Solving the World's problems with common sense and a flamethrower.

Monday, November 09, 2009

I'd Sooner Have Control Than a Cup-Holder

'As enlivening as a mogadon sandwich'.

The advancement of technology is, largely, A Good Thing.

The thirst for new, faster and better has brought us personal computers and broadband internet so that we can view pornography ever faster. Social networking, so we can tell millions about the sandwich we just had for lunch. Satellite navigation so that we can get really, really lost. And not forgetting the mobile phone, because everyone needs to know we're on a train, don't they?

And we've seen this same marvelous trend in car technology as well. My personal belief is that the in-car DVD player is probably the best invention of the last thirty years, will considerably reduce the child mortality rate with fewer parents going postal at the thirty-thousandth 'are we there yet', and is probably worthy of a Nobel Prize. Forget 'peace in our time', peace on the car journey is a much bigger achievement.

However, there are some places in the car where the inexorable advance of technology is, to me, somewhat less welcome.

The Darling G has just ordered her shiny new company car, and while she's waiting for Mercedes to nail the bits together - a process that will apparently take almost six months - we've been thoughtfully provided with a Volkswagen Passat as a stopgap.

Now, this car is beautifully built. It's solid as a rock, reasonably comfortable, rides well and eats the miles. Of course, it's about as enlivening as a Mogadon sandwich, and with a 110bhp diesel engine its acceleration is so pitiful they should have called it the Passout, but as we only have it for a few months that's not a major annoyance.

What IS, though, is the handbrake. Which isn't a handbrake at all, but a button on the dashboard which, to engage or disengage, you have to press the brake pedal. This is not a good use of technology.

Before, I had a handle and a cable. When performing a hill-start, therefore, I could use my left hand to control the handbrake while my feet balanced the revs and clutch. Simples. Instead, I am now forced to rely on a second button by the gearlever marked 'Auto-Hold', which apparently will apply the brakes and stop the car from rolling backward while I sort things out.

I don't want it.

Technology has its place, but this is not one of them. I don't want to have to rely on two separate bits of electronics to hold the car on a hill, because that's two things that are more likely to go wrong than a simple handbrake cable. It takes control of a critical part of the car - its braking system - away from me, and into the hands of software. Which is bad. I work with sofware every day, so I absolutely know it sucks and it will go wrong at the most inopportune of moments.

When the gizmos fail and I career backwards into the bonnet of an outraged Transit driver, will 'the electronics failed' engender sufficient sympathy to stop a road-rage beating? Unlikely. Just as it's unlikely anyone's insurance company will agree that you're not liable when the widget packs up.

I can't even see any reason for the handbrake removal. Space? Great, so I've got a cup-holder. Would I sacrifice safety for a convenient cappuccino? No, I wouldn't. Especially when the side storage bins on the Passout are easily big enough for a 2-litre bottle of Evian, and there's enough free space on the dashboard to provide cup-holders for an entire rugby team.

I don't like it, I don't want it. I'm all for electronic trickery, but not here. This took something that worked and, for the sake of nothing but gimmickery, replaced it with something that probably won't. Go and make a better mousetrap, or improve streaming porn, or design a device that electrocutes anyone with a theme-tuned ringtone. But give me back my handbrake lever and a proper cable, please. NOW.


Anonymous said...

And how the hell am I supposed to perform handbrake turns in that, then?

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Handbrake turns in a Passat??

You're having a giraffe!

Dungeekin -- if you think that sucks, you should see the utterly spazmoid "flying handbrake" on Aston Martins ... tits on a bull, that is.

RantinRab said...

I think I'll stick with our trusty old escort. Never failed to start first time, never let us down.

Street cred, well, that's another story!

Weekend Yachtsman said...

A common experience, in one way or another.

A few years ago, I was "lucky" enough to get a drive in a souped-up Audi TT on a track.

Great, I thought - this is going to be fun.

Frankly my old 1970's Alfasud was more enjoyable to drive, until it fell to bits. No, sorry, make that MUCH more enjoyable, as in, it was actually enjoyabe.

The Audi was exactly like playing a computer game; there was no sense whatever that you were any way connected to the road or the wheels or the brakes, etc. You gave it general directions, left, right, stop, start, etc, and after that it was a case of "The man from Wolfsburg knows best".

No thanks. If that's the future of motoring, I'm off to the scrappy to see if I can find some old Alfasud parts. Or maybe a Mark I Golf Gti - now that was a fun car to drive.