QOTD: What Are The Best Automotive Details?

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro

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.

Doug DeMuro
Doug DeMuro

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  • Blackcloud_9 Blackcloud_9 on Aug 02, 2013

    Coolest car detail I’ve owned: My 1956 Chevy 210 (bought it 1980) had the hidden fuel cap like Doug described for the Focus. It was behind the left taillight. You turned the top trim piece of the taillight and the whole thing flipped open. I once paid the extra cost of full service gas just so I could watch the bewildered attendant look for the gas cap! Coolest details I’ve seen: The door handles on C3 Corvettes. Don’t know if they worked well or not but they sure looked cool The rear taillights on the Continental Mark VIIIs. The ones below the trunk. I always like how the looked coming on when the brakes were pressed. Although, I saw several of them malfunctioning in later years Like sequential turn signals. Cougars were cooler than Mustangs.

  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Aug 08, 2013

    I will now look forward to being stuck behind a Sonata Hybrid so I can see that. Nice. I always loved the fender guides on the old "parade float" cars. Those little marker lights on the inside or top of the fenders(wings for those overseas) I remember from my 84 Eldorado that had three little lights. One lit up so you could see where the fender was over that giant hood at night, the other showed turn signal operation and a blue one for the high beams. And cornering lights, mostly again on large luxury cars. They illuminated the corner with the turn signal on. Although many cars have side repeaters on the mirror or fender, this was mounted down low or on the headlight wraparound and was like turning on a flashlight in the direction you were turning. Had no problem figuring out which way, for example, an 89 Town Car was turning.(Provided signals were used)

  • Probert A few mega packs would probably have served as decent backup.
  • Lou_BC Lead sleds. Now-a-days GM would just use Bondo.
  • Jrhurren This is a great series. Thanks Corey
  • Tane94 Not as stylish as the Soul which it is replacing but a practical shape and bonus points for EV only.
  • Ronin What is the magical white swan event in the foreseeable future that will suddenly reverse the trend?Success tends to follow success, and likewise failure. The perception, other than among true believers, is that e-cars are a lost cause. Neither government fiat, nor government bribery, nor even the promise of superior virtue among one's peers have been enough to push past the early adapter curve. Either the bust-out is right now for e-cars, or it doesn't happen. Marketing 101.Even subtle language-manipulation, such as deeming those possessing common sense as suffering from some sort of vague anxiety (eg, "range anxiety") has not been enough to induce people to care.Twenty years from now funny AI-generated comedians will make fun of the '20s, and their obsession with theose silly half-forgotten EVs. They will point out that, yes, EVs actually ran on electricity generated by such organic fuels as coal and natural gas after all, and then they will perform synthesized laughter at us.
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