Cars are a wonderfully diverse product, with plenty of variation of features from brand to brand. While this makes our jobs very interesting, it can also be frustrating when those features don't work as advertised or when one car's system is fundamentally different from a similar system in a competing model.
We realize that we're more aware of the differences from car to car because we test so many -- the average driver will be sticking with the same car for three to five years or longer. But we've noticed a few across-the-board issues that seem to plague almost all automakers, and we're wishing for some change and hoping that our calls are heeded in design centers from California to Detroit and beyond.
#1: Bluetooth that works. As Bluetooth wireless cell phone links become more and more prevalent, and as more and more municipalities require drivers to be hands-free when using their cell phone while driving, it will be imperative for automakers to get these systems right. As it stands now, voice-recognition in some models can be buggy and terrible at interpreting commands, and the phone-pairing procedure on some models is way too clunky. We don't expect each car to work exactly the same way (especially since many cars that have Bluetooth don't have a touch screen) but we do wish that we didn't have to dig through sub-menu after sub-menu or yell at the top of our lungs to pair our phones. And don't get us started on adding our phonebooks.
#2: More tilt/telescoping steering columns. The good news is that tilt/telescoping steering columns are no longer the exclusive domain of expensive cars -- plenty of models, including some pretty affordable small cars, now offer them. Which is why we get a little cranky when we get in a car in which the wheel doesn't telescope. Drivers come in all shapes and sizes, and a wheel that telescopes makes it so much easier to find a good driving position.
#3: USB ports. Most cars have them now, thankfully, but a few still don't. This seems insane to us, since so many people have iPhones and Android phones and Blackberries that can be charged using USB ports. Yes, music can be streamed via Bluetooth, but the sound quality suffers, and we like it better when we can plug in and let our battery charge while blasting our tunes.
#4: More features, less dollars. Again, the industry seems to be moving in the right direction here. Smaller, less-expensive cars now often offer a lot of upscale features as either standard or affordable options. But that doesn't stop us from occasionally having sticker shock when we look at a Monroney label. We realize that automakers need to make a profit and margins are sometimes tight, but sometimes we wonder if automakers could afford to lower the price and still hit their profit targets. Perhaps lowering the base MSRP could spur sales (yes, we know that only suckers pay MSRP, but it still does matter) and perhaps customers might spring for more options if they're priced a bit lower. We'd also like to see less bundling -- we don't want to pay $1,000 for an option package when we might want only one or two of the proffered features.
#5: Free the manuals. Too many automakers offer manual-transmissions only on their base models, citing a low take rate for stickshifts. While it's true that automatics are far more popular than manuals, we also think the manual-transmission take rate might be higher, especially on cars with sporty pretentions, if buyers could get fully-loaded models with a manual. A good example of this is the Ford Focus. Buyers who want the top-line Titanium trim level on this sporty compact will have to forgo the manual in place of a dual-clutch automatic. That hurts the Focus's street cred a little bit. Buyers shouldn't have to make Faustian bargains like that.
We're sure you have some wishes of your own. Leave them in the comments below.
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