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New Year’s resolutions for the car industry

A Consumer Reports car guy ponders the automotive future

Published: January 03, 2014 04:00 PM

Photo: Volkswagen

What does a diehard car guy do when he's stuck working at home thanks to a nasty winter storm? Ponder the future of the automotive world, of course. These are my hopes and goals, but I wish the car industry would adopt them as its own New Year’s resolutions.

Fuel-efficient cars that aren’t dull to drive. When we tested the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid (37 mpg overall and 45 mpg on the highway), we found that the handling was responsive and the steering had some welcomed feedback. No, it doesn’t corner like a Subaru BRZ, but it does a good impression of a satisfying European driving experience. I even wrote in the car’s logbook: "Could this be the first hybrid that isn’t boring to drive?" (Ahem, Prius.) Let’s have more of these, please. And bring me small diesels by the ton.

Content that’s more in line with pricing. Why are heated seats optional in a base $52,000 Mercedes-Benz E-Class? You have to buy the $3,870 Premium 1 Package to get bun warmers. Why doesn’t a $63,000 Range Rover Sport come with at least a few months of satellite radio? And why are BMWs coming without standard backup cameras? You get all of these fine features many models at half those prices.

Improved reliability for high-scoring cars that we really like. It seems a tease when good cars see their reliability dip, rather than improve, over time. Please come back to the recommended fold Ford Focus; Ford Fusion; turbocharged versions of the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima; Jeep Grand Cherokee; Mini Cooper; and Volkswagen CC, just to name a few. And on a personal note, I wish the Dodge Challenger’s reliability crept back to at least average. Not all my colleagues cared for this overweight throwback of a muscle car, but I still adore the big beast.

Controls on new cars that are as simple to master as those on a 2002 Camry. I love new technology, but mind-numbing decisions from Ford and GM to embrace systems like MyFord Touch and Cadillac’s Cue are frustrating at best. Sometimes a car’s controls are so maddeningly unintuitive that even having driven hundreds upon hundreds of cars, I actually have to look something up in the owner’s manual. Horrors.

A small pickup truck. I think the United States would embrace a useful truck that’s just a wee bit smaller than the current Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, and Toyota Tacoma. It doesn’t have to tow a house or have 400 hp. Keep it simple, fuel efficient, and affordable, and small businesses and home owners may glom onto such a novel offering.

More exhaust notes that howl and pop. I’ve been lucky to have driven some modern symphonic marvels such as the Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Shelby GT500, Porsche Cayman S, and various AMG- and SRT-labeled burners. All make sounds that are music to my ears and remind me of why I love cars so much. And the ferocious V8 on the Jaguar F-Type F-Type makes me absolutely swoon.

Better buying experiences. As I’ve seen cars get faster, safer, reliable, and more efficient, I find myself asking, What’s next to improve? In my mind, the retail experience still needs some work. I’ve purchased more 100 cars for the Consumer Reports auto-test program, and I’ve probably seen and heard all the nonsense that makes people think that they’d rather get a root canal or speak in front of 1,000 people than step one foot inside a car showroom. Admittedly, most of my car buying has been fairly nondramatic—I really think the dealers are getting better. But there still are occasional full-court presses for dealer add-ons, such as corrosion protection, paint sealant, extended warranties, and VIN etching. These are things you don’t need and shouldn’t be pressured to buy. So stop already. When you’re spending so much money, it really should be a satisfying, time-efficient experience, not one that is dreaded and leaves you with regrets.

I’m eager to bring on the 2014 automotive year—beginning with our coverage of the upcoming Detroit Auto Show. I can’t wait to see how many of my wishes come true.

—Mike Quincy

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