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 scientists 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 2014 Golf. This is an example of a useful and genuinely beneficial technology, which helps prevent us who can drive properly being rear-ended by rubberneckers on the motorway. Another less helpful innovation on the latest S-Class is active seat bolsters, which inflate to support the driver while 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.
First, we have the awful space saver that made you feel lame when 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 tire. Instead, you get a compressor and a bottle of tire sealant. If the puncture is sizeable, then neither the compressor nor the sealant will be any good; you’ll be stuck. 83 percent of new cars on sale today don’t have a spare tire, and the only reason is to save manufacturers money. A bottle of sealant and compressor costs less than $20, whereas a spare tire 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.
Real, actual keys have been disappearing for years. Keyless entry is becoming mainstream. Instead of the cards that Renault pioneered (and still use), 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 high 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. Moreover, 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 a new Skoda 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. In addition, 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.
This might sound a bit extreme, but it’s absolutely viable that steering columns will disappear. Nissan and Infiniti are developing steer by wire systems that will appear on their cars. A Nissan spokesman said in October last year about steer by wire: “On a road surface with minor ridges or furrows, the driver no longer has to grip the steering wheel tightly and make detailed adjustments, so travelling on the intended path becomes easier.”
Further, Nissan Engineer Masaharu Satou added: “If we are freed from that (mechanical control), we would be able to place the steering wheel wherever we like, such as in the back seat, or it would be possible to steer the car with a joystick.”
Once manufacturers realize the flexibility of steer-by-wire, mechanical steering will eventually disappear. But what happens when the alternator stops working and the battery goes flat at 70mph?