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These are a few of my favourite (and least favourite) things

Posted Dec 19th 2012 6:27PM

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New Cars Continue To Amaze And Dismay

Ford Fusion reveal NAIAS

The Ford Fusion's sleek shape proves midsize cars need not be boring.

Automakers face a huge challenge in creating cars that have to meet a dizzying array of emission, safety and fuel economy regulations and at the same time meet or exceed the expectations of potential customers. Usually the makers who succeed are the ones who are able to surprise and delight drivers with unique designs, technology and features.

It's a hard job since some of these great ideas can simply amaze or, if poorly done, merely annoy. As cars become more uniform in performance and function, manufacturers will look even harder for that special something to stand out from the crowd.

So click here to learn a few things in the current crop of new cars that have surprised, delighted, and yes, annoyed us all during 2012.

Touchscreens and flat control surfaces are the bane of my existence.

Surprise: At last year's Detroit show, Ford showed off its new Fusion. Its sleek shape proves mid-size cars need not be boring. Despite the criticism of the Aston Martin-like grille, the car is clean, contemporary and has a terrific interior to match - I especially like the sew pattern on the seats that recalls the mid-'60s Mustang.

Delight: Honda's new Accord which has a Sport model in the lineup that mates a six-speed manual with a peppy four-cylinder engine. The car is well balanced, fun to drive and offers fuel economy and a sticker price that won't break the bank.

Annoy: Haptic controls. Touch screens and flat control surfaces are the bane of my existence, from MyFord Touch to the new Cadillac CUE. I can never seem to use the right pressure to make them work, and the layers you have to work through to change a radio station or even find the right menu are downright distracting. And as sort of a neat freak, I hate seeing fingerprints all over the screen. Where's a good knob when you need one?


Headrests that hit the back of your head.

Surprise: The new SRT Viper is a big and bad-ass looking as ever. But I did a double-take when they told me it was an inch shorter than the latest Porsche 911. That says something about proportion, doesn't it?

Delight: Speaking of the Viper, how cool is the outline of the Nürburgring embossed in the inside door pull recess and the map of Laguna Seca in the center console?

Annoy: Headrests that hit the back of your head. Several cars are guilty of this awkward positioning where you try to settle into the back of the seat only to have the back of your noggin smack up against the headrest. Even when they are adjusted all the way back, like on the Ford Fusion, the cushion is pointed way too far forward, making it hard to get comfortable.

LEDs - what was once cool looking has now become banal.

Surprise: Speaking of Ford, I really love the new Escape with its wave-your-foot feature to automatically open the rear hatch. Brilliant.

Delight: The sound of blipped downshifts from paddle-shift transmissions. Both the latest generation of dual-clutch and torque-converter gearboxes deliver tremendously smooth shifts while deftly blipping the throttle. In cars like the new Aston Martin Vanquish and the Ferrari F12, it's truly magical. I'd put single-clutch automatic gearboxes in this category, but their low speed operation borders on annoying.

Annoy: LEDs. What was once cool looking has now become banal. Everyone is using them and with little restraint. It's the lighting equivalent of applying chrome to a car's exterior with a trowel.

I still can't enjoy driving a car equipped with a CVT.

Surprise: That the Toyota Avalon could be a car to give a hoot about. Akio Toyoda's drive to put emotion into all of Toyota's products has begun with the new Avalon. I was surprised at how well this car handled. And paddle shifts in an Avalon? Who would've thought it?

Delight: The Cadillac ATS is simply fun to drive and the division's commercials featuring Derek Hill reflect the spirit that can be found behind the wheel. Finally, there's a BMW 3 Series competitor from the domestic team.

Annoy: CVTs. As much as I admire the technology on paper, and despite continuous improvements by various manufacturers, I still can't enjoy driving a car equipped with a CVT. There still is an elastic quality to the acceleration and the engine drone that I just can't abide. Need better fuel economy? Throw in another cog or two on a six-speed.

That's my list... now discuss - what's your biggest surprise, delight or annoying feature?


Matt DeLorenzo is the former editor-in-chief of Road & Track and has covered the auto industry for 35 years, including stints at Automotive News and AutoWeek. He has authored books including VW's New Beetle, Chrysler's Modern Concept Cars, and Corvette Dynasty.



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2 Comments

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craiggger

Surprise: Mazda bringing their torque-happy diesel's to NA.

Delight: Test driving the CX-5

Annoying: CX-5 lack of power (hopefully overcome with a diesel. And Mazda discontinuing the Rotary.

December 20 2012 at 8:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Philip

Surprise: Ford bringing the 1.0L Ecoboost to North America. I am elated that they are deciding to do this. What a great move. It might be hard for people to understand by just reading a spec sheet. But I fully believe that a Fiesta Ecoboost will be the compact car that all will be measured by. With 4 cylinder performance and low displacement fuel sipping (under moderate throttle of course) I will highly consider getting it for my 60km daily commute.

Delight: Kia planning on keeping the minivan alive with a next generation Sedona. I have an older Sienna myself and love the ability to haul 7 people in great comfort but also removing all the seats and fitting in a *huge* amount of cargo for home renovations or even runs to the dump! Sure Ford and Hyundai gave up but I believe that minivans will always have a market and should be kept around. New Previa, anyone?

Annoying: Tire pressure monitoring systems. I do like how they are advancing the technology to make it easier for customers to work WITH their TPMS systems instead of AGAINST them. However the amount of people that come in to where I work (Ford Dealership) with their tire light is quite high. I wouldn't be annoyed except that when I ask "have you checked your tire pressure?" 99 times out of 100 they say NO! As good as vehicles have become in the last decade you still cannot combat the ignorance of the typical consumer.

(rant continuation) If you buy a $300 digital camera or tablet, chances are you will read the owners manual to ensure you know how to work it properly. After all, each camera or tablet is different and technology is always improving to help make the products better, if you can work them. How can the same person buy a vehicle ten, a hundred, or even a thousand times more expensive and NOT READ THE MANUAL!? Just because you have been driving your whole life doesn't make you an expert in vehicle operation. I work in the industry and I can read an owners manual and learn something new each time. Consumers needs to take some responsibility for being able to use the product properly (climate control, navigation, radios, and touch screens especially)

/rant

December 19 2012 at 7:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply