Top 10 Features Drivers Don't Need

Top pic heated cooled cupholders

Shopping for a new car can be dangerous territory for gadget-obsessed consumers. Given the number of new toys available, the line between wants and needs is easily blurred. Many of these features look great on paper, but their usefulness is limited. These features don’t fully deliver on their promise or are old technology made redundant by capable smartphones and tablets.

In-car wireless internet

In-car wireless internet

Establishing an in-car internet connection can be a pricey way to entice teenagers into that “fun” cross-country family road trip. Automakers offer mobile wireless routers as accessories costing up to $400, not including installation charges or monthly data packages. A cheaper alternative is a mobile hot spot device offered by phone carriers that links multiple devices at a fraction of the cost. They have the added versatility of being usable outside the car. And we should add that many online tasks should not be done while driving.

Paddle shifters

Paddle shifters

Paddle shifters absolutely belong in sports cars like the 2013 Nissan GT-R or 2013 Porsche 911 with super advanced dual-clutch automated manual transmissions. But the 2013 Honda Insight hybrid with a continuously variable automatic transmission? Not so much. Paddle shifters are often available in everyday cars and lumped into a sport package to provide manual control of the transmission shifting. They’re often poorly executed with a significant delay between pulling the paddle and the transmission actually changing gears.

Larger wheels

Larger wheels

Upgrading to 19- or 20-inch wheels can change the whole look of a car, truck or SUV. They may also change the whole look of your checking account, when those worn tires need replacing. Why? Larger wheels require larger and more expensive tires. Increasing the size of the wheel also increases its weight in most situations, resulting in more effort required to turn the wheel; that hurts fuel economy and acceleration. The positive effect of increased steering feel often comes at the cost of the more-jarring ride that results from low-profile tires.

Built-in navigation systems

Built in navigation system

Many people already have a capable navigation system in their pocket. Smartphones can provide accurate navigation and many link with a car’s stereo to understand voice commands. Chevrolet’s Spark and Sonic small cars also have a “bring your own” navigation option that displays a smartphone’s navigation on the available MyLink multimedia system’s display; only a $50 BringGo phone application is required. MyLink is standard on more expensive Spark LT trim levels, and it’s a $200 option on Sonics, except the top LTZ trim level where it’s standard.

Cooled/ventilated seats

Cooled ventilated seats

Cars.com’s Chicago headquarters gives us many opportunities to test both heated and cooled seats, sometimes even in the same week. Heated seats are an uncontested win in the cold, but cooled and ventilated seats are a different story. Their effectiveness varies greatly, and many passengers who are introduced to the feature get weirded out by cooled seats that never quite refresh like you might expect.

Cooled and heated cupholders

Heated cooled cupholders

Heated and cooled cupholders could work well if the right mug existed to take advantage of them. Until that’s invented, water bottles, coffee cups and mugs aren’t heated or cooled sufficiently beyond the small portion that touches the outside of the container at the bottom of the cup holder. Who wants a half-cooled or half-heated beverage?

Capacitive-touch controls

Capacitive touch controls

These controls replace traditional knobs and buttons with a smooth, touch-activated surface instead of pressing a physical button into the dash. They’re often small and hard to find while driving, and they’re often unresponsive or slow. Capacitive controls are becoming harder to avoid as more automakers design user interfaces to mimic iPads and other tablets. Ford was one of the early adopters with its MyFord Touch, and Chevrolet extensively uses touch controls on its Volt. We never warmed up to the Volt’s buttons even after 20 months of ownership.

Blind spot detection

Blind spot detection

Properly positioned side and rearview mirrors should be sufficient for identifying cars hiding over your shoulder, unless you’re driving a new Chevrolet Camaro coupe that could hide a space shuttle in its blind spot. Many blind spot systems we’ve tested are ultra-sensitive and identify nonthreatening cars (and other objects) so frequently we’re moved to ignore the system or turn it off.

Ambient lighting

Ambient lighting

If it sounds rational to spend $100 or more to change the lighting color around occupants’ feet, we also recommend buying a plunger to unclog the rest of your money that’s clearly being flushed down the toilet.

Rear entertainment systems

Rear entertainment system

Expensive factory DVD systems with rear screens have a competitor that’s less expensive and more versatile: the iPad. A $500 Apple iPad or similar tablet is easily affixed to the rear seats for kids’ viewing with the right aftermarket seat mount. Factory systems do have an edge, however, with niceties such as wireless headphones and remote controls included in their price, plus an iPad is an easy theft target if left unattended in the open.

By David Thomas | February 11, 2013 | Comments (37)
Tags: Top 10s

Comments 

eagle2x

Agree with all ten. Keep it simple, economical and reliable.

Rockaby

I agree with 9. The one I disagree with is cooled seats, and after owning a car with leather but no cooled seats (and driven a car WITH cooled seats multiple times), I have vowed that my next car will have cooled seats.

aph

The only one I disagree with is the blind-spot warning devices. While they can be annoying at times, they can be literal life savers if the driver is negligent in checking the mirror before merging. I have had close-calls both as the bad driver merging out, and the innocent driver being merged into.

Road Worrier

I agree with all points made especially with the touch controls. I even found that sliding levers were not as easy to operate as turning knobs and toggle switches (look in airplane cockpit). Having to look for and touch on a small on-screen button is a very bad idea. Ideally you shouldn't need to look at all. Critical performance controls should even be on the wheel while those for added features can be buried in sub-menus.

Features that should be added are hard mounting points for our portable devices. Using aftermarket suction cups may place the device too far away or obstruct the view of the road. Sleek dashboards look nice but give us no place to solidly mount our devices. Having a nearby power or data (USB) port even better.

One feature I would like to see go away is the "pit of death." It is that gap between the seat and center console that, like a black hole, permanently swallows anything (coins, pens, french fries, mobile phone, etc.) that has the misfortune of falling into.

Frank

I will never buy another car without cooled seats and navigation. Try having your cell phone nav app direct you when you're using the phone. It's not ideal. Also depending on where you live in the country once you have cooled seats you never want to go back.

Jeffrey Kaplan

I whole-heartedly agree with the point on touch controls. I would also include those single-knob deals in BMW and Mercedes where you have to twist, glide and push a single control knob to select from a menu of items to adjust. I want hard controls (buttons or twist knobs), one per function, in easy reach that I can set without needing to take my eyes off the road for more than a second, if that. Control-wise, the only gripe I have with my original Mazda6 is the manual climate control selector is a push button when it should be a knob.

geo

Just give me back my amp or battery gage so I can keep an eye on my battery condition.
I do not want any Internet on my auto or something that I need to hook my phone up to so it will work.
Day/Night mirror with compass and temp is good.
I do not need a paddle shifter.
God, I hate these large tires they force upon the buyers, today.
I like to have sizes 15 thru 17. Plenty large enough for me on the average sedan.
Auto makes have really screwed up the built in Navigation systems. Cheaper to buy a portable one that has updates. At least, it can be changes by the passenger while the auto is moving.
Ford and others makers have really messed up the radio controls, air, etc. Give me some large buttons and switches.
Take the key switch off the column along with the headlight switch.
Always give a locking gas door with a gas cap.
Put in all those electronics, someway to read the check engine light and put it in English and how to fix it.
Give me some simple gages to use so I can maintain my auto...what happen to my oil pressure gage?

geo

If you do not like any features......... buy a Honda..heck, it like a basic appliance. No features at all. Still have five speed tranny and just 4 wheels and an engine.
Road noise is so loud, it like riding a Honda motorcycle.

RayG

Ask how much it costs to fix or update the in-car Nav systems... OR the whole "touch Screen" experience for that matter. For $200 you can buy a garmin that is unobtrusive (as long as you aren't one of those idiots who put it square in your line of sight) and portable that links to your phone for calls. I've walked away from "deals" that included these 'features'.

bryce

My argument to the navigation system vs smartphone is that in many places now using any kind of device is illegal and comes with a heafty fine.

DC

@Frank - I use my cellphone as a nav device all the time. It's maps and routing are much more flexible, traffic information is better (Thanks Waze app! - and many others to choose from). I have a fixed mount for it from pro-clip so it's not hanging off the windshield. The phone calls come through my bluetooth handsfree built into the car which I can answer from my steering wheel.and the Nav app will inject warnings/navigation right into my call audio seamlessly. Built-in NAV? Never again. The smartphone blows it away every time. If you don't have a built in bluetooth, get a bluetooth earpiece.

aph

Regarding Nav, I recently bought my first vehicle with built-in nav. it's awful. the maps are outdated and expensive to update, it's difficult and annoying to program, and I have to hit a stupid "Accept" button every time I start the car to even get a map to display.

Smartphone navigation is so laughably superior. I can just speak or type or paste in an address and it figures out what it means, rather than the annoying "select a state, select a city, type a road, pick an address" rigamarole of the built-in systems.

That said, we do use it as a backup to the phone nav system. the only time it's really better is when we're away from cell towers, and that is a rarity.

You can get third-party in-dash systems that interface with a smartphone (Pioneer's AppRadio units, e.g.), but it still seems like we're a generation or two away from those being fully usable.

Card13

Check the moisture on my back after sitting on my black leather seats in the summer and tell me that cooled seats are unnecessary. At least perforation is needed.

JJ

I disagree with a few of these. Blind spot monitoring can be a good safety feature as a supplement, but it cannot be relied on to compensate for poor driving. Many jurisdictions have made cell phone use illegal - and I am not allowed to use my phone in my car (which includes navigation purposes). Cooled seats are truly enjoyable, some people can't get over the sensation, but they do work well. They have converted people who wouldn't consider leather an option before to get leather if it is cooled.

Matt

I have the paddle shifters in my 2010 Honda Fit Sport, and I can tell you there is zero delay in the paddle click and the shift. Test drove a newer MR-2 a few years back and it was several seconds lag.

WetcoastBob

Radio,(I like to listen to the sounds of my engine and drive train disintegrating)
Wife.. same reason as above- not as interesting.
Children.. same as above.
Pets.... Awww Crap!!

Soakee

I agree with all of these except the larger wheels. Larger wheels, to a certain point (most if not everything over 19" is nonsense and makes the vehicle look cartoonish) and it depends on the vehicle, are a good thing. Replacement tires are not necessarily more expensive (depends on the brand), not is the ride necessarily harsher (depends largely on the suspension components and settings). Then again, some of actually LIKE the firmer/harsher ride because we remember the sickening "boat" feeling of our parent's cars back in the 60's and 70's.

It's amazing how many useless gizmos car manufacturers put in their cars... but important things like height adjustment for the passenger seat... or foldaway mirrors, they won't even offer as an option.

I agree on keeping things simple, too many distractions for drivers...

Bob

Why people need the internet in their vehicles just proves how dependent people have become on it. If someone can't drive without talking on the cell phone or using the internet, they are lost souls.

Joe T

What does this quote from the article mean?

"many passengers who are introduced to the feature get weirded out by cooled seats that never quite refresh like you might expect"

What does "refresh" mean here? How would you expect them to be refreshed?

These are totally serious questions, as I am set on my next car having at least a cooled driver's seat.

Joseph

I've tested the ventilated seats of the 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland and love it. I'm doing my best to convince my Wife that she needs an Overland because of the ventilated seats. I'm always hot and will use this feature every time I get into the car.

Sweettea

Evidently David doesn't spend his summers in Arizona. Try it and then lets see if vented/cooled seats make this list. I've gotten to the point I won't take my wife's car in the summer because she DOESN'T have them.

falcon999

another person chiming in on cooled seats. most to texas, last year it was > 100 for more than 3 months in a row, my cooled seats are great, personally I got here from searching for what car has the best cooled seats and I'm not buying my new car because the cooled seats suck

TP

You might not need these features, but these are luxury features found on more expensive cars.

Luxury is something you don't need to start with.

So what's the point of the article?

JCA

Just wait till these systems start failing and the selling price of the auto/truck goes down like a yard dart. Some states have requirements for inspections that all systems in the car/truck be functioning to pass.
I bought a car with manual seats and windows to avoid such nonsense...and you should see the look on a new passengers face when they have to use them. ;)~
"Really ? Window cranks ? B.

Joseph Anthony Gahol

i agree... cars shouldnt have such toys and gadgets installed, only the useful ones... removes the joy in cross-country trips and also puts its passengers and drivers in danger...

Rich

Adjust the mirrors corectly snd you dont have a blind spot.
As for wheels, I had 16in rims on my 240 Volvo which came with 14s, the handling was incredable for that brick.

I must say, you have shared a very unique and important concept. I am satisfied with this post and accept all the points.

Stephanie

Cooled seats. ........you obviously do not live in Texas. Cooled seats are a necessity, more so than heated.

SouthernGrace

As Stephanie stated, you have obviously never lived in the South or driven very far in hot weather. Ventilated seats are much more needed to me that ridiculous crap like electronic (kill the power right when you need it most) stability control, lane change warning system or a backup warning system.

Heated seats are useless to me in Georgia, but I would really like to see ventilated seats (bottom and especially back) on more affordable models in the future. Just driving to lunch and back causes my back to sweat which is just not any fun at work. AC can't get between your back and the seat so it's useless.

Just because the technology is new and not at a great performance doesn't mean it;s a feature we don't need.

SouthernGrace

Ditto what Falcon stated.

I actually found this page by going to Google and searching for 'How to add ventilated seats' to a car.

Steve

Cooled seats are very important in Houston. Your back, butt, and back of your legs sweat even if your front side is cool or cold with leather. It actually makes a difference to me and other people that I know when determined which vehicle to purchase.

Bebé

I can't buy a too expensive sport car, buy I really enjoy the paddle shifter of my ASX Outlander Sport. It shifts fine and os great to quickly accelerate, the CVT in Automatic it will try to save gas with the computer programming. The shifters makes a great difference, it will allow more acceleration and faster. I am not an expert, but I will buying cars with paddle shifters.

SubtlyAggressive

Remember when men were men and knew how to get from one place to another without a device telling you where and when to turn?

I don't even use the navigation system on my phone. I do however use Google Maps to show me current traffic situations and I just get an address, look at the map, and I formulate my own route in my head with possible detours if necessary.

A. Non E. Mouse

Useless features, or are they instead features you don't like so therefore we shouldn't like them either? If you don't want them, don't buy them, and don't knock the folks who don't like them.

Besides, it is a moving target anyway. Back in the 1970's power windows were listed as a useless feature and made the Consumer Reports list of options to avoid. Today I noticed power windows didn't make this 'useless' list.

Cody

Big disagree on a few of them. Mainly the heated/cooled seats. The cooled seats are probably the most amazing thing that automakers have developed in the last 10 years. The only one I really agree with is the stupid paddle shifters, those need to go away. The rest are nice touches to make your cars feel a little nicer.

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