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Automotive turkeys 2008

Consumer Reports News: November 26, 2008 09:29 AM

The word “turkey” means different things to different people. Thanksgiving, for many, is a great time for turkey…unless you’re a turkey. For those of us who drive different cars every day, we sometimes come across features that rank as turkeys – perhaps the designers/engineers created them with the best of intentions, but in the real world, they prove frustrating. We’ve already written enough about BMW’s iDrive, perhaps the biggest automotive turkey of all time. Some turkeys are nice ideas that simply fall short.

In an informal poll in and around the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, I’ve come up with some other turkeys that particularly rankle our feathers:

•    Sirius radio reception in wooded, tree shade areas is awful. Also, some car audio systems have a long delay, making you wait to see the title of the satellite radio station identification.

•    Automatic door locks that don’t unlock when you park or allow a choice to set the locks to unlock when the car is turned off. This maybe a good feature for those who want the security in a tough neighborhood, but consumers should at least be given the choice. (This turkey was mentioned more than once.)

•    The government giving a tax credit if you buy a 19-mpg Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid but nothing if you buy a 32-mpg Toyota Corolla or 29 mpg Ford Focus.

·    Outside mirrors that automatically turn and give you a view of the ground below when shifting to reverse. While this offers a good view of the curb, it makes using the mirrors to back out of a long driveway useless. Convex or larger mirrors do it all.

•    Chrysler announcing its hybrid Aspen and Dodge Durango SUVs and then unceremoniously killing them four weeks later.

·    Mini Cooper’s radio controls (see photo above), which are scattered all around the center stack. The radio’s volume knob, for example, is mounted separate from the radio head unit, lower on the dashboard. It’s easy to grab the radio’s other knob by mistake; even though that’s a multi-function knob, it only serves as a tuning knob if you push the “m” button first. (Of course!) It also takes several button presses to change radio modes.

·    Re-inventing a wheel that wasn’t broken in the first place. For example: Some keyless ignitions work OK, but some “Start” buttons are hard to find and require a push-and-hold process to start the car. The worst are those on BMWs and Mini Coopers that require using a fob placed in a slot and then pressing a start button. What was wrong with a key?

·    Big key fobs are maybe OK if you use a purse, but they’re bulky in a pant’s pocket. Kneel down at just the wrong angle, and the panic button can be activated, resulting in the car’s horn going off and waking up the neighborhood.

•    Acura’s styling department is a whole, gobbling turkey within itself. Have you seen the beaks on the TL, TSX and RL? I can’t tell them apart. They all look like grinning teenagers with mouths full of braces.

•    The headlights in the Toyota Prius Touring. On a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the tops), these lights got a 1. Even with Xenon bulbs, low-beam light doesn’t provide enough illumination forward to allow the driver time to see and react to objects in the road. The lights also have a distinct ramp-shaped cutoff between light and darkness at the top of the low-beam pattern. These lights leave us in the dark.

•    Paying a premium to buy a Smart (ours was just under $16,000) to get 39 mpg overall but putting up with the limitations of being able to seat only two people, limited cargo room, and maybe the worst transmission ever, when--for about the same a price--you could get a Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris, which seat five, and are infinitely more comfortable and (in the Fit’s case) fun to drive.

Anyway, that’s our short list. I’m sure we could go on, but you get the point. What particular car controls, models, or manufacturers drive you bonkers? Pass the gravy, and share your automotive turkeys in the Comments below.

--Mike Quincy

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