3 Jan 2013

Five things disappearing from modern cars

We can't halt the march of technology.  In the car world the progress of technology moves fast.  New gizmos and devices arrive regularly from F1 or those super-boffins at Mercedes and soon filter down to the cheaper models we all drive.

Take, for example, adaptive cruise control.  Introduced in the Mercedes S Class (W220) in 1998 and now available in the new Golf Mk VII.  This is an example of a useful and genuinely beneficial technology which helps prevent us who drive properly being rear ended by rubbernecking morons on the motorway.  Another, less helpful, innovation on the latest S Class is active seat bolsters which inflate to support the driver whilst travelling through corners.  It feels slightly weird and unnerving.

But, with technological progress, some vital things are slowly disappearing from our cars.  These are our top five things that you will miss when they're gone.

Spare tyre

First we got the awful space saver which made you feel like a plonker, driving your new car at 40mph with a huge queue behind.  Now, even that is disappearing.  Open the boot of your new MINI and you'll find no spare tyre.  Instead you get a compressor and a bottle of tyre sealant.  If the puncture is sizeable then neither the compressor nor sealant will be any good.  You'll be stuck.  83% of new cars on sale today don't have a spare tyre and the only reason is to save manufacturers money.  A bottle of sealant and compressor costs £20 whereas a spare tyre costs at least £150.


Most new cars don't have a real handbrake.  Instead you get a little flap, called an electronic parking brake.  Supposedly introduced to save weight, electronic parking brakes are horrible.  You pull it on, step out of the car and it moves slightly - leaving you with no confidence the confounded thing is actually engaged.  A little flap is no replacement for a good pull and the click of the ratchet as the handbrake engages.  Even the new Golf doesn't have a real handbrake.  This also signifies the death of the good old handbrake turn.  

Manual gearbox

Automatic gearboxes used to be vastly inferior to their manual counterparts.  The old Jaguar automatic gearbox had three speeds.  No more.  Modern Jags get eight speed sequential transmissions.  Porsche's all singing seven speed PDK gearbox in the 991 is incredibly attuned to your right foot but needs Sport mode to really work with you, the driver.  Automatic gearboxes now work faster, and provide better acceleration, than manual gearboxes.  However, they take away some of the interaction between man and machine.  80% of all 911s sold have the PDK gearbox fitted.  Future 911s will not be offered with manual gearboxes.  We will see this in more humdrum machinery.  As Stop/Start and regenerative technology creep into our cars so manual gearboxes will disappear.  The simple pleasure of revving the engine will be no more because engines in modern cars with auto boxes have a limiter, generally half the actual rev limit of the engine, to prevent you, the driver, damaging your engine by revving it in neutral.

A key

Real, actual keys have been disappearing for years.  Have a look at this 2006 commercial from Renault demonstrating why keyless entry is superior to that with keys.  Keyless entry is becoming mainstream.  Instead of the cards that Renault pioneered we tend to see little plastic blobs that either stay in your pocket or fit rather wantonly into a slot in the dash.  But what happens when the battery goes flat in the car, or in the keyless blob?  You're stuck.  With a key you can at least get into the car.

Manual headlamp dipping

You drive at night with the full beam lighting the road.  You see a car approaching and pull the headlamp lever to dip the headlights.  Simple.  Your brain and finger controls the system.  Not any more.  Auto headlamp dipping will be a mainstream fixture in most new cars in the next few years.  And no-one will be dazzled by inconsiderate drivers who leave their dip a little late.  Wrong.  Auto headlamp dipping systems go wrong.  They rely on reading the road ahead, but without the common sense inherent in the human brain.  A journalist testing the new Octavia recently recounted how, on approaching a road-sign, the car thought the headlights' reflection off the sign meant it was actually daylight.  So it turned the headlights off completely, thereby plunging the driver into complete darkness.  He nearly killed a couple who were walking by the side of the road.  And auto headlights don't always detect oncoming traffic.  With no manual override our roads may be a more dangerous, rather than safer, place to be when all cars are fitted with auto headlight dipping.