We’re living in a weird transitional purgatory between yesterday’s traditional vehicles and driverless cars. Cars are designed to insulate occupants from road and wind noise. A quiet smooth ride is a sweet thing. The bone I have to pick is with being insulated from the experience of driving by invasive technology.
It’s difficult to criticize new technology without sounding like a “get off my lawn,” greatest generation type. I’m not picking on a specific manufacturer here. There may be worse offenders out there, but this Honda just happens to be the most invasive example in my experience.
The 2017 Honda Accord Coupe is a brilliant car. It’s body looks elegant and refined. The interior is a thing of comfort and beauty. The powerful V6 is silky smooth and it makes an awfully nice noise when you flatfoot the pedal. The ride is great, albeit a little wallowy, but we can forgive it for this because it’s a highway cruiser more than a corner carver. As a car, it is very good.
The issue I have is with the fiddly, overly-complicated technology Honda burdened this car with. I can ignore an over-engineered, too-complicated stereo interface. However, when poor technological design starts interfering with what would otherwise be a very agreeable driving experience, it becomes more than a nuisance, it makes operating the car a tribulation.
Sensors all over the car feel like they’re vying for attention. Warning bells and flashing signals for something seem to go off constantly. While parking the car, a bell goes off to alert that there’s a car in the space immediately in front of you. If you’re looking out the windshield while parking, why is it necessary to tell drivers there’s something in front of them? The bell goes from a beep beep beep, to a constant high pitched whine.
There’s a rear-facing camera on the right side mirror that sends an image to a screen in the dash when you hit the right blinker. It offers a slightly wider angle than the mirror does. There’s nothing really wrong with this aside from it being almost completely redundant. When merging right I’m not looking at a display in the dash. I turn my head to look over my right shoulder, then the mirror, then I move over.
A camera in the left mirror would actually make this car a little safer by offering drivers a view around a terrible blind spot.When I turn on my left blinker what image pops up on the screen? Nothing. What do I see when I look over my left shoulder? Also nothing.
The infotainment interface is too complicated. Adjusting it requires an unnecessarily large amount of focus. Focus that really needs to be allocated to maintaining your lane and not running over children. Rather than a tried and true knob, it has a digital slider. To operate it, the driver touches a completely smooth surface identical to the completely smooth surfaces around it. Without The benefit of muscle memory, a driver has to look down to operate the volume on the stereo. Mercifully, there are volume controls on the steering wheel too.
Lane Departure Mitigation
This term leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I don’t even like saying it out loud. It’s like the engineers came up with a system to keep your car out of the ditch but the guys in legal got to name it. When the car senses you’ve wandered a little too close to the shoulder the car nudges the wheel back toward the center of the lane. The first time it happens, it’s startling. I thought I had a flat or that something went wrong. This technology would be less offensive if it worked reliably. Sometimes it nudges the wheel back, and sometimes you wander onto the shoulder.
This is probably one of the more bizarre alerts I’ve ever seen in a car. Of course steering is required. If we boiled it down, steering is one of about three essential elements of driving. What driver needs to be distracted by a flashing light to remind them that they must operate the steering wheel while the car is in motion?
Collision Mitigation Braking System
Not all the technology is a gloomy annoyance. With automatic braking it’s nice to know that if I have a stroke behind the wheel, my car won’t slam into the car ahead of me. This technology is valuable and could potentially eliminate rear-end accidents, and save pedestrian lives.
I wonder what will the sensation of operating a car will be in the future. We will simply be passengers, and everything will have the uniform feedback of a touch screen. There won’t be the visceral shudder of understeer or the squeal of tires breaking loose on asphalt.
Are cars just doomed to become rolling arcades? Hop in, set your destination and tune out. Are we going to insulate ourselves so far from the driving experience that we suck all the beauty and joy out of getting behind the wheel. There will be no more driving tests. Teenagers won’t get that mixed bag of emotions that come with the heavy responsibility of operating a car blended with the joy of learning to operate a car smoothly.
Maybe we’re just evolving beyond operating our own cars. I’m grateful that, for now at least, I have the option to disable many of the mitigation (ugh) features.
Transition can be an uncomfortable process. In this car, with all the driving aids activated, a human driver actually feels out of place, stuck in the no man’s land between driver-less automobiles and traditional cars. I understand there are Everest sized mountains of research and development that must be done before manufacturers can turn autonomous cars loose on the road.
Perhaps I’m in a shrinking minority, but I actually like driving. When I was 15 years old I’d nab the keys to my dad’s F-150 and sneak out for midnight joyrides. Every time I get in a car I still feel a little bit of that thrill and freedom. A reliable auto-pilot feature is something I wouldn’t mind having someday. For now though, either give me a car that can drive me to the store, or let me get on with it without interfering.