Worst Car Design Trends

Looks may be in the eye of the beholder – we can argue about the aesthetic appeal of the Pontiac Aztek all day long without anyone proving they’re right – or wrong.

But functional flaws are objective.

Here are some picks of the litter:

* Steamroller wheels (and tires) –

I recently reviewed the 2015 VW Passat TDI (see here). It’s a middle-of-the-road, family-minded large sedan. Against the State: An ... Rockwell Jr., Llewelly... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details) Emphasis on economy of operation, quiet and comfort. Yet it comes shod with large diameter 17 and 18 inch wheels – which in turn mount what are known within the car biz as “low aspect ratio” – that is, short sidewall – tires.

Functionally, large diameter wheels and short-sidewall tires are a liability in almost every way imaginable. Yes, yes, they impart sharper steering response. In a track environment, ok. High-performance street… ok. But this is a Passat.

Not a Porsche.

I doubt one out of a thousand drivers would notice (much less complain about) the difference in steering Battlefield America: T... John W. Whitehead Best Price: $10.95 Buy New $18.80 (as of 10:15 EST - Details) feel/response between a Passat shod with 16×8 (better yet, 15×7) wheels/tires and one with 18s.

But the car would have dramatically less unsprung mass/rolling resistance – and fuel economy would increase noticeably.

I’d bet buyers would care about that.

The ride would be much better (less harsh), too. Less “tuning” of the suspension would be necessary to compensate for the tires’ lack of give. Replacement tires would cost less  – and you’d need to replace them less often because standard-type all-season tires are less vulnerable to damage than these inch-high sidewall/low profile tires that are being fitted to family cars and even minivans these days. Suicide Pact: The Radi... Napolitano, Andrew P. Best Price: $0.25 Buy New $2.84 (as of 04:15 EST - Details)

Ironically, VW puts more sensible 16-inch shoes on the gas-engined Passat. But you’ll need to buy them over the counter and have them installed on your TDI, if you want the advantages of lower rolling resistance, better mileage and less susceptibility to blow outs.

The ultimate idiocy is low-aspect ratio tires and “twennies” (or twenny-twos”) on an SUVor pick-up truck. The gold toof crowd may think it’s “dope” – and that’s exactly what it is. Like putting M/S-rated knobbies on a new Corvette.

63 Documents the Gover... Jesse Ventura, Dick Ru... Best Price: $2.05 Buy New $3.99 (as of 06:15 EST - Details) Gnomesayin’?

* Beefy behinds – 

This one’s an example of the law of unintended consequences. The federal government decrees that new cars will be designed such that they are more able to absorb being slammed in the rear by another vehicle. The car industry responds by enlarging – and raising ever-higher – the ass ends of new cars. At the same time – and almost necessarily – the rear glass moves upward, grows smaller and (increasingly) slants ever more toward the horizontal (the “fastback” look). Result? More crashworthiness, perhaps, if you’re rear-ended.

But less rearward visibility, too.

Check Amazon for Pricing. It is becoming so hard to see what’s behind you that almost all new cars now come standard with remote-view back-up cameras. Indeed, these have been mandated by law. All new cars will have them within a year or so. But it doesn’t solve the problem. Arguably, it makes it worse. Because cameras do not provide the same field of view – or depth of view – as the human eye. It is harder, for example, to see a kid on a bicycle coming at you down the sidewalk as you’re backing up… until said kid is literally on the verge of impacting your car (or rather, the reverse). Because the camera’s view is too limited – and too shallow.

Cars built in the Bad Old Days (pre 2000s) may not have had all the “safety” features that current cars have. But in a very real way, they were safer to drive because you were less likely to need “safety” features” … because you were less likely to hitsomething because you could see where you were going (and what was going on around you).

Also: They (the pre-2000s stuff) tended to have bumpers. All new/recent cars have “fascias” – the industry term for the huge plastic ass-covers (they use the same thing up front) that are easily damaged in minor accidents and usually not fixable and which cost a small fortune to replace.

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