New Cars Continue To Amaze And Dismay

The Ford Fusion's sleek shape proves midsize cars need not be boring.

Automakers face a huge challenge in creating cars that have to meet a dizzying array of emission, safety and fuel economy regulations and at the same time meet or exceed the expectations of potential customers. Usually the makers who succeed are the ones who are able to surprise and delight drivers with unique designs, technology and features.

It's a hard job since some of these great ideas can simply amaze or, if poorly done, merely annoy. As cars become more uniform in performance and function, manufacturers will look even harder for that special something to stand out from the crowd.

So here are a few things in the current crop of new cars that have surprised, delighted, and yes, annoyed.

Matt DeLorenzo is the former editor-in-chief of Road & Track and has covered the auto industry for 35 years, including stints at Automotive News and AutoWeek. He has authored books including VW's New Beetle, Chrysler's Modern Concept Cars, and Corvette Dynasty.

Touchscreens and flat control surfaces are the bane of my existence.

Surprise: At last year's Detroit show, Ford showed off its new Fusion. Its sleek shape proves mid-size cars need not be boring. Despite the criticism of the Aston Martin-like grille, the car is clean, contemporary and has a terrific interior to match – I especially like the sew pattern on the seats that recalls the mid-'60s Mustang.

Delight: Honda's new Accord which has a Sport model in the lineup that mates a six-speed manual with a peppy four-cylinder engine. The car is well balanced, fun to drive and offers fuel economy and a sticker price that won't break the bank.

Annoy: Haptic controls. Touch screens and flat control surfaces are the bane of my existence, from MyFord Touch to the new Cadillac CUE. I can never seem to use the right pressure to make them work, and the layers you have to work through to change a radio station or even find the right menu are downright distracting. And as sort of a neat freak, I hate seeing fingerprints all over the screen. Where's a good knob when you need one?

LEDs – what was once cool looking has now become banal.

Surprise: The new SRT Viper is a big and bad-ass looking as ever. But I did a double-take when they told me it was an inch shorter than the latest Porsche 911. That says something about proportion, doesn't it?

Delight: Speaking of the Viper, how cool is the outline of the Nürburgring embossed in the inside door pull recess and the map of Laguna Seca in the center console?

Annoy: Headrests that hit the back of your head. Several cars are guilty of this awkward positioning where you try to settle into the back of the seat only to have the back of your noggin smack up against the headrest. Even when they are adjusted all the way back, like on the Ford Fusion, the cushion is pointed way too far forward, making it hard to get comfortable.

Finally, there's a BMW 3 Series competitor from the home team.

Surprise: Speaking of Ford, I really love the new Escape with its wave-your-foot feature to automatically open the rear hatch. Brilliant.

Delight: The sound of blipped downshifts from paddle-shift transmissions. Both the latest generation of dual-clutch and torque-converter gearboxes deliver tremendously smooth shifts while deftly blipping the throttle. In cars like the new Aston Martin Vanquish and the Ferrari F12, it's truly magical. I'd put single-clutch automatic gearboxes in this category, but their low speed operation borders on annoying.

Annoy: LEDs. What was once cool looking has now become banal. Everyone is using them and with little restraint. It's the lighting equivalent of applying chrome to a car's exterior with a trowel.

I still can't enjoy driving a car equipped with a CVT.

Surprise: That the Toyota Avalon could be a car to give a hoot about. Akio Toyoda's drive to put emotion into all of Toyota's products has begun with the new Avalon. I was surprised at how well this car handled. And paddle shifts in an Avalon? Who would've thought it?

Delight: The Cadillac ATS is simply fun to drive and the division's commercials featuring Derek Hill reflect the spirit that can be found behind the wheel. Finally, there's a BMW 3 Series competitor from the home team.

Annoy: CVTs. As much as I admire the technology on paper, and despite continuous improvements by various manufacturers, I still can't enjoy driving a car equipped with a CVT. There still is an elastic quality to the acceleration and the engine drone that I just can't abide. Need better fuel economy? Throw in another cog or two on a six-speed.

That's my list... now discuss – what's your biggest surprise, delight or annoying feature?

Matt DeLorenzo is the former editor-in-chief of Road & Track and has covered the auto industry for 35 years, including stints at Automotive News and AutoWeek. He has authored books including VW's New Beetle, Chrysler's Modern Concept Cars, and Corvette Dynasty.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      CVTs I am not a big fan of at all! Drove a couple of them made by Nissan, when I used to work as a customer service representative, and they are awkward at most. Nissan needs to make a standard automatic with 6-8 cogs.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I will also jump on the 'snuff LED' accent lighting band wagon. As headlights, they are functional. As accent lights, they just accents. There is no functional use for them. I also second the touch screen for the same reasons listed. Lastly, I hate the government's push towards a rediculous list of driver aids instead of making it more challenging to attain a driver's license. People need to learn to drive, not the car.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Very good point. Given the cost of a vehicle and insurance, it would be very reasonable to expect everyone to spend $500-1000 for dynamic driving education.
      • 2 Years Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      Great article, and I've finally found someone that knows what I'm talking about when I bitch about headrests.
        MTU 5.0
        • 2 Years Ago
        See above. It has bothered me since about 2010. Six months or so was enough, and I had to modify the headrest to something more reasonable.
      • 2 Years Ago
      How about these? You can't see an engine anymore. They are all covered with huge plastic covers. What's that about? How about automatic transmission Ferrari's - Does anyone care that it can shift in .000001 seconds? How about putting a simple radio knob back into the car - isn't all that screen touching the same as texting while driving? Why does no one challenge Subaru on all-wheel drive? Pleeeease don't say FWD is just as good. I could go on and on and on,
      • 2 Years Ago
      Totally agree with the touch screen annoyance. I hate it when they trow technology in for technology's sake. But we Americas have forgotten the sheer joy of driving. We want to drive around in our living rooms with all of the distractions instead of paying attention to what is happening around us. With knobs, it takes me less time to change the temp and fan speed on my 2002 Accord and I don't have to take my eyes off of the road.
        • 2 Years Ago
        That, and touch screens will very soon (if not already) be cheaper than physical knobs and buttons. Similar to the reasons that digital music players can be dirt-cheap but a decent turntable will always cost $100.
      • 2 Years Ago
      All automakers in the US will have to change head restraints as per new FMVSS regulation 202a, so you will be 'annoyed' some more..
        design eye
        • 2 Years Ago
        Its especially troublesome for women with buns or poney tails.
      Eta Carinae
      • 2 Years Ago
      LED are like chrome for headlights" yes, but if done right a touch of chrome is tasteful........I think BMW and Audi are going overboard even though Audi started the trend....there lights have become fumbled lines and can rarely distinct one from another until it is up on you......Cadillac's lighting I have to say is my favorite..
      • 2 Years Ago
        • 2 Years Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      In addition to my own car, I regularly use a carshare and that's where I had my first run-in with the Ford headrests. The Focus headrests tilt so far forward that I can't just hold my head upright in a normal position, no matter how I adjust it. I thought maybe it was just me, but the last two times I've reserved a Focus, the driver before me had pulled the driver's headrest out completely and tossed it in the back seat. Hard to believe that Ford hasn't picked this up in some customer focus group (har har). Other comments say they like it or it's for safety. That's all good and fine, but it's still an ergonomics failure that would prevent me from buying the car, which I otherwise really like. How much could it possibly cost to add one more notch of adjustability?
        • 2 Years Ago
        While shopping used cars with my spouse, she couldn't get beyond sitting in the driver's seat of a 2012 Focus due to the headrest forcing her head forward. It was the top of my list, but that killed it.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Annoy: Headrests that hit the back of your head. My Ford Explorer has an adjustable headrest that you can slowly adjust forward or pull it all the way forward and resets to the original position. I agree that the new Ford Fusion is a very nice looking car. I think the new Ford Escape is ugly, but I do like the no hands lift gate idea.
      Keith Kozma
      • 2 Years Ago
      Annoy: The incredible disappearing act of manual transmissions Large Mouth Bass grilles that look like giant gaping holes in the front of otherwise nicely styled cars.
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