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The Upscale Rental Car…

I didn’t ask for it.  But when offered, how could I say no?  The car I was assigned was a premium model and had every feature that one could imagine – and several that I thought would never be found in an automobile.  The day of the electronic vehicle has apparently arrived – at least in seriously upscale cars. 

sunsetContrary to past practice, the dashboard in this vehicle is now all-electronic.  There are no more mechanical gauges that one can admire while the car is sitting in the showroom.  This feature, that at one time was considered important for impressing buyers with the precision and quality of the shiny new vehicle they were contemplating, is apparently no longer needed.  

This all-electronic dashboard is supplemented by another large display in the center console.  Over the last few years, this center console display has become a virtually standard feature in even less prestigious vehicles.  

However, the really unusual and unexpected feature of this rental car was the “heads-up” display that projected the speed, compass direction, and several icons that appeared as little green automobiles.  After many years of futuristic predictions of how heads-up displays would one day be implemented in cars, it seems that the future has arrived.  So is it the future of the display enthusiasts’ dreams? 

On this vehicle, the display of the speed and compass direction appeared to float in space – 3D like --about five to six feet beyond the windshield and about 10 degrees below the horizon.  The display is easy to read and the numbers and symbols are crisp.   However, after driving the car for three days, I have to admit that I did not find it helpful.  In fact, I ended up wishing that I could turn it off – an option that may possibly be found in the user manual.  Why did I not like it?  How could I not be enamored with this long predicted feature? 

What I found was that having these numbers and symbols floating in space just above the hood-line was surprisingly distracting – especially at night.  The real environment beyond this display has a view of the road surface or the backend of other cars some distance away.  So having an object intruding into this space at a distance position where no real object should be was something not readily accepted by my eye-brain visual processing system.  Was it a serious problem?  No.  But, was this a useful and/or helpful feature?  I would also say have to say, no.  It was just as easy to see the digital speedometer in the all-electronic instrument cluster as it was to see these same numbers floating in space.  The addition of compass direction was also of little value.  When driving we don’t change directions all that frequently and when we do it's just as easy to glance at the dashboard or the center console while we are trying not to get lost. 

The really puzzling aspect of this display was the appearance of various small green icons that appeared to be in the shape of cars.  I’m sure if I could have read the user manual I would get some hint of what they are intended to tell the driver.  However, as the driver of a rental vehicle, I was not able to tell why they came and went in what appeared to be almost random fashion.  As best I could tell, they were trying to let me know that other cars were close by -- in either the opposite lane or the adjacent lane.  Well, duh!  If I don’t already know that as the driver, then perhaps I shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat.  These icons were also somehow coupled to vibrators in the sides of the driver’s seat bottom cushion.  So little icons would come and go along with little buzzes from the side edges of the driver seat – an all-together peculiar, unhelpful, and distracting experience. 

The center console’s display home-screen has at least a dozen choices of various climate control, navigation, entertainment, and communication features.  Without extensive practice and experimentation, trying to access these while driving would create about the same dangerous situation as texting while driving. 

What was especially frustrating was that simple control functions such as changing the fan speed of the air-conditioner would sometimes cause a totally unintended result such as the center console opening to allow for inserting a CD.  In the three days that I drove this car, I was not able to figure out what action on my part caused this unintended result.  Since the temperature and fan speed controls were on this panel, it made it impossible to adjust either until the panel could be pushed back into place. 

Have we reached the point where more is not necessarily better?  What was wrong with the older climate controls that did not require multi-level menus for access?  Being able to simply turn the temperature to warmer or cooler was really quite convenient.  But then that would not allow for the addition of all these other wonderful entertainment, navigation, and communication features that are now being offered.  We have simply run out of room to add more conventional control functions.  Not only that, the electronic modules are more economical than “real” controls.  So welcome to the 21st century of menu-driven features, more capabilities than we can use or appreciate, and unintended consequences when we try to use these features.
 
Should you wish to share your own experiences with me, you may contact me directly from this site, by e-mail at silzars@attglobal.net, or by telephone at 425-898-9117.      

 

 

 

19916 NE 30th Ct. Sammamish, WA 98074 Call 425.898.9117 FAX 425.898.1727 Email

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