Today’s topic is: details. Or, as Anthony Weiner eloquently puts it while sexting: “deets.”
Details are highly important in the creation of any modern automobile. I wish someone had told this to the people who built my Cadillac. They were less focused on details and more on the big picture, which I believe was something along the lines of: We have to get out of the Renaissance Center by 6 pm or else we’ll have to drive through downtown Detroit in the dark.
So my car is missing a few details. I’ve already discussed the tilt-down mirrors, which most of you described as the single most annoying feature in the history of the automobile, right up there with the hand crank starter. But how about the back windows, which are auto-down but not auto-up? Or the lack of automatic wipers? Or how the rear hatch will only lift when the car is in park, presumably due to some legal department weenie who insisted that otherwise it might open while driving, causing passengers to unbuckle their belts, hurl themselves towards the cargo area, and sue GM for negligence?
Maybe I’m splitting hairs. After all, they got the big stuff right. Like, for example, how it has 556 horsepower. That was an important one, and they really nailed it, and I’m certain of that every time I put my foot down and believe, for a split second, that I’m actually the pilot of Air Nippon’s daily nonstop from Los Angeles to Tokyo.
I was considering details the other day as I sat in the arrivals lane at the Atlanta Airport, frantically pressing the “hatch open” button to get my girlfriend’s bags in the trunk while a police officer yelled at me to move my vehicle. It was at this moment I realized there are still some detail-obsessed car companies out there, and some really cool details, a few of which I will name now. You’re welcome to add more, or at least send this to your friends at Cadillac, though I strongly suggest doing so before 6 pm. Here goes:
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Atomic Tail Lights
I’m going to say it right now: this is the coolest thing in the car industry today. I know what you’re thinking: The car industry has dual clutch transmissions and V-12 engines and self-leveling suspension and the FORD RAPTOR and you think the coolest thing is the tail lights on a hybrid family sedan?!
And the answer is: yes. Yes I do. That’s because they’re in the shape of an atomic particle, which is cool mainly because they don’t have to be. They could’ve been normal tail lights, or even General Motors tail lights, which light up about nine seconds after the center-mounted brake light comes on.
Volkswagen Golf Hatch Handle
This is also really cool. You walk up to the back of a Golf. You want to open the hatch. You look around. You push buttons on the key fob. The GTI doesn’t even have a power tailgate that can piss you off for not opening in “Drive.” You have no idea what to do. The bad guys are chasing you. And then you realize: the “VW” emblem doubles as a hatchback handle.
This is one of the better elements in modern automotive design, though I say this as someone who truly believes the Nissan Juke looks pretty nice. It lets the emblem be front and center on the hatch while simultaneously keeping the rear free of clutter from a handle. Perfect.
Volvo Climate Control Switches
I cannot tell you how many times this situation has happened to me:
1. Passenger gets in.
2. Passenger does not like current temperature.
3. Passenger begins fiddling with controls.
4. Twelve seconds later, the rear heater is on, as is the defroster, and possibly the hazard lights.
In Volvos, this problem is largely eliminated because you control where the air goes by simply pressing a diagram of a human being. This is incredibly easy, unless maybe you’re a dog and you want your tail to be heated. In that case, you simply slobber all over the gear lever until you get home, at which point you can lie in the sun for the rest of the afternoon.
Ford Focus Gas Tank
In a normal car, sheetmetal is placed in some handsome, well-thought-out manner that took a team of stylists six months of hard work to arrange, and then the production people cut out a rather obvious circle somewhere in back so you can put in fuel.
Not so in the Ford Focus hatchback. The Focus hatch’s gas tank is integrated into the lines on the car’s passenger side tail light, which means you can barely even tell it’s there. Of course, the Focus Electric ruins this unique touch by including a circle on a front fender for the electric charger. But that’s probably an EV driver status symbol.
So, TTAC, what are your favorite automotive details? I’m genuinely interested in the answers to this, as everyone seems to know of a few unique touches in their own cars – so please don’t hold back. And if someone from Cadillac happens to stop by: Why the hell do I need to be in Park to switch to a different memory seat setting?
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.