Here’s 10 car features that shouldn’t exist

The automobile has come a long way from being a horseless carriage in the early 1900s to a fast, comfortable, and entertaining means of transportation in 2020. Modern cars are now packed with features and technology that are supposed to make a living with and driving a car easier, but while some are actually useful, others are downright useless. The worst part is that some of those useless features are very expensive. So here’s our list of 10 useless car features that carmakers got away with.

Soft-close doors

Soft-close doors were introduced on mainstream automobiles as early as the 1990s, but it’s a system that has been used on cabinets and housing doors long before that. Its main purpose is to prevent doors from being slammed and reduce the risk of damaging the door itself and other surfaces it may get in contact with. Soft-close doors have the same purpose on cars. Hate it when your passengers slam the doors really hard while getting in or out of your car? It makes sense to get the optional soft-close doors, right? It does, but the vacuum system used in soft-close doors have a tendency to break down and repairing it is fairly expensive. You’re probably better off instructing your passengers not to slam the doors rather than just pay for a costly option that’s also expensive to maintain.

Automatic doors

Having automatic features in a car is great. An automatic trunk lid or tailgate, for instance, is a fantastic feature to have when you have your hands full of things to drop in the trunk. Automatic doors, not so much. Sure, it’s somewhat cool to show off such a feature to a friend, just standing next to the car as the door opens by itself, but it’s a useless innovation that only proves some people are becoming extremely lazy. It’s also a feature you don’t want to have when you’re in a rush to get inside the car, shut the door and take off. Of course, it’s also an expensive option and, like any electronic device, it can break down suddenly and force your car into a repair shop.

Rear-seat entertainment systems

Automakers started adding rear-seat entertainment systems to premium cars back in the 1990s and advertised them accordingly. Rear-seat entertainment isn’t a bad idea. It keeps rear-seat passengers entertained during long trips, allowing them to listen to music, watch movies, or even play video games. It’s a welcomed addition to a car if you have kids. However, technology is evolving so fast these days that entertainment systems become obsolete pretty quick. The latest-generation smartphone seems slow and dated after a couple of years (sometimes even sooner), and the same applies to these entertainment systems. Remember when they had DVD players? Well, who’s using them now? Absolutely no one. What’s more, modern tablets and smartphones are just as good or even better than rear-seat entertainment systems, and most tablets have bigger screens. With most cars now equipped or available with Wi-Fi hotspots, it’s easy to stream music and films on these devices, so rear-seat entertainment systems are pretty much useless. Some companies still offer them, and they should stop.

Gesture control

Gesture control is one of the many new car features that companies have introduced recently, and the idea is actually cool. You can basically operate the infotainment system without touching the screen by twirling your finger to adjust the volume or swipe your hand in the air to answer a phone call. However, it’s not as practical as it sounds. These gestures don’t always work as easy as they should, and they require you to take your eyes off the road for a second when doing one. What’s more, all of the functions controlled by gesture control are readily available through buttons and knobs on the steering wheel or the dashboard, and these you can use intuitively while still paying attention to the road ahead. Gesture control is one of those systems that you shouldn’t add to your car features checklist.

Third-row seating in compact SUVs

The SUV market is booming for more than a decade now, and some automakers (like Ford) are already dropping compact cars in favor of compact crossovers. Carmakers are now looking for more and more ways to stand out, and some decided it’s a good idea to add a third row of seats in a small SUV. Volkswagen did it with the Tiguan, while Mercedes-Benz offers this option with the GLB. The idea of having an SUV with a small footprint and room for seven people is tempting, but it doesn’t really work. Not only third-row seats are so cramped that only small children can fit, but you also need to shift the second-row forward to get decent room in there. This means that five out of seven people will travel with very little comfort in terms of room. What’s more, adding third-row seats will occupy most of the trunk. And traveling long distances with many passengers requires a spacious trunk.

Ashtrays

Ashtrays used to be one of the most common features in cars. Smoking was cool, and it was portrayed in most Hollywood movies a few decades ago, so automakers added at least one in each car alongside built-in cigarette lighters. But this feature was useless since day one, mostly because most drivers and passengers usually flicked their ashes out the window. The butts would eventually go in the ashtray, but these were difficult to keep clean in most cases. Cars built in the 2000s still come with ashtrays, but most automakers have eliminated this feature since many drivers are using them to store change. And it’s quite difficult to pinch coins out of on ashtray.

Touchpad controllers

The touchpad controller might seem like one of the best car features to have because it seems really comfortable to put your right hand on the center console to control the display on the dashboard. However, it’s not the best controller option out there. Even the latest controllers are imprecise to use effectively while driving, to the point where using it becomes frustrating and even unsafe.

Voice control

Just like touchpad controllers, voice control sounds like a cool feature that will help you do certain things easy. Voice recognition is already available in many cars, and its main purpose is to let you activate certain features without touching screens, knobs, and buttons. But just like on a smartphone, voice recognition isn’t very good at understanding what you are saying, and you either have to repeat a command or rephrase it all together to get the desired result. Needless to say, voice recognition has gotten better in recent years, but it’s still quicker to do what you want to do by using the touchscreen or the buttons in the center console or the steering wheel. It’s one of those features that will get you frustrated to the point where you’ll stop using it for that reason alone.

Motorized rear-view mirrors

Motorized side view mirrors are one of the best features to have in a car. Sticking your hand out the window while driving is unsafe, not to mention that you can’t reach the passenger-side mirror from the driver’s seat anyway. So this function has made things easier for drivers. But not the same can be said about motorized rear-view mirrors. Adjusting this mirror by hand is easy, and it doesn’t take more than a few seconds, but some carmakers thought it was a good idea to introduce a motorized system for it back in the 1990s. The result was annoying, to say the least, as messing around with a button to find the right position took significantly longer than just adjusting the mirror by hand. The motorized rear-view mirror was short-lived, and that’s great because it’s one of the worst car features on this list.

Paddle shifters

Paddle shifters are quite common nowadays in cars equipped with automatic transmissions. The paddles are placed on the steering wheel column within easy reach so you can flick them toward you to shift through the gears. But they’re actually a compromise that only gives you the feeling of manually shifting gears since you don’t have to use a clutch and gear changing is nowhere near as engaging as on a manual car. So the percentage of drivers that actually use them is small. People who want to drive an automatic car don’t want to use paddles, while people who want to row their won buy a manual transmission where possible. This feature might be somewhat exciting while driving a car on the race track, but how many people actually do that? Not to mention that it also defeats the purpose of a quick-shifting automatic transmission since a driver likely won’t flick the paddle with the same precision.

Useless car features Q&A

When did automated car features start?

The automobile has been improved and upgraded on a yearly basis since its inception more than a year ago, but electric and electronic features began to gain traction in the 1960s, starting with power steering and power windows. But most technologies that are popular now were first introduced starting with the 1990s. This decade was for automated, electronic systems while the late 2010s and early 2020s are for autonomous systems.

Why do some cars have useless features?

There are many reasons for that. First, automakers like to experiment. And even though some features prove to be useless, many systems make driving and living with a car much easier. So that’s a good thing. But car companies also like to push technologies that aren’t necessarily useful on the market in order to deliver industry-first features or simply to make a vehicle seem fancier or more advanced than it really is. Rolls-Royce, for instance, spent a lot of time and money redesigning fenders so that it can fit an umbrella in there. It’s useless, but hey, they can brag about having this unique feature. Other features have become obsolete a few years or decades since they were introduced. They’re no longer available on new cars, but you can find them in older cars that are still on the road.

What car features do I need?

It all depends on what you want and what you use. Some people actually want an umbrella in the front fender for that rare instance when it’s raining, and they don’t have a regular umbrella in the car. The really important thing here is to test every feature in a car before you buy it because that’s how you’ll know if you need it or not. Of course, it’s also important to think about safety, so passive and active safety features should definitely be on your list.

What car features aren’t worth the money?

Everything listed above plus things like social media integration for cars, a head-up display system, touchpad air vents, and even electronic parking brakes. But at the end of the day, the answer to this question also depends on what you want and what you are willing to pay when you’re configuring a car.

Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert - ciprian@topspeed.com
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read More
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