A vocal minority of the car-buying public is dead set against new features and vows to never own a car with them. We think they should reconsider.
One of the common themes at the Car Talk Community and practically any other vehicle forum is “I will never buy a car that has…” You can fill in the blank with any number of modern vehicle features and systems. For some buyers, it is a CVT transmission. For others a turbocharged engine. Many are downright fearful that one or more of the newest safety systems are actually dangerous and will cause a crash rather than prevent one. For others, the infotainment system is the bugaboo. We at BestRide all own older vehicles. We love them, in some cases restore them. We understand the allure of simplicity. However, we also test hundreds of new vehicles each year. We can say without reservation that the concerns about these new systems and features are overblown. We do agree some can be frustrating in certain situations. However, all of these systems come with real benefits worth considering. The days of a manual choke, roll-up windows, and AM radio are long gone. Here’s our take on why new technology is getting a bad rap.
Like many technologies, continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) change the feel of the car. The familiar “shift” feeling we have always associated with a healthy transmission is not necessary and serves zero purpose. The reason we feel it is our transmission is temporarily moving from one gear to another. CVTs don’t have gears. They use a variable drive system that allows the engine to change or maintain its RPMs. Early CVTs also had a sound we associated with poor quality. They droned. Instead of having the up and down sounds we know as RPMs rising and falling.
Couple these different feelings and sounds with some questionable reliability in early CVTs, and it is easy to understand why the general public learned to be cautious. In our testing now, it is the geared transmissions that sound and feel funny. Geared transmissions from manufacturers with very good reputations have had some quality challenges of their own.
The upside to CVTs is fuel economy. On the order of about a 5% increase over conventional transmissions. The fuel savings are great. We’ve learned to love them because we don’t like the weird sounds and feelings of geared transmissions.
Like many technologies, turbos are often dismissed as, “Just another thing to break.” Another concern is “They spin at tens of thousands of RPMs!” Early turbochargers also had a lag in acceleration that was annoying. Today, turbochargers are being used in all types of vehicles including trucks (GM and others) and even hybrids (Volkswagen). Every diesel anyone ever loved felt the way it did because of turbocharging.
Turbos add torque. Lots of it. And down low in the rev-band where you want it. The curve above shows the plateau of torque the new GM 2.7-liter turbo in the Silverado offers. No “normally-aspirated” non-turbo engine behaves this way. We love them because they make the vehicle feel stronger off the line. And just as an aside, they work extremely well with CVTs as the folks from Honda have aptly demonstrated in the Civic, CR-V, and Accord.
Hybrid Drive & Electric Drive
Hybrids were pioneered in mainstream cars by Toyota in the Prius. From that point on, hybrid drive was stereotyped as “slow and boring.” Mostly by folks who we sometimes see around the water cooler at track events wearing racing shoes. The public didn’t see it that way. The Prius went on to become the top-selling car in many major markets. Like California. And all of Japan.
Hybrids today, like those in the Toyota RAV4 and coming CR-V Hybrid, tend to be the quickest and most powerful in their model line. The Acura NSX is a hybrid. As is the Porsche 918 and BMW i8. Jeep has a hybrid Wrangler and Ram a hybrid truck. They are not slow. They are not boring. Hybrids and EVs both add torque. We car nuts like torque. Hybrids and electric drive vehicles are now among the most enjoyable vehicles one can drive. The all-electric Tesla Model 3 is simply crushing the BMW 3 Series and Audi A series in sales. Nobody thinks of Tesla’s Model 3 as boring, and the car is the polar opposite of slow.
The benefits from EVs and hybrids to you as a driver are many. In addition to the added torque, they are quiet. That is something luxury car makers brag about. They are also frugal. They routinely exceed 100 MPGe. And they are reducing the junk in the air you and your kids breath. Fun, fast, frugal, quiet, and clean. If you are a car nut and are arguing against electrification it is time to reconsider what you really liked about driving in the first place.
Driver Assist Systems
“An attentive driver is the best safety system.” It is hard to argue against that. However, can an attentive drive see a vehicle initiating a panic stop two vehicles ahead in traffic? Driver-assist technology can, and it will act to brake before you can. Can an attentive driver see a numbskull darting down the aisle in a parking lot as you back out surrounded by huge pickups? Rear cross-traffic alert systems can, and it may save your car from being totaled in a silly way. Driver-assist technologies augment an attentive driver’s safety. They are proven to work in multiple studies and they are getting better with each passing year. Just as you cannot brake individual wheels (like ABS can), nor can you apply greater rotation to an outside wheel in a turn (like torque-vectoring AWD can), you can only do so much. Driver-assist technologies can help you, regardless of how good a driver you really are. And another way to think about it is this; It may help the poorly-skilled driver behind you.
Modern Infotainment Systems
We all loved VCRs and flip phones. And we all love streaming video and smartphones more. Technology changes. The problem is, many of us keep our cars for ten years or more. A lot can change in a decade, and shopping for a new vehicle can be a bit scary when one considers that the last time they tried a new vehicle out may have been three presidents ago. We won’t kid you. Learning to operate a new vehicle’s infotainment system requires some patience, some time, and some help. But boy, is it worth it. Modern infotainment systems offer huge advantages to you. Not only are your music options now almost endless, you no longer need to pay four-figures for navigation. Your smartphone will work better and the updates are free. Schedule time when you shop to have the dealer’s best infotainment tech show you how the system works. Bring your phone, have them help you pair it and ask for some demonstrations. You will be surprised at just how easily it can all work.