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Carmaker Design Choices from Awesome to Terrible

Technological innovation is nothing short of amazing. The ability to connect, tether, link whatever you call it, in seconds is simply incredible. Car manufacturers also try to keep up with the trends. Some of the innovations are great and some, well, end up being a terrible idea.

Move vehicles manufactured today (post-2018) can sync your infotainment center with your smartphone in seconds. Cars have never been easier to drive. However some innovations especially mechanical ones can oftentimes lead to disaster which ends up costing you the consumer a fortune.

Engine

It seems like in the era of EVs, we’d see the ultimate demise of internal combustion engines much sooner but despite the contrary, most new vehicles on the market are in some shape or form, still an internal combustion engine. These engines are finely tuned. The size of the engines are getting smaller even in supercars because even if a consumer requires more power, manufacturers simply add a turbo…or two.

Take a look at the E90 BMW M3. The last of its kind and seen by many car enthusiasts to be from an era that will soon be gone. It had a V8 naturally aspirated engine that simply pulled so hard….it made your cheeks turn to flubber (good movie). The newer designs are becoming much more fuel-efficient, smaller in engine size displacement, and more sensors to allow the latest ECUs to map the engine’s performance with more precision.

Not all of these designs are great though. Now let’s talk about what can go wrong. First of all, these engines tend to have turbos or superchargers which sounds great but can end up costing you more money in maintenance due to the engine complexity and wear & tear on the turbos. The internals of the turbo will eventually start to leak and often times can fail well below 100,000 miles. Turbo rebuilds depending on the complexity can start at $350 and easily go up.

Transmission

It’s great to see engine and transmission innovation at its finest. There are so many new competing types of transmissions nowadays. There’s the CVT, dual-clutch and the ever-growing automatic transmission. It’s not unusual to see a 9-speed or even a 10-speed transmission!

This is great for that smooth power delivery, instant gear shifting with no delays since the TCM (transmission control module) is very accurate. The only downside, in my opinion, is, with so many new types of transmissions out there, it’ll be interesting to see which ones start to fail prematurely and why.

Transmissions are not cheap to fix. If you haven’t read my previous article on transmissions, you can read it here. With so many new gears, you can imagine that the complexity and scale involved means it can end up costing you more in parts and labor to operate and maintain.

I recommend reading the owner’s manual on when to service the transmission fluid in your car. Doing so may end up saving you thousands of dollars $$$ later down the line.

Exterior

Headlights are so good nowadays, that they blind other drivers on the road! I’m being sarcastic, but seriously, if you drive a car with low-beams so bright they look like high-beams, it’s worth looking into getting a pair of lower luminant bulbs. Far too often drivers get blinded by the opposite driving headlights. I had a close call in a situation like that more than once. That’s innovation for you.

Now with my rant over, let’s talk about some cool exterior innovations. LED headlights and tail lights are becoming the norm. Many domestic makes have those cool red-line strips on the rear that look retro. I like them, a lot of people don’t. The styling is honestly becoming quite homogenous. It’s getting harder and hard to distinguish a BMW from a Hyundai or a Honda. I’m sorry…they all look the same to me!

I also see a popular trend of ever-growing front grills. BMW nostrils are getting so big that it’s reaching the windshield haha! Audi and Lexus do it pretty good, but it’s quite honestly ridiculous. I mean, how much air does the car need for the air intake and turbos? I know that most of them are simply there for design but still, I’ve always liked designs that stemmed from function. Those big grills really have no purpose.

Interior

Agh…what every millennial wants to know. “Will it pair with my iPhone tho’?” If that’s your thing, then I have some good news. Most vehicles have a very user-friendly info display center. I once had a Kia Soul 2019 for a rental, and the second I hooked up my phone to the USB charger, the center LCD display instantly displayed its content just like that. No permission just, BAM!

The downside I see with everyone trying to make their center console look super futuristic (think Tesla), is that touchscreens are no fun to mess around with, especially so when you’re driving. I have to navigate through menus, sub-menus, and settings just to control the cabin temperature! On my 96′ Corolla, it’s a simple flap-switch that works every time. On a newer touchscreen climate control, I would have to pull over to adjust the temperature or some other trivial setting. It would be too irresponsible for me to try and toggle with the settings while I’m driving.

Summary

In an age where everything and everyone is competing for our attention, having a car that just does everything right and is enjoyable to drive is important. I find the complexity of these latest models to be a growing concern. The moment a manufacturer perfects a new technology, it gets replaced with a completely new one, that has yet to be stress-tested for reliability. Some of the newest designs like engine size and transmission are optional, whereas other car design features are becoming a standard (infotainment). Overall though, I’m pretty optimistic in terms of future car developments especially with autonomous cars becoming a game-changer.

What are some of your favorite new car innovations? What are some of the worst?

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