Not All New Car News Is Bad News!

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Some of the news is good news. It’s not all shrapnel-spewing air bags, annoying buckle-up buzzers and engines that shut themselves (and the AC) off at stoplights to “save gas.” Here are some new features you’ll find in new cars that won’t make your teeth ache:

* In-car WiFi – in car wifi 1

Did you know you no longer need to find a Starbucks to find WiFi when you’re on the road? Several new cars offer (or even come standard with) in-car “hot spots.” Wireless Internet – to go. Or, when you’ve stopped. GM’s system – which is standard in the new Chevy Impala and several other models – works within a radius of about 50 feet of the source (the car), so you can get online while outside the car. Surf the Net at the park, while tailgating – whatever.

Expect most cars to include WiFi access within two or three years – much as most cars already come standard with or at least offer GPS navigation.

The catch is that while the system is free, the subscription isn’t. GM gives you the first three months as part of the deal when you buy the car – but after that, it’s pay to play.

Well, pay to Google.

* Capless fuel filler –capless fuel fill

Look, ma – no cap!

And no “check engine” light, either.

There are several problems with old-style twist-’em on gas caps. One being they’re easy to forget about – and leave at the gas station. Two, they’re easy to not install quite right – as in, too loose. Which – in a modern car – can cause a problem with the evaporative emissions control system. Which will trigger the yellow “check engine” light in the dashboard to come on.

The latter reason is the main reason why many new cars – probably soon all cars – have (or soon will have) capless fuel-fill systems. It keeps the Feds happy – and it keeps car owners happy (by keeping the “check engine” blues at bay).   

You insert the nozzle, fill up – and that’s it. A one-way valve lets gas in – keeps gas from sloshing out (and gas fumes from venting out).

Most new Fords and some new Chryslers currently have capless fuel fillers.

* Launch control –launch control pic

A high-performance car’s potential acceleration is only as good as its actual traction. Spinning the tires – and sliding sideways – is lots of fun but not what you want if what you want is the best (quickest) ET.  Anyone can smoke the cars (assuming the car is powerful enough to do that). But it takes skill to leave the line just right – knowing just how much to bring the revs up before you sidestep the clutch (or take your foot off the brake), how deep to get into the throttle until the car “hooks up.”

Well, it used to,

Modern high-performance cars take care of that for you – or can, if you want them to. It’s called launch control and does what it sounds like it does. Launches the car in a controlled manner. When engaged, all the driver typically has to do is point the car in the direction intended and stand on the gas. The car – and the computers – will do the rest. Given the extreme power now available (as in the 707 hp Dodge Hellcat I recently reviewed; see here) launch control is probably a really good idea. And not just for the best-case quarter-mile times, either.

But to keep the potential mayhem of 700-plus hp cars like the Hellcat in check – which may keep Uncle off our backs.

* “Hold” mode –hold mode image

Even with an automatic transmission, stop and go traffic can be a grind. You may not have to continuously push a clutch pedal in and out at stoplights and when traffic comes to a temporary standstill. But you will have to keep your foot on the brake – if you want to keep the car from rolling forward and into standing still traffic.

If you car doesn’t have “hold” mode.

Hyundai/Kia came out with this helpful little feature first but it is now available in many other makes and models as well. By pushing the “hold” button, you can take your foot off the brake – and the car will not move – even though the transmission is still in Drive and not Park.

When the light goes green – or you’re ready to roll – just depress the button again.

* LCD instrument cluster –gauge cluster image

Since the days of the Model T 100 years ago, car designers (and car buyers) have been limited in terms of the available info about what the car’s doing at any given moment by the limitations imposed by the available dashboard real estate. Because the instruments – gauges – were physical. Only so much space for so many gauges. Usually, you got a speedometer and fuel gauge – or a tachometer (and maybe a volt gauge). But not also an oil temperature and vacuum gauge.

Because not all of them would fit.LCD 2

The advent of Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) or “flat screen” instrument clusters has opened up almost limitless possibilities. In a car so equipped, the driver can toggle through multiple displays, customized to suit. For example, the instrument cluster in the 2015 Lexus NX I reviewed recently (here) could be changed from a Sport display with a tachometer and related gauges of interest to the leadfoot – or the driver could dial up an Eco display that replaced the tachometer with a large fuel economy (real-time and projected) display, along with related ancillary gauges.

Usually, you can tailor the look of the cluster to suit, too – from background lighting to analog vs. digital appearance.

LCD clusters were exclusive to very high end cars like the Mercedes S Class as recently as two or three years ago but have already filtered down to family-priced cars like the Buick Regal I’m test driving this week. Within another couple of years at most, probably most if not all new cars will come with or offer LCD displays.

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  1. I’m with the curmudgeons here, on some of these:

    What’s the point of having WiFi when you have to pay for it?
    Starbucks is all about free.
    The device that gets the WiFi already has it’s own 4G, etc connection.
    Many of those don’t REALLY limit data anymore, they’re cheap enough.

    And if I’m so far in the boonies that my 4G is down, so will my car’s WiFi be.
    The concept seems kind of pointless.
    Plus it INCREASES the amount of digital radiation around us even more.

    The no cap: big deal.
    Just about all decent cars have the cap tethered to the car, so you can’t forget ’em.
    Forget to close ok. But there are idiots everywhere, not everything needs to be dumbed down to that level.
    Most people really don’t need that.

    nice feature, even if one has to have an electronic parking break for that it seems.
    Unlike CC’s comment above, in certain traffic it has it’s uses to help fatigue.

    But, the MB system stinks,, that push-the-pedal-hard to turn it on is annoying.
    Who came up with that?
    Prob. the lawyers, the same ones who prevented MB from offering electric and/or auto-fold in outside mirrors on the C300 in the US, (they offer it in Canada).

    VW (pictured by Eric above) does it so much better:
    select the feature (default can be programmed either for on-by default, with manual deactivation, or off by default with manual activation…), then when the car is no longer rolling after normallybraking, it just holds.
    No need to manually but more pressure in by going all the way on the pedal.

    Plus, you have to do this damn extra push EVERY time you want the feature:
    come to a full stop with normal breaking, then PUSH.
    you obviously can’t do it in one motion (meaning go to that last brake-pedal point before the full stop is reached), unless you like to launch everything in your car forward every time….

    And doesn’t always work, cause our sense of force isn’t always the same:
    If you’re tired you may think you pressed as much as you need, but you didn’t.
    So, the car rolls until you realize system didn’t engage.
    Then you teach yourself to check that lit-up hold symbol every time, another annoyance.

    Had a VW CC right before the currentC300, so this is from back to back experience.

    Oh, VW does NOT keep the brake lights on, I like that, keeps the bozo behind you guessing
    (and NO different from being stopped in a manual car, where you mostly dont’ need to keep the brake on either, lest someone start tha, oh, that’s dangerous commment)

  2. Just think how expensive these new dash panels are though. I bet they are a nightmare to service because they are probably a one piece integration job? My basic, honest Ranger does the job for me.

  3. My last new car purchase and still my current car, a base model automatic 2007 Toyota Yaris hatchback, had most of what I was looking for in a basic car – air conditioning and AM/FM – and this Yaris has both. My car before that was basic – a Geo Metro 3-cylinder MT hatchback. It didn’t even have air. But I loved that car for 11 years any way. I’ve had an ELIO reserved for a couple of years, and I really do hope they make me mine. If they do, mine will have a MT and one option – cruise control – as it is already projected to come with air and a radio. If I get mine (if they ever make them), I’m old enough that I hope it will be the last car I’ll ever buy.

  4. Our Fusion goes the hold button one better if one thinks about asking it to. The parking brake is an electronic device the applies the hydraulic brakes. Lift a small, convenient lever in the console as if parking and the car stays put. But the best part is that the brake also releases itself when you apply accelerator pressure. No second step to push the hold button again. Even Ford gets it right sometime.

    But then, there is the darned electronic rather than mechanical turn signal lever. The lane change feature even decides for you how many flashes it will make, regardless of how many you want. Four. You can hold it, but then why have the switch-activated automatic four anyway? Sometimes when a Hummer or a F-450 is busy trying to intimidate you when you are already doing 85 passing a line of trucks, you kind of want a few more reassuring flashes to calm him down as you pass the last truck and get him off your….. I guess it does let you get back to texting faster.

    I have developed a 60 year habit of unconsciously “confirming” that my turn signal is on by pressing the lever, particularly if I am sitting a long time at stop signs or traffic lights. If I do that, the toggle-switch-activated turn signal lever turns my signal off. Clap on/Clap off. Old habits are hard to break.

    And the headlights don’t come on with the wipers. Ticket in nearly every state. Surely, a simple line of code in the computer software could have handled that, too. Maybe for next year’s sales brochure under “New Features”.

    • I turn on a signal and it blinks….forever. No sound, a slight light if you’re lucky. One thing I like about Volvo tractors is they have a loud sound for a turn signal. One thing I hate about Volvo tractors is they never shut up as long as the flasher is one not the signal but the fourway. So you have to live with it. Then again, Volvo is about the only one to let you know you’re turn signal is on. It was a Peterbilt for the last two days that you couldn’t even see the dim blinker in the dash and tomorrow it’ll be the Volvo that drives you crazy. For the life of me, I can’t understand why big rig makers don’t use the same system as car.

      Forever and a day I longed for cruise control on a big rig. It’s finally a reality. Now if they’d just do the same for blinkers. Oh, I understand there’s a plethora of lights flashing for a turn or emergency signal. So what? And yes, you might want to leave the blinker on…….but GM solved that problem decades ago and if you don’t make a hard enough turn, it will begin to chime and let you know. And that doesn’t translate into big rig for what reason? It will make that quarter million dollar tractor more expensive to the tune of????????Let’s say $100. Well, I guess that’s the deal breaker.

  5. The Mercedes GLK diesel that I test drove a little over a year ago had the brake-hold feature. When coming to a stop, you pressed the brake really hard within a couple of seconds of coming to 0 mph, and it would hold it there (brake lights lit too) until you hit the gas pedal.

    It was a nice feature that I remembered too late to use it a lot of the time. I was sort of wondering what would happen if you got rear-ended with it on. You’d probably fumble to get your foot back on the pedal so you could get back in control.

  6. LCDs have finally reached the point where they are good enough for direct sunlight and cheap enough to compete with mechanical gauges.

    I drove a GMC Jimmy for work in the last century that had a VFD digital speedometer. They weren’t all that popular but I really liked it. I look forward to being able to make a custom “skinned” dashboard with the graphics I like (1950’s retro thermometer style speedo running along the top of the cluster? sure!).

  7. Besides for the 90’s – mid 2000’s cars with double DIN opening for a radio you can get a hell of a nice system to go in there which has gps & dvd. Some of them are even android based so if you’re a techie like me and inclined to software development you can sideload an app onto the system. There’s these OBD2 bluetooth dongles you can get now that have android/iphone apps that will give you a ton of information on your car and you can display all kinds of custom gauges and show all kinds of readings…pretty much anything you can think of. Those kits are only like $50 and the android infotainment systems with gps can be had for around $400. You can get them even cheaper w/o the GPS and connect your android phone to the USB port on the front and feed the google maps right to the display. And when the touchscreen dies in 4-5 yrs, just go get a new one and they’ll probably be even cheaper then.

    • Turd, thanks much for that info. Way back when, I had people get pissed at me for trying to explain bluetooth to them. It was just another wacky bunch of crap I was coming up with…..per them. And now they can’t remember having a fit when I tried to explain to them that bluetooth wasn’t a product but a new technology. I had a bluetooth dongle before anyone I knew even knew what I was doing with it, transferring things from my phone to my computer and printer back when phones were analog but started having wireless connections to other things. I tried to explain how you could walk by a printer that was “visible” and connect and print something out from your phone.

      And I’m no whiz at tech at all but I try to stay in touch. I’m using a Sceptre monitor I bought 12 years ago that crapped out less than two years into service. I sent it to a place in Houston that fixed them and it’s been perfect since. It was the first monitor you could turn 270 degrees I ever saw. Now that’s old hat. Back then it was expensive as hell.

  8. All those new features may be nice, but what is the repair bill going to be say when that fancy lcd gauge system goes out? I’m guessing it will be in the thousands of dollars just like if one of those touchscreen infotainment systems that now has all the climate controls integrated. The labor alone on removing the dashboard to get to those systems is going to run you a thousand alone. No thanks…I’ll stick with the 90′ – mid 2000’s technology which I’m still not that fond of either, but at least the entire operation of the vehicle won’t be compromised or worse rendered inoperable by a lcd display or touchscreen going out.

    • I guess I just always hit that 30% since I drive several cars/pickups with check engine lights on and have replaced a couple caps all to no avail. My wife’s car used to only have the check light come on when you braked for a hard left turn. You could stop and restart the car and it would go away. But now it’s almost always on although not always. i replaced the cap, no luck. Then the coolant light started coming on and it does it willy nilly. I drive a Chevy pickup with the airbag light threatening you 100% of the time, the Check Engine light on continuously and the seatbelt light when I don’t buckle it….which is never in the dark or going down dirt roads. That airbag light used to really bug me but it’s just one of the crew now. As long as the a/c continues to freeze me out, I’m fairly happy.

      Like I said about capless, the first time I ever fueled a pickup the entire thing was full of dirt…..and every time on every one of them since. I guess they never tested in west Tx…….or just didn’t give a rats ass. I hoped the fuel filter worked well and that dirt wouldn’t kill the pump.

  9. In-car Wi-Fi, pay to play. Capless fuel filler, can’t forget the cap but people still drive off with the fill hose in the car. Launch control, for those who don’t understand physics. Hold, electric parking brake for anyone unable to keep adequate pressure on the hydraulic pedal at a full stop. LCD cluster is another fiddle-with distraction like the complex touch screens replacing mechanical controls, idiot lights that replaced gauges are called that for a reason.

    Dumb down everything to the lowest common denominator. Gimmicks that most people wouldn’t purchase as stand alone options but will gladly accept as standard equipment as though it was free.


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