4 “uncool” car features that make life more convenient

Arif · Sep 10, 2020 03:00 PM

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As the automotive industry heads to an autonomous and electric future, a fair share of inventions of the past are losing presence in modern cars. The carburetor, the handbrake, and the ignition key switch are some to name. The friction of technology shift is something that can only be felt by those who have been accustomed to older technology. To younger generations, new technology is just how things have always been.

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While I claim to be a proponent of new technology, I find myself having more affinity to technology from the older days. I prefer cameras with optical viewfinders, I don’t like relying on the reverse camera, and I’m a bit freaked out by cars that can drive themselves. With that being said, I guess you could figure out what I perceive to be “cool” or “uncool” when it comes to cars. 

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Even Bill Gates and Elon Musk know what a cool car is.

For a feature to be convenient, it has to attend to “entry level” car owners – the person who needs an “A to B” car, the person who couldn’t care less about driving dynamics, or the person who knows absolutely nothing when it comes to car maintenance. “Convenient features” will sometimes require “convenient fees”. Whether or not you agree with this list of “uncool” things, let us know in the comments section below.

1. Run flat tyres

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Q: What is a run flat tyre?

A: Run flat tyres are tyres that you can continue to drive with even when there is a puncture. Cars that come factory-fitted with run-flat tyres usually come with a TPMS feature as well. When you have a slow puncture, the TPMS system will alert you too let you know that you can’t drive over a certain speed limit (usually 80 km/h).

Q: Why are run-flat tyres uncool?

A: Run flat tyres are harder and less comfortable compared to conventional tyres. It is just a given characteristic since the sidewalls need to be stronger in case of a puncture. Run flat tyres are also non-performance tyres. While comfort tyres sacrifice performance and vice versa, run-flat tyres sacrifice both comfort and performance for convenience.

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Running on run-flats also means you can’t show off how much of a mekanik you are to friends and family members.

Q: Why are run-flat tyres convenient?

A: If you enjoy changing your own tire to a spare, run-flats may not be so convenient for you. But think about your family member that doesn’t even know the difference between a disc brake and a drum brake. Some drivers don’t even know how to change a tire. They might get stranded or even worse, scammed by tow-truck, when faced with a puncture.

Using run-flats will allow them to safely drive home or to a workshop and make a calm decision on what to do next.

2. EPB (Electronic Parking Brake)

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Q: What is EPB?

A: EPB is what you will find in the teased Honda City RS. It’s also what you can find in the Proton X70 and other recent brand-new cars. It replaces the old handbrake lever and the foot parking brake. The main reason for the introduction of EPB is autonomous driving.

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Cars will be able to fully park and “unpark” themselves with the use of EPB. Fitting EPB into a car will also enable the car to self-engage the parking brake in case of an emergency (eg car rolling forward with door open).

Q: Why is EPB uncool?

A: It’s pretty obvious isn’t it? You can’t do proper handbrake turns with EPB. We’ve talked about this before.

Q: Why is  EPB convenient?

A: EPB frees up space in the centre console. The freed up space can be used for bigger storage space or a larger armrest. 

Depending on the car you drive, some handbrake levers are less ergonomic than others. In a 2013 Hyundai Tucson, the handbrake’s position is such that you rely more on your wrist and forearms to pull the handbrake up. I’ve seen those with weaker arms have to resort to using both hands just to fully pull the handbrake up. With EPB, you can fully engage the parking brake only using your pinky finger.

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Photo: Dream Dictionary

Another added convenience of EPB is safety and this may vary with cars too. Good applications of EPB are as such:

- the EPB automatically releases the parking brake when you’re in “Drive”, your seatbelts are fastened, and you press the accelerator to pull away.

- The EPB engages automatically when you shift to “P”

- the EPB engages automatically when the car is idling and you open the door

A more autonomous and “safe” system would be to have EPB and an electronic gear shifter working hand in hand. That way, the car can override the gearshift as well in emergency situations.  

3. Automatic transmissions

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Q: What is an automatic transmission?

A: A transmission that can shift itself. Automatic transmissions include the conventional planetary-gear automatic, the CVT automatic, and the DCT automatic. I’d even go so far to call the AMT (automated manual transmission) an automatic just because you don’t have to shift your own gears. Feel free to disagree with me on that one. Automatic transmissions are easy to drive and require minimal skill and concentration.

Q: Why is an automatic transmission uncool?

A: Because you’re not really in control. And haven’t you heard? “ReAl mEn Use ThRee peDals”. Cool things are meant to be a little bit harder to attain, and the manual transmission nicely sets that “barrier to entry” for car enthusiasts.

The manual transmission may be outdated and not as fast as modern DCT gearboxes, but its about the feeling and the driving experience right? Jason has talked about this in opposition to something I wrote a while ago. We are emotional creatures. We’re meant to enjoy things. And automatics are less enjoyable than the standard manual transmission.

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Gordon Murray's T50 comes with a standard manual transmission

Q: Why is automatic transmission convenient?

A: Because anybody can drive it. A good and convenient vehicle is meant to be accessible regardless of driving skill. Having an automatic car means just about anybody in the family with a driver’s license could go and pick up that Gardenia loaf when MCO/PKP was in place.

When you’re going for long trips (post MCO/PKP), an automatic car allows you to switch drivers more easily. Unfortunately, less and less people know how to drive the standard transmission these days.

4. Hybrid powertrains

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Q: What is a hybrid powertrain?

A: A hybrid powertrain combines an engine and one or more electric motors. A hybrid could be a mild hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. Hybrid cars were mainly made to reduce the pollutant emissions of vehicles. Some research will tell you that hybrids don’t really help the environment and some will tell you otherwise. A Toyota Prius is a hybrid, the Nissan X-Trail hybrid is a hybrid, a BMW 330e is a hybrid, the Porsche 918 is a hybrid, and the Ferrari Stradale is a hybrid.

Q: Why is a hybrid powertrain uncool?

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A: Hybrid cars are uncool because the Toyota Prius is the first car you think of when hear the word “Hybrid”. And all over the internet, it seems the Prius is the car everybody loves to hate. Hybrid supercars from Porsche, Ferrari, and McLaren have decent performance figures. The Prius is not a bad car and the main reason why it gets so much hate is its association with “holier than thou” environmentalists. It's just an unfortunate association.

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A hybrid supercar is also not as cool as a W12 supercar or a Dodge Viper with a pushrod engine. A hybrid maybe faster and more efficient but it will never be as cool. A hybrid supercar is like Clark Kent – Good citizen with superpowers, but not cool.

Why is a hybrid powertrain convenient?

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Here we go again

Instant torque from the electric motor. That’s it. In terms of maintenance, I wouldn’t call a hybrid car convenient. But in terms of safe driving, quick overtakes and sufficient torque for uphill driving is crucial. With a hybrid powertrain, you don’t need a massive engine, a supercharger, or a massive turbo give your car some extra ‘kick’.

Summary

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New tech or new features should continue to make driving more and more convenient. Having tried these features that I have always perceived as “uncool”, I find them to be very convenient. Some of these conveniences will incur some “convenience fees”, but “value for money” on car features is a topic reserved for another day. Do you disagree with the features that I have called “uncool”? Share with us in the comments section below.

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