navigate while driving as it is to finger-text on one’s cell phone. For example, a loaded 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid has TSS w/PD, HUD, DRCC, LDA w/SA, LTA, AHB, PCS, RCD, RSA, BSM. RCTA, RCTB, VSC, EV, ECO, plus other stuff that’s a bit more spelled out, such as TRAC, Qi Wireless Charger and Birds Eye View Camera. And those are in addition to the usual indicators: shifter position, odometer, outside temperature, etc. Many of these unclear functions are displayed only or mainly in the “Meters/Multi-Information Display” you view through or over your steering wheel. Since there is no way the display can give you a full view of all these functions in all their possible states, you move around your selections and menus through buttons on the steering wheel that you mash with your left thumb. And that’s just one model of one car. (Which we happen to almost have: ours is a 2020 model.)
- Poor visibility out the back corners, thanks to extra-wide roof pillars and fake-muscle styling that narrows the shapes of the cars’ aft windows.
- No place to mount a phone. I mean, why have Apple’s CarPlay and/or Android Auto and not have a place to mount a phone? (Yes, there are aftermarket things with suction cups, but most new cars lack a surface other than the windshield that will hold a cup sucked.)
- Trunks with plenty of space but too small an opening, so it’s hard to get large or odd-shaped items in there.
- Low-profile and performance tires, which handle nicely but can ride rough and transmit lots of road noise.
- Too much black. On the dashboard platform under windshields, black makes sense because you don’t want a light color reflecting off the windshield. But black is used way too much in trim. Worse, black steering wheels parked in the sun can get too hot to hold. And black leather or vinyl seats can fry your ass.
- Giant grills—especially ones that resemble the mouths of manta rays. (I’m looking at you, Lexus.)
- The tendency of headlight lenses to develop cataracts. My ’05 Subaru has them. My daughter’s newer Honda Civic has worse ones. Could be newer models don’t do that, but it’s actually dangerous and needs to be gone.
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