Dec
19

This 2013 Subaru BRZ has a nice, big knob for volume but not channel selection. On SiriusXM, getting from ’70s on 7 to Krishna Das Yoga Radio on Channel 360 is going to be a pain in the butt.

There’s no arguing that the things most auto writers focus on—price, power, handling, comfort—aren’t hugely important. Lord knows I focus on that stuff when I evaluate a car. In fact, at Consumer Guide there are exactly 10 things, plus value, that we fixate on. You can see the list as a part of any of our regular reviews.

Still, I find that the more time I spend with a car, the more I focus on the little things. I suspect that my hellish commute contributes to the time I spend worrying about the finer minutia of motoring, or maybe it’s just the building crankiness that heralds my advancing years. Whatever it is, here a list of five simple things that, when handled well, contribute to a more pleasant driving experience. Got your own list? We’d love to hear it.

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1) Easily Reached Power Mirror Controls
This one is simple, and surprisingly uncommon. What, I ask, is the use of adjusting your outside mirrors from a position other than the one you drive in? Reaching forward to adjust the mirrors means guessing where you’d like them when you’re settled back in. I realize that real estate on the door armrest is precious, and that window and lock switch placement take precedent, but some carmakers have managed to make this work well enough.

2) Enough Idle Creep
This is sort of a modern problem. Once upon a time, driving a V8-powered car saddled to a 3-speed automatic meant that to move ahead in traffic all you needed to do was lift off the brake. And to be fair, most new cars still do this fairly well. But many don’t, and it’s a pain in stop-and-go traffic. Call me a whiner, but I really don’t want to have to hit the throttle just to inch ahead and brake again soon after. The blame here goes mostly to CVT (though no Nissans) and dual-clutch transmissions, which seemingly allow for almost no forward movement without throttle.

3) A Radio-Tuning Knob
Why yes, I have heard of presets. Still, as a big fan of satellite radio, I find myself bouncing all over the place, and pressing down a little button to scroll from the ’80s on 8 to BBC News (somewhere over 100) is absurd. Pressing a touchscreen to accomplish the same task is even worse. I just want a simple knob. Seriously.

4) Simple Wiper Controls
Some makers have figured this out. Think about it: If you have intermittent wipers, why do you need a bunch of other controls? Pick a speed and be done with it. Nudging up or down to find a speed is just needless complication. What I do appreciate are controllers that wipe the windshield three to five times after a simple tap. That’s handy.

5) An Exposed Seatbelt Receiver
Why do some carmakers force you to reach down, past the seat cushion, to find the seatbelt receiver? Over time, that ill-defined space between the seat and console will likely become a hotbed of McMuffin crumbs and straw wrappers; it is no place for civilized folks to be reaching around blindly. Kudos to any car company that employs easily found buckle receivers on a handy stalk. While we’re on the topic, belt tensioners that lock up if you don’t pull the belt in a single constant motion are also a pain.

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