Yes, it was a banner year for U.S. car sales, and the tally will be well over 15 million when the counting’s done. The Big Three did a lot of things right in building competitive cars for 2013, though American quality still lags.
I drove a ton of cars in 2013, including some I loved — the Chevy Spark, Tesla Model S, Audi A7 TDI, Ford C-Max Hybrid and Focus ST, Cadillac XTS, to name a few. But, of course, there were some things that bugged me, and my brief for auto companies is to get these things fixed in 2014:
1. Overly complex audio systems
The Catch-22 is that buyers do want high-end stereos, and it’s good that they’ve migrated to even entry-level models. But automakers need to stop giving their engineers free rein to show off and focus on systems that drivers can actually use without huge distraction. Consumer Reports notes, “Today’s cars are coming loaded with in-dash electronics that provide smart-phone connectivity, turn-by-turn navigation, multiple audio sources, and more. But for car buyers, the wow factor is often short-lived because of the complicated touch screens and troublesome control systems that come with those features.” Amen to that. The voice commands often don’t work well, just tuning the radio can demand five steps. One of the sanest systems I've seen lately was encountered in an entry-level Nissan Versa Note. Nuthin' fancy, it just worked.
2. Disappearing rear legroom
I attended the debut of the new Mustang, and was shocked to see that it had virtually nowhere for back-seat passengers to put their legs (see photo below). “It’s a Mustang,” I was told. Surely the Mustang identity could have survived with a slightly longer car, or a redesign favoring the passenger compartment? In 2013, I was squeezed into some mightily tight back seats, and it doesn’t work for me. Our family’s Honda Fit is tiny, much smaller than the Mustang, and it manages to have both rear seat legroom and generous cargo space.
3. Tire trouble
Let’s face it, there are few places in the United States you can really take advantage of performance tires, but automakers put them on because they bump up the all-important zero-to-60 times. I discovered their limitations on a snowy night with a BMW 320i with X Drive and dynamic stability control. The performance tires (below) canceled out most of the advantages of those systems, and I was sliding all over the place. In truth, even “all-season” tires have their limitations — yes, grandpa put on snow tires in the fall, and we probably should be doing that, too.
4. Bye-bye to the V-8 engine option
I might get some flak for this, but I don’t see why we need them anymore. As with that big 454-cubic inch crate motor below, it's a dinosaur configuration. Ford selling more EcoBoost engines for its iconic F-150 pickup than V-8s, and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says that the V-8 will soon be as “rare as white flies.” A V-6, maybe with turbocharging, usually provides more horsepower and torque from a smaller displacement, and offers better fuel economy. Today, four- or even three-cylinder engines are producing big advantages in mileage and emissions.
5. Spare tire blues
It’s all about weight savings these days, so automakers are disappearing the spare tire in favor of run-flats or a can of spray fix with a cheapo compressor. I’ve twice been stranded with flat tires, and found these kits completely inoperative. I have noticed that a chillingly small number of drivers can a) drive a stick; or b) change a tire. So maybe it doesn’t really matter, but I really like having a working spare.
I’m sure you have your own list. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below. For now, happy New Year from the MNN Garage!
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