Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Cream of the Crop -- Csaba Csere distills the experience of driving "several hundred cars and trucks ... over the past couple of years" to produce a list of his favorite and least favorite "powertrain or structural components."

What tops his list? BMW's active steering or SMG shifter? Audi's dual-clutch sequential shifter? Mercedes emergency braking anticipation thingy (you lift of the gas quickly, the braking system assumes you need to slow in a hurry and starts to apply the brakes before you actually hit the pedal)? Any of the structural advances that have made every manufacturer's new model stiffer? Regenerative braking and hybrid technology? The ubiquity of all-wheel and four-wheel drive performance cars?

Nope. The Chevy Avalanche's mid-gate. First, it's hardly an innovation. Anyone with a station wagon recognizes it as a folding rear seat. Second, it's mere marketing fodder, likely to be used rarely if ever by the vast majority of truck and SUV owners (putting it in the same company with any components designed for off-road use). Third, it has nothing to do with driving. (Csaba, you do remember driving? That activity you engage in behind the wheel of a car designed to go, stop, and turn in an entertaining and responsive fashion.)

His second choice? Quadra-steer. No kidding. Parking assistance for your oversized pickup or SUV. Csere, even acknowledges that the technology won't improve handling, because "too many cars do just fine without its weight, complication, and cost." Irrelevant when actually scooting down the road in a real car but handy maneuvering your Suburban when dropping off the ten-year-old at ballet class, and it makes his list.

To be fair, third and fourth place on Csere's list go to variable displacement engines and variable-geometry manifolds. But, fifth spot goes to a cellphone holder. When I'm blasting down some two-lane country road, I ignore a ringing phone because it interferes with the driving experience.

The list of bad items is only marginally more relevant. But, it's worth noting that he derides bumper-mounted parking sensors, because real drivers ought to know where their cars ends. A good point. But, the people buying the SUVs and trucks with the parking sensors are not real drivers. And, whatever it is about the sensors that annoys the driver in Csere who was AWOL in the first eight paragraphs can't possibly stack up to the shared benefit of lower insurance premiums that result from the prevented fender benders.

Csaba, maybe you've been at C/D too long and cars bore you. Time to see what editorial openings they have at Light Truck and SUV.