By on January 29, 2013

According to the nice entertainers at Top Gear the “Sub-Zero Fridge Coolest Car” at the moment is an Aston DB9. That makes perfect sense because the display on my Sub-Zero at home keeps going out and I anticipate the same fate is likely to strike every display screen on the DB9 much more quickly than the nine years it took my Sub-Z to start showing the freezer temperature as “88″ all the time. When the speedometer on the DB9 gets to 88, you’re going to see some serious shit, man. Like a $3000 repair bill.

I’m willing to accept TG‘s verdict on car coolness because I have no idea what makes a car truly “cool”. I do, however, have some opinions about what the most uncool car on the market might be. I’m thinking the Toyota Venza is certainly among the podium finishers there and possibly worthy of the top (bottom?) spot. Why is it uncool? Well, it’s a Toyota, and Toyotas are the vehicles of choice for uncool people around the world. Along with the Avalon, it’s one of the Toyotas most obviously aimed at old people, and old people are rarely cool unless they are murderers turned blues musicians. It’s a jacked-up fake-SUV station wagon that replaced the very cool Camry real station wagon. It’s the most forgettable-looking vehicle on the road, which makes it less cool than the rolling freakshow competitor known as the Honda Crosstour. It has a standard four-cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive. I can’t think of any way in which the Venza could suck it harder than it does right now. It’s the most cynical, depressing, worthless entry on the market.

Uncool, brother. But the DB9 and the Venza, eternal opposites on the cool scale, have one fairly uncool thing in common, don’t they?

That’s right: the Venza and DB9 were both recently “refreshed” with some completely meaningless and awkward-looking LED marker-light strips located within their existing headlamp cutouts. The LED running light is the Macarena of automotive details: briefly interesting, almost immediately omnipresent, hugely stupid to be the last person seen doing it. I mean, just four years ago I stuffed a VAG-COM into the OBD port of my Audi S5 and programmed the car to turn off the DRLs and run the LEDs full strength night or day; they were bright enough that I could drive at night without the Xenon main beams. If you saw a car coming your way with a similar look, it was an Audi. The diode boomerangs were initially exclusive to the R8 and S5 before wandering across the rest of the modern line over the course of a year or two.

The LED running/market lights were initially cool because they were unique features associated with cool cars. Once the Audi Q7 had them, the writing was on the wall. The Cool Wall. Perhaps once upon a time, Audi would have been able to retain the LED-light look as a brand signature, the way they used to have sudden acceleration and longitudinally-mounted coilpack failures. The automotive landscape used to be full of brand-specific features, from the quad-round lights of a Corvette to the driver-canted dashboard of a Seventies BMW. The LED boomerang might have remained the unique signature of an oncoming Audi, an open declaration of the company’s remarkably successful drive to challenge BMW and Mercedes-Benz on equal ground.

Of course, nobody who saw the Aston Martin Imitation Fender Vent Explosion Of The Mid-Two-Thousands would have been naive enough to think Audi was going to get to keep their shiny lights to themselves. Rapid prototyping and short model cycles have combined to make unique styling a very underpopulated village. If a new feature is a hit anywhere it will be quickly copied, and if the job of copying it can be foisted onto a supplier, it will happen even more quickly than otherwise.

Pride, too, used to keep car companies from brazenly copying each other to some degree. I’m reminded of Ampeg’s Everest Hull, who refused to make Fender-style tube amps even though his company’s arguably superior attention to detail and workmanship might have made a lot of musicians happy. Hull pointed out that he was in business to compete with Fender, not copy them. Think of that the next time you see that craven chrome wart of a fender vent on an Escalade. Modern auto companies are mostly run by interchangeable marketing people, not by engineers or any men with any sort of pride whatsoever.

Even Honda, which used to go its own way with a stubbornness once reserved for Stevie Nicks in the Rumours songwriting sessions, has fallen in line. The company that used CVCC instead of the catalytic converter just slapped a set of completely generic LEDs on the Accord. They’re possibly the worst ones out there; they don’t even pretend to be a shape. They’re just a line. Pep Boys will sell you the same thing for your ’07 Maxima.

Not that the “designed” running lights are any better. The Panamera has LEDs that look remarkably like what you’d see in a $2.99 flashlight sitting next to the impulse candy at a Wal-Mart checkout line. The Sonata Hybrid has the Korean Hangul character for “douchebag” scripted with glowing plastic in both light buckets. (Save your letters; I know Hangul is the equivalent of Kanji and not kana, or something like that.) The new Lexus IS has the Nike swoosh under the headlights in its own little area of urethane bumper, making the car look like it suffers from a radioactive species of ringworm. Each new car on the market has a worse implementation of Audi’s original idea than the one before it. The day is surely coming soon when GM will put the entire name of one of their Korean quick-bake compact cars in diodes on the front bumper. SONIC RUNS DEEP!

Where there isn’t time or budget to do something unique, Something Must Still Be Done. And thus we return to the DB9 and the Venza, both forced to wear LEDs now the way Van Halen was apparently forced to use synthesizers for the most forgettable parts of the “1984″ album. The DB9′s “update” can be forgiven under the general heading of Possibly Too Authentic Re-Creation Of British Make-Do Engineering By A Kuwait Company, but the Venza… that steps right over the line and this aggression will not stand, man, it will not stand! Grandpa doesn’t want those wacky lights on his Venza any more than the guy with the Audi R8 wants to see a Venza ahead of him in the left lane — with a “Life Is Good” sticker, unconsciously matching velocity next to a tractor-trailer in such a fashion as to create the maximum chance that Grandma is going to receive a free tracheotomy from the next retread that pops off. I think the Venza even has LED tails now, which confuse heat-seeking missiles and therefore lessen the chance of getting Grandpa out of your way before the next rest stop.

Wait until they start failing. The Nineties Seville became infamous for its monstrous LED CHMSL and the way just one or two crappy Chinese diodes could fail, turning the whole Darth Vader lightsaber across the trunk into the Morse code for “S O S”. (To be fair, my Porsche 993 appears to have suffered a similar fate. Luckily I never brake.) The headlights will fail the same way eventually. You’ll be confronted with a road full of broken boomerangs and sliced-up swooshes.

The Kia Optima, I think, will be one of the first casualties of such a process. I fundamentally distrust that car; it looks more like an Audi than Audis do, because Kia cribbed Audi’s designer, and it’s chock-full of bad-ass styling cues mixed with iffy materials at a budget price. It’s the Pontiac Firebird Esprit of mid-size sedans. I kind of want to get one but they aren’t particularly cheap. Instead I’m going to take great pleasure in their tragic on-road collapses. If said collapses don’t happen I’ll be very disappointed. I want the LED running light to be as firmly associated in the American mind with a broken-down Optima epilepsy-blinking by the side of the road as the toilet-seat grille is with failed Ford brands.

Tonight, as I prowled the mean streets of Nashville, TN looking for some Drama and/or trouble, I saw an unmarked Impala pulling someone over with what appeared to be a complete 360-degree array of LED flashers that probably are invisible on the doors unless they’re being used. Then I was aggressively tailgated by a steel-wheel V-6 Camaro with faux-angel eyes and an LED diode string all the way across the grille. They’d been applied crookedly. It was meant to be intimidating but it was just depressing, really.

The day is no doubt coming soon when proper full-strength LED headlamps won’t be just the province of Lexus hybrids and the first-to-offend Cadillac Escalade. With a lighting package as small as an iPod Nano it will be possible to completely light the road ahead. Had it happened twenty years ago, it probably would have ushered in a completely new era of automotive styling, but today’s pedestrian-impact regulations and SUV-butch styling will probably prevent anything genuinely unique from being done. If, however, somebody manages to do something genuinely cool — like, I don’t know, maybe a full-width Seventies Ford grille without headlamp doors — rest assured it won’t be special for long. Maybe we don’t need a new generation of lighting in the car trade; we need a new generation of thinking. Isn’t that a problem that someone could shine a little light on, besides your humble heading-towards-Venza-age bright bulb of an author?

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98 Comments on “Avoidable Contact: LED, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way....”


  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    I guess I’m jaded due to all the “hip ‘n trendy” stuff I’ve seen come and go on cars through the years, but I’d compare the current headlamp LED trend to the mid-to-late seventies switch from round to square headlamps. Such headlamps made some cars look better, but there were others (Chrysler Cordoba being an example) for which said “upgrade” was a step backward. I think the same comparison holds for LED’s on certain vehicles.

    Bottom line, it’s a fad…

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Agree. As a ’76 Charger owner, round lamps for life.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      It’s a sad and stupid trend. A broken round headlight could be replaced for $25. A broken car-specific headlight will cost you $250 and up.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      LEDs trying to Look Special Because Look, Ma, LEDs? Fad.

      LEDs for at least all the marker and signal lights? Here to stay.

      Engineered decently, they’ll last the life of the car, and I for one look forward to not just my alien insect overlords, but *never replacing a signaling light again*.

      Soon enough the designers won’t feel the need to make them look ridiculous.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    One thing I like about the Venza: The availability of contrasting leather piping when you go for the loaded Limited version. That’s something not available on enough cars today, IMHO.

    The rest of the car is fairly offensive.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      The Venza also accomodate 3 child seats across the back seat. Not easy to find another car that allows thats.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        There are a decent number of cars that can do it if you have the right seat. It doesn’t work with the extra-wide car seats with 3 cupholders. Why the hell a 2 year-old needs 3 sippy cups of apple juice is still a mystery to me, btw.

  • avatar

    LEDs suck. Specially day time all the time LEDs. Specially if they look like eyeliner. Even on the original Audi implementation they sucked. So pretty soon all cars will suck.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I think this means when I get a new (used) car I’m going to have to stick with it for a while, til I can afford the generation which comes AFTER the death of LED’s. So I can buy an 09 something, and keep it for 10 years, til they’re all filtered out of the system.

      This is sort of like the fashionable boudoir-red interiors from a portion of the 70s.

      • 0 avatar
        Fenian

        I will never forget the boudoir-red interiors. The family car growing up was a Plymouth Gran Fury. White with a red vinyl top and a gaudy red interior.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey!

        Red like in a Fiat 500 is ok though. Part of the dash red, part of the seats red, combine with some white and black, and not really that tomato bright red that covered everything of our vinyl gloried past. The red can brighten up the drab black, grey interior of modern cars.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      Many of us are quite tired of the monochrome interiors we’ve been stuck with for the last decade or two.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        @fincar +1. Not even the monochrome-ness of the interiors. The fact that we are limited to Black, grey, and tan. Gimme some color! My first car had a chocolate brown interior my second car had a blue interior. Since then grey, tan, black. Blech.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        The last thing the manufacturers want is a wide variety of interiors, in a wide variety of materials. It’s labor intensive and they can’t charge enough for the options to make it worth their while.

        You can always reupholster the seats and replace the carpet (and I have) but it’s pricey, and the door panels are beyond modification. I’ve had good luck with vinyl spray paint on the plastic headliner, though, since it doesn’t get scratched off in normal use.

        Fortunately, you can still buy plaid-insert seat covers, a stick-on compass and fuzzy dice at select Pep Boys.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        You can say that again! I long for the day when cars come with some interior color again other than boring black, dreary light gray or lame tan. It is getting old really fast.

  • avatar
    jfranci3

    I don’t think LEDs are the Macarana of car lighting. True they look like after thoughts on existing platforms – as they are after thoughts (The worst being the g-wagon http://blog.caranddriver.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/G-class-refresh.gif ). In the near future, we’ll see these better integrated into the car themselves. I believe the worst idea in lighting are using LED DRL that double as turn signal blinkers (Audi); your mind reads the blinking side shutting off as the car is going to go toward the lit side.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Automakers have been making much ado about lights for far too long. I can’t stand lights that swoop to the A pillars and conversly the C pillars. The first one I can really remember was the 2000 Celica. Anyone know of one before that?
    The first OEM LED nonsense lights I saw caused me to roll my eyes. Now they are touted as features in car ads.
    There is a place for true LED headlights, I too look forward to the day they are used for lighting the road instead of turning off when you use your blinker (which annoys the heck outta me).
    And yes, they will epically fail. It’ll be a bunch of winking cars. Just like 70% of full size GM trucks and SUVs always seem to have one DRL out. Surely we’ll learn a lesson this time!

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I am tired of seeing every car with them on. However, my biggest issue has more to do with rear LED taillights. Not only the brightness but their lack of heat. In snow or ice, they just get covered up like the rest of a rearend…incadescant bulbs at least keep the lense warm and the light cleared.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      LED taillights are indeed awful. I’ve had to drop the visor waiting at a light behind a car with these because they hurt my eyes.

      In the daytime.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      I’ve been installing LED tail lights on my flatbeds for going on 20 years and I almost feel sorry for those behind me at night, especially if they’re tailgating and have vision problems. My problem is drivers that fail to see my stock incandescents in direct sunlight. In several million miles, none of my LED enhanced trucks have been rear ended. They also became a must-have because incandescent bulbs can’t take the shock on heavy duty trucks and only last a few months.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Same here. I switched out all my trailer lights for LEDs – no more burnt out blubs or short circuits as the LEDs are sealed and last for YEARS. They don’t draw alot of current thus even iffy grounding locations allow them to shine bright without blowing fuses. In marine applications they are a god-send, you can stuff them anywhere due to their small size and cool running nature. You can’t kill them with vibration, saltwater or hours of use. I love me some LEDs!

        Now the “eyeliner” look however is horrible and needs to die. Just because Audi started it, then everyone else saw how easy/cheap is was to copy. Ohhhh ‘dem fancy tiny lights like ‘pensive German models. I think its fine for turn signals and brake lights but just throwing them randomly into a headlight package is clearly weak sauce. Personal the Lexus versions look the worst, as if they were just glued on quickly as an after thought.

        I like what Volvo has done recently with what appears to be fiber optic lights on their CUVs, where a thin shape or line just appears to glow almost like neon. It has the same look you see in SciFi moves when any futuristic vehicle has lights on it.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Yeah, extremely low current draw is clear advantage. I’ve left my park/running lights ON for a day and a half by accident, some 16 LED lights including bed markers. No problem, started right up.

        • 0 avatar
          Elena

          I replaced with LED lamps my tail lights, instrument cluster bulbs (when one burned out replaced them all). Then both license plate lights (pulled over because one of the two lamps was out). Later did all interior lights: could not find small tools with factory installed lamps… Smaller power consumption and higher light output sold me into LEDs. Accent LEDs? Eyelashes over the headlights? I saw both but they’re not for everyone.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Ding! We have a winner, JMII.

        LEDs are *great*.

        Bad/thoughtless/ugly *implementations* of LED lights are horrible.

        But the problem is the implementation, not the fact that it’s a diode rather than an incandescent bulb.

        (Doubters’ thought experiment: Think of an LED install you think is bad.

        Now imagine it with every LED replaced with a small incandescent bulb.

        Is it magically better because not-LED?

        No.

        The only “problem” here is that LEDs *let* manufacturers make a different set of stupid aesthetic mistakes. This will pass, as they learn.)

  • avatar
    jco

    “Tonight, as I prowled the mean streets of Nashville, TN looking for some Drama and/or trouble, ”

    what you did there, I see it..

    didn’t the EU pass regulation stating that DRLs would become mandatory, like last year at some point? so essentially now, that means everyone gets LEDs forced upon them. i personally don’t like them, and i see it as a dumb fashion trend too. and i could not agree more about the new Accord having a really poor implementation. there seems to be two main types, the solid transparent tube, and the line of distinict individual diodes. the latter looks really cheap. the solid uninterrupted line at least looks somewhat nicer (Audi style), but again, both types have been easily faked in the aftermarket.

    hey, remember when GM put DRLs on everything, and they were just the brights set on like 70%? they were always bright and distracting and hateful. you’d flash oncoming traffic for having their brights on, only to realize they were driving a Cavalier. and that the choice was made for them.

    so far it seems like LED headlights are still luxury car-only. I’d love to see what the output looks like from behind the wheel. but the new MDX prototype from Detroit with it’s 10 headlights? seriously?

    i agree, the LED glowing eyebrow trend is irritating.

  • avatar
    Mykl

    My only opinion on headlights is that the ones that, as pointed out in a previous post, stretch all the way to the a-pillar……… they suck. I don’t know what designer thought that was a good idea but it’s the most awful styling trend I’ve seen in the last 20 years.

    As far as the Venza; as a family truckster the only thing better is perhaps a Honda or Toyota mini-van. It may be boring and not incredible to look at, and it may not offer an incredible driving experience; but it’s reliable, durable, comfortable, and spacious. Meaning if you’re the type who’s willing to keep a vehicle for ten years and run it into the ground it should be perfect.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I like LEDs because they are bright. As an older guy with old eyes I appreciated that. I also like DRLs and having headlights turned on automatically. Too many dumbasses driving with just their parking lights on or not even bothering to turn on their lights.

    • 0 avatar
      Mykl

      The flip side to that is LEDs can be too bright, especially the ones in tails. I’m guessing the factory ones are the correct brightness, but when people stuff LEDs in tails that aren’t supposed to have them it can be blinding.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        People do all kinds of stupid crap with their lights aftermarket, and it’s hard to prevent and the existing laws are poorly enforced. Like the poseurs without HIDs who put crappy lumen-reducing blue-tinted bulbs in. Or the toolbags with HIDs who put in the blue and purple-shifted ones at 8000K+.

        It was only recently that California requires lights on in the rain, which was way behind the times. I’m a fan of DRLs and automatic headlights too. There are a lot of morons out there.

      • 0 avatar
        ott

        DRL’s have been law in Canada for almost a quarter century. It really helps people see your car, especially at dusk or in the rain. Not sure why this hasn’t been implemented in the US yet, I guess Lahood was too busy mandating TPMS sensors…

      • 0 avatar
        Brian P

        A good many factory LED tail-lamps seem too bright. Honda Accord stock taillights will give the driver behind a sunburn when the brakes are on. Presumably the standard that applies to taillamp brightness is being applied in a different manner in some way.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Part of the problem has been a trend towards having instrument lighting that is on all the time, combined with headlights that don’t operate automatically. If the instrument lighting is on, then the driver’s main visual cue that they don’t have their headlights on, is not there. Lexus, Toyota, Subaru, Acura, Honda, Hyundai seem to be the biggest offenders in this regard.

      Then there’s the other problem that I just ran into yesterday … Rental cars! My own vehicle has a simple, traditional, easy-to-understand headlighting system. “ON”, and “OFF”. That’s it. If the lights are on, so is the instrument backlighting. If the lights are off, so is the instrument backlighting. Can’t read the speedometer at night? Better turn the switch “ON”!

      But then there is the Chrysler 200 that I currently have as a rental car. The headlight switch has 5 or 6 baffling, cryptic positions that don’t seem to have any rhyme nor reason, none of them appear to be plain old “ON” or “OFF”, the “Auto” position doesn’t do the right thing, and I can’t figure out how to adjust the brightness of the instrument backlighting …

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Its not a recent thing… as my ’03 Z has instrument panel lighting that is ON all the time. It really catches you off guard at sunset because you don’t remember turning on the lights, yet the dash is glowly back at you so you keep driving, only to realize (much later) that your parking/headlights are OFF!

        Contrast this with the wife’s Volvo which has completely automatic lights thus she is already conditioned to ignore the switch. So for her its very easy to forget to turn the headlights on when she drives other cars.

        I assume automatic lights are the future and one day the switch will be gone altogether as a recent rental of a horribly CHEAP Chevy Aveo even had this feature! I never touched the switch (it had an “auto” position), as an interior sensor notices when its dark and activates the headlights as needed, including parking garages. Combine this with automatic rain sensing wipers (which the wife’s Volvo has too) and yet another switch on the dash can be eliminated.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “Its not a recent thing… as my ’03 Z has instrument panel lighting that is ON all the time. It really catches you off guard at sunset because you don’t remember turning on the lights, yet the dash is glowly back at you so you keep driving, only to realize (much later) that your parking/headlights are OFF!”

        Audi has a good solution to this if you aren’t using the auto-headlights. The instrument panel is on when the headlights are off and it’s light out. Then as it gets darker when approaching sunset, the instrument panel slowly dims. When it’s dark, the instrument panel turns dark, reminding you to turn on your headlights (if you aren’t using the auto-headlight feature).

  • avatar
    nic_mach

    I personally find any Korean CUV more cynical, depressing and probably built with slave labor. Venza doesn’t bother me. Well, maybe the ads. But the car itself doesn’t excite me, doesn’t offend me, I don’t own one, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with a tall wagon that doesn’t try to look rugged or have fuel-sucking AWD. It’s certainly better looking than an actual Camry, or the previous Camry CUVs, the Highlander, wasn’t it? Better looking than a Scion xB, isn’t it? And I own a Scion.

    It’s not like they killed the Camry wagon for this, either, that hasn’t been sold in like a decade. And it had a awkward C pillar and looked like a Camry, so good riddance. Honda’s Accord wagon murder and subsequent Crosstour peddling IS a gosh darn greek tragedy, but the Camry? I love wagons, I’ll mourn wagons, but a Camry wagon?

  • avatar
    philadlj

    A few guidelines:

    - If any of the three presenters owns a certain car, that car is automatically rendered “Uncool”. Such vehicles have included the Fiat Panda, Boxster, Gallardo Spider, Morgan Aeromax, CLK Black, etc.

    However, if they no longer presently own that car, its status is reassessed.

    - Small (not large) French cars are almost always “Cool” by default.

    - The tallest presenter (Clarkson) has final say in what is “Cool” or “Uncool”.

    - Now that “The Cocks” all buy Audis, some BMWs are now “Cool”.

    - “Cool”ness is not measured by the reliability of the sat-nav screen.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Regarding LEDs and other new “White” headlamps: If you own a recent model of one of these makes:

    -Acura
    -Audi
    -BMW
    -Cadillac
    -Land Rover
    -Lexus
    -Mercedes
    -Others I’m forgetting

    …Congratulations! Your headlights are TOO DANG BRIGHT. Frankly, they’re dangerously bright. They also change color too much and flicker. That’s really annoying. Not entirely your fault, You wanted a luxury car, and most don’t come with normal halogen lights.

    Also, whatever regulatory body determines whether a headlamp is safe or not must’ve been asleep at the switch when these marques slipped these lights into the marketplace. Are we trying to drive here, or are we chasing down prison escapees?

    However, if I’m in a bad mood and get flashed by your Men In Black lights one too many times, you may receive a retaliatory taste of my Civic’s hi-beams – especially if your fog lights are on when there’s NO FOG, which is just frikkin’ obnoxious.

    A blinded eye for a blinded eye, I say.

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      Getting angry over headlight brightness is definitely not cool.

    • 0 avatar
      darkwing

      That may have been true a decade ago, but modern HID/LED projector assemblies have largely eliminated the problem.

      Maybe you should be worrying more about your driving and less about “retaliating” selectively against cars more expensive than yours. Or just go full hooptie and buy a set of charmingly purple halogens.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      My GS came with yellow fog lamps, and it completes the look of the front of the car when they’re on. They aren’t that bright, but I like having 6 lights on the front of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      thesal

      Bright is definitely a safe thing. Incorrect aiming is the problem. Luckily most HID lights today come with fantastic self levelling systems. A country road with my two-in-one halogen beams (high and low on diff filaments in same reflector/bulb) is a white knuckle experience when compared to the increased visibility with HIDs. I’ve had the pleaseure of doing both.

      Under the “forgetting others category” is where most of the problem is. Ricers putting in aftermarket HID bulbs into reflectors not designed for them. The result is badly aimed perma-HID-highbeams. Can we pull those mother#$$%rs over instead and leave the nice people with OEM HIDs alone?

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        It’s not just “ricers”. The Mercedes cars philadlj are also likely aftermarket since HIDs are actually not that common from the factory. Most have regular halogen bulbs. Because of this many , especially younger MB drivers add aftermarket HIDs so that they don’t feel inferior to their friends with BMWs. Also, MB factory HIDs rarely flicker, and just go out, or turn pink when they get old.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Luckily your Civic’s high beams aren’t really bright enough to be bothersome.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      You don’t know what you’re talking about. The HIDs are not too bright or flickery, and more likely it’s either that they aren’t properly leveled (which is why auto-leveling is such a good thing) or subsequent owners have messed with them. And see also the aforementioned poseurs and toolbags I mentioned above. People also often replace the bulbs with lower quality than OEM for various reasons.

      As mentioned, ricers often put HIDs into halogen reflectors, which is completely unsafe. They need to use the proper headlight housings, but are too cheap to do so.

      Not sure why you care about the fogs — I’ve never seen fogs that bothered me, although I don’t routinely leave mine on.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        I’ve seen fogs that were bothersome; mostly the small projector type.

        Amount of light / surface area it’s coming from, roughly, determines glare.

        Tiny projector foglights (I think I mean you, Dodge)? Can be glare-y.

        Old-fashioned dinner-plates (eg., the old 7″ 55 watt ones on my Merc)? Not glare-y; the light’s too spread-out.

        I also blame a lot of aftermarket fogs for not really being fogs (“I fit in a fog lamp mount, but my beam is not shaped like a fog light beam!”), being poorly mounted, or being poorly aimed.

        (That said, I only turn mine on … in the fog.)

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Perhaps “uncool” is what Hondas and Toyotas (and Impalas) are, but they don’t care – they’re laughing all the way to the bank – AND at the goofballs trying to be different but in reality, confoming to each other!

    Those of us “uncool” are most likely the ones who actually have real jobs and don’t have to drive garbage like 1960′s Falcons…

    Of course I’m just being silly, so don’t get upset!

    After all, I personalize my cars to stand apart a bit, so I applaud anyone who makes a statement in what he or she drives.

    Oh yes…the LED topic…love/hate them. Love them when used right, but putting them on a car as part of design “just because we can” is like stringing rope lights on your deck or patio to provide an atmosphere when enjoying the outdoors on a nice evening – until you smack them by accident and half the string or every other bulb goes out!

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    After surviving an ice storm in Quebec last month and a lot of blowing snow in Michigan over the weekend, I’ve come to appreciate my old filament bulbs that keep head and tail lights warm enough to melt most snow and ice that would build up over a cooler-running LED light. Do LED lights have any mind of mechanism for keeping ice from building up over them?

    I can appreciate the potential of LEDs with their low power and high output, but they tent to look awful on most cars, particularly in the city. Since a side shuts down when the turn signal is activated most Audis I see around town all look like they’re broken and running on one headlight like some old hooptie.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      The diodes themselves can run hot unless you adequately pull the heat away. The lights themselves produce less heat, but you still need to dissipate the heat with a heat sink or a fan. The Audi R8′s LED fans help keep the lenses warm:

      http://www.caranddriver.com/features/2010-audi-r8-led-headlights

  • avatar
    morbo

    Meh. My 300C’s LED C’s look good to my eye. I find the LED disengage / Incadescent Amber Engage on turn signals easier to process mentally. It’s obvious that the signal is on versus some cars with standard Halogen DRLs and embedded Ambers; they take longer to mentally process as ‘on’.

    I will say that Rera LED’s used to be horrible, especially the double line LEDs on early/mid 2000 Caddy’s. I would get dizzy just looking at them.

  • avatar
    KitaIkki

    Continental Mark III / IV / V front end styling, with no headlight door openings (just 1/3 width grille surrounded by body-color surfaces) and vertical, straight LED columns (no eyebrows or “swooshes”) where the parking lamp / turn signals used to be. That could be the new Lincoln signature.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    It’s funny, but the older I get and the more my cash flow is diverted to kid’s college expenses and maintaining a house plus cars and bills out the wa-zoo, the less I give a shit about being “cool”. It’s a fools errand that I’ve retired from chasing.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    “When the speedometer on the DB9 gets to 88, you’re going to see some serious shit, man.”

    Jack, is this the point where the Flux Capacitor starts, uh, fluxing?

    Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need…roads.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    LED technology is wonderful but implementation poor in current car design. I’ve replaced all of my flashlights and mountain bike headlights with LEDs and will never go back. Once LEDs are standard in even the cheapest vehicles they will become simple, reliable, and inoffensive – really nothing to be concerned about.

    There are many more worrisome trends in the automobile industry these days. I hate to be cynical but when it gets to the point that the only new vehicle I can buy is a hybrid, CVT equipped CUV I won’t care much about the headlights.

  • avatar
    johnny_5.0

    The first time I saw an R8 on the road, “those lights are going to be everywhere” ran through my head about 2 seconds after “those LEDs look freakin’ sweet”. On the me too train, I actually like what Ford did with the ’13 Mustang more than most approaches. Being part of the main light assembly looks less tacky. And personally I’m waiting for the LED illuminated fender vent, which all auto enthusiasts know is the final sign that the apocalypse is nigh.

  • avatar
    thesal

    About 8 years ago, I was doing my internship with an automotive lighting supplier working on trying to get the first set of All LED headlamps to market (for Aston Martin). The biggest issue at the time of development was actually heat, something quite counterintuitave when thinking of LEDs. The early prototypes had crazy computer fans and heatsinks all over the place.

    I was speaking to an optics engineer who loved what LED’s offered for beam pattern control, but intensity was a limitation. Since then Audi and others beat “my” company to All LEDs and the intensity and heat issues appear to be resolved. I think the flexibility and opportunity for new design is huge, however, it will take a while for OEMs to think outside the box (or designated supplier lighting cutout). Also, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS)will have to catchup significantly to allow the right kinda flexibility. Fingers crossed for some cool designs in the works!

    PS. Saw a lot of complaints about this DRL-off to turn signal on business. I hate it too. Blame the FMVSS for this one as well, it dictates operation of lighting on all cars sold in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      If the LED running light wasn’t blinding to begin with it wouldn’t need to turn off so one could see the turn signal. Other DRL’s don’t have to shut off. No sense blaming FMVSS for poor implementation on the maker’s part.

      • 0 avatar
        thesal

        Good point, they have to meet the 2.5 multiplier. However, this isn’t limited to LEDs as I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this on halogen equipped cars too like the Caliber.

        Did a quick check and my memory did serve me correctly (for once)
        http://dodgeforum.com/forum/dodge-caliber/83940-daytime-running-lights.html

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    The Venza now has LED eye makeup? Not surprised. This is the baby-boomer tarmac-only wagon that for some unknown reason has 20″ wheels and still can’t handle.

    There are times when an arms race between auto manufacturers produces meaningful advances that even mainstream buyers can enjoy. Like the 3.5L V6 engines that recently weaponized nearly every family sedan. Now you can haul the family with sports car acceleration and still get 30 mpg. Almost a universal good.

    But this kind of cheapo knock-off ornamental B.S. has got to stop. Audis looked good with LEDs on the headlights because they were the first to do it and because they were implemented well. Other cars parroting this trend don’t look good with them because they don’t meet either of those criteria and it just screams “ME TOO” so loudly that I can’t believe professionals choose to make these product decisions.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Mascara on cars, next the headlights will get eyelashes.

  • avatar
    niky

    See, the “Cool Wall” is a bit of a farce. You can’t just label something “cool” and pretend it is. It’s either cool or it’s not.

    Clarkson’s hair? Totally uncool. James May’s? Sub-Zero.

    -

    I think my household is going downhill, in a generally uncool way. About 25% of our houselights are now LEDs (with a diffuser). Which, compared to those buzzy, irritating CFLs which take forever to “warm up”, are pretty neat.

  • avatar
    Bangernomist

    “The Sonata Hybrid has the Korean Hangul character for “douchebag” scripted with glowing plastic in both light buckets. (Save your letters; I know Hangul is the equivalent of Kanji and not kana, or something like that.)”

    Coffee snort anyway. Thanks for the laugh, and d**n you for burning my sinuses.

  • avatar

    “stuffed a VAG-COM”

    Sir, this is a family publication!

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    I really liked Saab’s implementation of the LED craze – a thick solid bar on top of the headlights of the refreshed 9-3. It was very cool.

  • avatar

    “To be fair, my Porsche 993 appears to have suffered a similar fate. Luckily I never brake.”

    I just love your style.

    If you are still in Nashville, head over to the Rose Pepper in East Nashville. Ask if Juanita is working, tell Juana I sent you and get her to make you a margarita. Order anything on the menu, its all awesome.

    You’re welcome.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    Brief summary of this article and most of the comments so far:

    …and git off ma’ lawn!

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I started hating the LED headlights the second I saw all the teenagers (some even in their 30′s) playing with them at a car show when the A5 was first launched. Which would mean immediately I guess…They really put two small cheap Christmas threes in each front corner of the first really beautiful car they had made since, well never….
    Here I was, thinking that now Audi has finally pulled themselves together and made a car with hips, finally the soapbox with rounded ends is gone.
    What everyone else saw was, OOOOH,blinking little lights….I completely lost all (well, I didn’t have much) faith in the already struggling European car companies, we had finally reached the Brougham era….Fashion had killed substance with a nuke…
    I’m happy that it has reached as far as the Venza now, so that it may be considered uncool and can be replaced by the next new idea that can distract buyers from the fact ,that cars really stopped developing, years (decades?) ago….

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Totally agree with Jack on this one, and I can’t say THAT very often!

    I think Saab did decorative lights best with the ’08 9-3 facelift – those cold-cathode light bars above the headlights are simply FAR cooler than Audi’s blotchy LEDs. OMG expensive to replace WHEN they go bad though.

    I’ve long been surprised that other OEMs have seemingly not copied BMW’s “Angel Eyes” light treatment. At least I can’t think of any. Aftermarket versions abound though. Everybody seems to copy everything else BMW does, so this one has always surprised me. I don’t care one way or the other about them personally.

    Agree with the posters who hate HIDs as well. The answer to a question that never should have been asked in the first place. Massively more expensive upfront, even more massively expensive WHEN they need fixing, all for a marginal improvement over a properly designed halogen lamp. They seem wildly better only because most US-spec halogen setups are such complete and utter dreck.

  • avatar

    If you put all the current and recent styling cliches and fads on one car, what would it look like? Fender gills, clear taillamp lenses, Aston Martin One-77 front brake ducts, gaping maw grilles, armored car beltlines, etc. etc. I hate to say it, but something like the Jaguar XF-RS. That’s just way too boy racer for a Jaguar.

    Designers by nature tend to borrow ideas, that’s just how creative folks are (Dr. Porsche acknowledged looking over Hans Ledwinka’s shoulder), but, as attributed to Picasso, artists steal, hacks copy. Jimi Hendrix made Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower his own.

    FWIW, I think the Chrysler 300 implements LEDs in a way that is brand specific. In general the idea of using lighting to make the car brand distinctive at night is not a bad idea and it goes way back. Back in the day, when everyone used round sealed beams, designers worked pretty hard to make those generic lamps along with unique turn signals or running lights look distinctive at night.

  • avatar
    Equinox

    While I agree one cant help looking at other cars with LEDs if your car has one, there is always the option to keep them off.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    Somehow this all seems very familiar…oh yeah! The Mercury Sable and Pontiac Grand Prix from the ’90s with their stooooopid light bars across the front of the grill from headlight to headlight.

  • avatar
    StaysCrunchy

    Eh, I’m gonna buck the current trend here and say I like them. So what if Audi or whoever thought of them first. Somebody thought of the steering wheel first too, are we bashing everybody else for “copying” them instead of using a joystick?

    The Toyota Venza doesn’t appeal to me, but then again I’m not their target demographic either. That said, I like the LEDs on the one in this picture. I also like the ones on the Chrysler 300s and most everything else I see them on. Can they be overdone or not done properly? Of course they can, just like any other styling cue. But for what it’s worth, count me in the LED-digging camp.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    My Leaf has LED headlights, but thankfully not the Macarena running lights. The LEDs really do save power.

    But alas, I guess it does have Macarena tail lights: http://blog.morries.com/wp-content/uploads/nissan_leaf_rear.jpg

    I think the best execution of this theme is the Dodge Dart’s tail lights.

  • avatar
    Tick

    LEDs aren’t the problem. LEDs are just a technology. A much more efficient and longer lasting technology. What you’re talking about is HOW the LED is being used. It’s like saying I hate metal fenders because I don’t like how car bodies from the seventies were styled.

    I personally like LEDs when, like anything, it’s done tastefully. If someone can’t tell the difference between the guy who ziptied an LED bar to his Camaro from a 997 Porsche 911, then I really don’t care what they think anyway.

    No matter what the trend is, the low end car manafacturers and Pep Boys crowd will always try to copy the real thing.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “Pride, too, used to keep car companies from brazenly copying each other to some degree.”

    What degree do you mean, because copying seems to be an auto-making tradition since about the beginning of time.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    Whatever happened to the velvety taillights of the last generation Cadillac DeVille? Those were awesome. The whole lens filled up with a bright heathery glisten. Why did the pinball machine look take off while those disappeared?

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    I just wish manufacturers would stop wasting time/money on these LED decorations and re-route those funds to the design of better headlamps that actually perform well.

    I detest the horrible clear-lens/complex reflector headlamps on my Stratus – I have flashlights that perform better. Most implementations of these horrible “jewel-like” clear-lens lamps are horrifically bad…I blame marketing people and focus groups for them since most people will select something that looks attractive versus something that performs well.

    Thank goodness my Jeep has conventional 7″ round lamps – it opens up a world of improvement possibilities. First order of business when I bought the Jeep was a set of Cibie E-code H4 lamps and +30 high efficacy bulbs as well as a jumper harness to feed full voltage to the lamps. They easily outperform most HID lamps as another poster noted above.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I imagine designers will have moved on to something else long before LED strips start going on the fritz en masse in future old Kia Optimas. Not like Altezza lenses were a lasting trend.

  • avatar
    Power6

    They haven’t updated the cool wall for YEARS…

    Venza is a better Outback now that the Outback is fugly.

  • avatar
    -Cole-

    Why are there no crappy American LEDs?

    Because jobs. That’s why.

  • avatar
    hubcap

    I’ve got no problems with LEDs. Some companies don’t incorporate them into their design language as well as others but that will change in time.

    Many here are pole vaulting over mouse turds expecting to win a metal or at the very least the adulation of the people.

    Give it a rest. Live your life. Devote your time to more worthy causes.

  • avatar
    mstover

    I had heard it was all due to the same reason that they now put only CVTs in all the cars and only put little engines in….mileage is better as they don’t use as much power so your alternator doesn’t have to work as hard, so you get better mileage…I don’t believe it. However, I guess we shouldn’t complain…or soon the gov will say you have to use CFLs in your cars like at home. Can’t you imagine…they take 5 min to warm up, and everyone looks yellow tinted, but the curly bulb would look so “cool” sticking out the front!

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    IMHO the whole DRL concept is ridiculous.
    Their (deliberate) glare interferes with my being able to discern details in the distance.
    They also re-calibrate peoples eyes so that non shiny glaring things like bikes and pedestrians less noticeable.
    Additionally the obnoxious motorcycle crowd which thinks they must deafen everyone else for their perceived sense of safety now run their solar bright high beams on in order to stand out among the car headlights. Its a blind each other arms war.
    That said, if we must have DRLs, then the LED ones are the best solution.
    They are not a high beam reflector spearing my eyes with a direct and directional beam of light. They are diffuse and non directional. They are far more fuel efficient. (Don’t laugh, search engine out estimates of the tonnage of CO2 DRLs are responsible for) They allow manufactures to add another stylistic signature.
    Europe’s concern for headlight glare and fuel consumption make it no surprise that they pioneered LED DRLs.
    I for one hope they become the standard for a DRL.
    Headlights as DRLs is a lame execution of an already lame concept. Make them visible only from the front of the vehicle? Hell they should be on the rear in a thick fog. Just what I need, being able to see headlights in the fog in my rear view mirror just before they rear end my vehicle. Put an omni directional DRL on the roof of the vehicle so that it can be seen from all directions, and is the first thing seen when coming over a hill, or some other optical occlusion, and make it an LED source, and make it amber in color to avoid the extra glare of high energy, short wavelength blue light.

  • avatar
    mvoss

    Good article. You forgot to mention the new Range Rover lights that go in circles like a 5 year old grabbed a pencil and literally dragged it around on paper, which is ironic given that the Evoque’s LEDs are pretty cool looking. (See here for Range Rover https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&docid=XkO6dJR1R_c2tM&tbnid=9gCErv85Hh2SiM:&ved=0CAUQjRw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.autotribute.com%2Fcategory%2Feurope%2Frange-rover-europe%2F&ei=M6OCUf7tFo-C8QSOsoHACA&bvm=bv.45960087,d.eWU&psig=AFQjCNG2QItL-SHRYwrlCe3v7miVXD4F0Q&ust=1367602341808319)

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    All the copycats out there are fine, but none of them does it as well as Audi. By far, the greatest LED DRL ever are on the original A5 coupe. Nothing looks quite as menacing coming toward you in the oncoming lane or in your rear view mirror from behind.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I also detest LED Christmas lights. They look fake, the color is off and they are garish and hurt the eyes. There extra cost and smaller quantity of lights on a string are also demerits. The term green and power saving are of course used to highly promote these. Funny thing that so far not one person I have asked said there Christmas power bill went down though!

  • avatar
    jupiter119

    Boo hoo, the author cares more about exclusivity than utility. LED’s can be tacky but they can also be useful, two things only one of which is shared by the Macarena and parachute pants.

  • avatar
    DrGastro997

    When I bought a 2010 911 it had LED DRLs. Many couldn’t figure out what exactly it was. Some praised it, some looked at it as strange. Since 2012 I think the automakers are going too far decorating LED DRLs and accents all around. It’s starting to look tacky on many models. I personally don’t mind the LEDs or HIDs headlights. I don’t find them overly bright unless it’s the aftermarket junk blue lights on 80s or 90s model cars.

    I think LEDs are in, but laser is coming soon. Koito and Ichikoh filed new patents on their laser technology. Looks like BMW beat them to it.


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