New cars get a lot right, but here are some features at which we're taking a second look.
1. Push-button gear selectors - Hyundai Palisade SEL AWD
Push-button selectors are convenient. In most models, turning off the car while in Drive will automatically bring the transmission back to Park.
But we sure do miss a T-bar shifter’s positive click into gear, and then holding the handle and feeling the transmission engagement. Buttons eliminate that avenue of communication.
2. Hyper-detailed styling - Toyota CH-R XLE
It seems important to today’s designers that cars look COMPLEX and INTERESTING.
This can be taken to an extreme, and from some angles, the car can look cartoonish, which might be the point. There’s no question this approach does grab eyeballs.
3. Non-height-adjustable-lumbar-support seats - Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
Well-positioned lumbar support can bring a world of ease to the task of driving, because the core of your body can really relax.
But most cars with adjustable lumbar support have it at a fixed height, and when it aims into your tailbone, it can feel like you’re making payments on someone else’s car.
4. Low-profile tires - Volvo S90 T6 Inscription
Big wheels with slim tire sidewalls can make even family wagons look hunky and sporty.
But they can amplify bump impacts, deep ruts can bend their rims, and expensive gashes can be the result of parking at the curb. Each of the car’s four corners becomes its own stylish beast of burden.
5. Angry expressions - Hyundai Elantra Sport
We all have a lot on our minds, and some days it would be best if everyone just got the heck out of our way.
Apparently a styling memo has been universally issued for new cars to reflect this sentiment. Careful, your face might freeze like that.
6. Fake stitching - Honda HR-V Touring
Automotive trim with stitching evokes a craftsman’s touch, as if the instrument panel part of the factory consists of sewing machines operated by squinty tailors with exacting technique.
But when the stitching is simulated, the alleged thread can be so plasticky that it’s pressed with the same surface grain surrounding it. It’s not noticeable, until it is.
7. No spare tire - Toyota Prius Prime AWD-e CVT
There you were, yeah-yeahing along with Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight," and you ran right over the hoe dropped by a gardening truck up ahead.
Your tire is shredded, so it’s pointless to open the trunk, unless you want to crawl on in there next to the air compressor and close the lid behind you and pretend none of this ever happened.
8. Wide blind spots - Nissan Leaf SL Plus
Don’t worry about diminished visibility, say the carmakers. Just peel off a couple grand for the Platinum Supreme Merging and Parking Pack, where the blind-spot monitors and parking sensors are filed.
It feels insufficient to call the Nissan Leaf’s wide C-pillar a blind spot; may we suggest “blind section” or perhaps "blind acreage"?
9. Panoramic roof - Jaguar F-Pace 35t Prestige
Another item generating wattage under the showroom lights is the panoramic roof, which promises the feeling of wide-open motoring under a glamorous clear canopy.
But it takes only a rainy night parked under a tree for the panorama to resemble the glass surface of the basement coffee table after your roommate’s last bender.
10. Knobless control panels - Honda Civic Coupe Touring (2016)
This trend thankfully seems to have abated, as the rush to buttonize automotive instrument panels had prematurely clanged the death of the knob.
Turning a knob for repetitive adjustments is more efficient than pecking at a display, and we’re glad that designers seem to have realized that.
11. Bulging pickup tail lights - Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4WD Crew Cab LTZ
You’re loading up the truck after an exhausting day. As you hoist a toolbox up over the corner of the bed, your mind goes to the frozen sweet-and-sour chicken you’ll pick up at Trader Joe’s, and your aim goes low.
Some models unfortunately present a thin plastic bulge in the form of the tail light to catch your bad aim. In the case of this Chevy, the lens assembly would cost about $800 to replace.
12. Black wheels - Ford Escape SE
Black wheels remind your writer of Mennonite drivers in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, who flat-blacked the brightwork on their Dodge Darts, even the wheel covers.
On the other hand, a friend remarked that the black wheels made this Escape look like it belonged to a drug dealer. That they are so evocative is probably why black wheels are so popular.
13. Unfinished details - Mitsubishi Mirage GT
Granted, you might be an automotive journalist with too much time on their hands if you’re fretting about flimsy cargo floors and rough-grained door panels.
A week with the delightfully crude Mitsubishi Mirage GT cures that, as it makes no attempt to hide its homemade qualities.
14. Fixed coupe rear windows - Honda Civic Coupe Touring
It’s a sunny day! Time to grab some friends, jump in your coupe, open the sunroof and go for a cruise.
The folks in back should buckle down for turbulence, because the fixed rear panes eliminate any exit route for the incoming air. Flip-out rear windows that let the air flow through are pretty much extinct.
15. No unlock sensors for rear door handles - Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SEL 1.5T S-AWC
This is a minor one, along the lines of complaining about the lack of auto-down on all the power windows. And yes, these features cost money.
But for drivers who naturally deposit their children and/or gear in the back seat and then jump in front, it’s frustrating to be constantly directed to first unlock the driver’s door. Rear-door-handle sensors are generally still reserved for premium models, and even some of those still lack them.
16. Dark cavern interiors - Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The Eighties were all about wide-open views. Forget the swoopy, slit-windowed guzzlers of the 1970s - this boxy new breed had impressive percentages of more glass area!
Today, crossovers bring us back to the swoopy and slit-windowed, sometimes with coal-black plastic panels further darkening the space. More than anything, it seems like a likely place to hibernate.
17. Attitudinized bumpers - Toyota Corolla XSE
SUVs famously provide an outdoorsy-lifestyle facade, and car-based crossovers ape that vibe with simulated skid plates defining the bumper’s center.
This is finding its way onto sedans, albeit with simulations of performance grills and air diffusers rather than rock guards. These bumpers sell an image as much as they protect.
18. Aggressive headrests - Volkswagen Arteon R-LIne
Besides reminding you of what bobbleheads we all are when in a car, a too-close headrest can be a persistent annoyance, so check before you buy.
The pictured Volkswagen Arteon gets it right, with headrests featuring both vertical and horizontal positioning.
19. Limited active safety availability - Buick Regal GS
Yep, we get it. Safety tech is pricey, and carmakers aren’t looking to lose their shirts by offering it to the cheap seats.
But active safety, imperfect as it can be, should be standard in every new car possible. Pretty much the opposite of Buick’s approach: forward emergency braking in the 2019 Regal is optional in Essence, Avenir, and GS trims, and it’s not available on the base, Preferred, and Preferred II.
20. Haunted windshields: Kia Telluride SX V6
Tablet-like center screens do the double duty of decreasing dashboard massivess while looking chic and techy.
Though it’s probably best for designers to skip the bright accent; as the car ages, its reflection in the windshield above will come to seem like The Ghost of Technology’s Past.