It really is the little things that are important.
I first noticed this in 1981 when I was six. My dad came home with a brand new mark 1 Golf. It was the first time he had ever bought a brand new car and I know that I was more excited about it than he was. When he finally got home that day I gave the car an inch by inch inspection. I saw that the rear light cluster looked different (and better) than on other Golfs I had seen driving around. I didn’t understand that manufacturers refreshed their cars towards the end of a life cycle and just thought my dad had specially asked for different lights on his car. That tiny difference in design totally changed the look of that little car’s rear and proved to this small boy that minute changes can make big differences. “Little things” truly make or break a car.
As a driving instructor I get into many different types of car and I see many features that just get under my skin. I know it’s a bit sad and nerdy but I just can’t help it. Front windows that don’t open fully or have a large triangular fly window that is fixed are one of these “little things” that annoy me. I understand that strengthening the A pillar or that the shape of certain doors can make this necessary. I’m not looking for frameless windows (although they are nice), just design your car so that the front windows open fully. A fly in the very nice ointment that is the current (mark 7) Golf is the tiny triangular window nestled under the A pillar. It’s especially noticeable with the door open. However the Renault Scenic (particularly early models) is the real reprobate here, nearly half of the front window is fully fixed – you can’t even stick your elbow out on a hot day! Even the supposed “premium” E-Class coupe (C207) which makes a virtue of the fact it’s a pillarless coupe (a design we strongly approve of normally) has a tiny curved fixed portion of window at the C pillar which is just wrong, wrong, wrong.
Something that has always bothered me since day one has been blocked out buttons. Even when I was a kid I always wondered what function or feature was being denied to me that other more fortunate road users were benefiting from. Of course there are going to be budget and high end versions of the same car model but does it have to be so obvious? In fairness the manufacturers have gotten better at hiding the fact that you are driving the cheapo version and with the advent of touchscreens extra features (or the lack of) will all be hidden behind a tft screen. Even so I was recently talking to a VW sales manager and I asked him what the bank of buttons behind the gearshift (3 of which were blanked out on a top spec GTI) on a golf were for. ESP and tyre pressure sensor were visible with three blanks. We both knew that one one the blanks was for a parking sensor but even he didn’t know what the final two were ever used for. As usual the interweb came to the rescue and told us they were for Park Assist and a special winter pack for Nordic regions. Two functions never sold on right hand drive cars apparently! Yet there they are, just annoying me.
The single biggest threat to my sanity on the road though is the exponential growth of LED running lights. Yes they are bright and attract attention. Yes they use a fraction of the power needed to run halogen lamps. Yes every manufacturer is rushing to put them on even the most basic city car. However I can’t say this strongly enough, DO NOT drive a car with these hideous unsightly abominations. It all started in the early noughties with BMW’s “halo” running lights on the gorgeous E39 (they don’t make them like that anymore). They were discreet yet noticeable and really looked the part. Their competitors in Ingolstadt took a look and decided they could do better. How wrong they were. Now this pox has spread so voraciously it would be far quicker to list the cars that don’t look like a partially sighted 7 year old took an LED torch apart and glued the diodes randomly to the front of your car. In fairness the new running lights on Hyundai cars are actually really nice (pity about what they are attached to though) and offer a little balm to my ruffled sense of what should be. If their ideas are copied by right thinking designers it is just possible that not all is lost.
As everyone knows, if you absolutely have to drive an SUV there are only two possible choices. If you want the heritage, wicker baskets and shotguns in the boot mated to ultimate off road capability you buy a Range Rover. If you want to drive a 4X4 that looks well, handles better and goes quicker than most cars you buy an X5. Everything else is at best a compromise, at worst (yes X1, Jimny and RAV 4 we are talking about you) it is an affront to humankind. However even these two paragons can be afflicted by the pestilence that is “Too Small Wheels”. This disease can afflict any car (as can the mutation of this illness known as “Too Large Wheels”) but is specially obvious on cars with huge wheel arches. Running any large car can be expensive but it is unforgiveable to skimp on costs by selecting unsuitable wheels. The problem is exacerbated with low profile road tyres which can make even 20″ rims appear small. There is no fixed acceptable wheel size as there are too many variables such as colour of car, tyre profile and wheel design but a glance tells you if things are as should be or not. The VW Toerag is unquestionably the worst offender here with off the peg wheels looking absolutely tiny on this large vehicle.
The stubby, chubby aeriel on current BMWs also gets under my skin. It looks to me like a fat shark’s fin – why not make it look sleek and fast like a proper shark’s fin? Wheels from one particular model fitted to another is also sure to raise my bile. There’s a reason the manufacturer didn’t fit those wheels to that car – it just looks wrong. Last (for the moment anyway) but not least is hiding rear door handles discreetly in the C pillar (normally we quite like Walter da Silva’s handiwork but I suppose even the greats occasionally err) – everyone knows your not driving a two door so don’t even pretend. This is particularly obvious on Nissan’s curious amalgam of angles, circles, bulges and even an occasional straight line pictured below.
Now I know I’ve been pretty negative in this post but I feel so much better now these issues are no longer festering but are out in the open. Of course it’s true that little things can massively improve a car but that’s a story for another day… I know I’m not alone, and I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what can really annoy car lovers and undoubtedly we will return to this topic. Suggestions for other irritating design features welcome.