After a lifetime driving no-frills-mobiles, I'm still loving the cute little hatchback purchased in 2012. It might be small but it's well-appointed, and amenities like heated leather seats, remote start and satellite radio make it feel like Christmas every day I slide behind the wheel.
Still, most of us in the Motor City have a bit of the armchair auto designer in our blood, and if Santa were granting me any car-related wishes today, there are a few auto-plums dancing in my dreams. Here's a sampler in hopes the Ghost of Compacts Future hears my plea; read on to see if anything here jibes with your list for the elves at automakers' HQ:
An analog odometer. Or at least one that goes into decimal places. The electronic readout just doesn't have the romance of the rolling numbers, and it's not nearly as useful. Mine doesn't display fractions of miles, so when I'm trying to measure out a walking route or just curious about how far apart things are, it's pretty useless. I'd gladly give up some of the dashboard data (like the digital daisy the computer awards me for fuel-friendly driving) for an old-fashioned mechanical ticker.
Budget-friendly spare keys. I used to salt ignition keys all over the place – friends’ junk drawers, the cottage, the office – so that a lost fob or even misplaced purse wouldn’t keep me from getting home. Having a few extras made at the hardware store was a no-brainer $10 investment in peace of mind, so imagine the shock when I had to replace a lost set a few weeks after picking up the hatchback: $400. Dealer only, and no cheaper version of the newfangled computer-chipped keys available. It’s absurd -- I just bought a flat-screen TV that’s a lot smarter than these so-called smart keys, for a lot less than $400. Automakers need to loosen up on this ridiculous monopoly they’ve created and throw in a couple of extra keys with a new-car purchase. Two keys to last the entire ownership span of a decent vehicle is not realistic.
A window vent. Feeling the breeze is a time-honored pleasure of motoring, but cracking the windows on most cars today results in a head-pounding thrumming sound that soon has all but the most devoted fresh-air fanatic reaching for the “up” button. And air filtered through the A/C system just isn’t the same. I’m sure those triangular little windows were eradicated in part to make cars more aerodynamic but … flipping on the air conditioning doesn’t exactly make a car fuel-friendly, either. Please, give us back our little vents.
A rechargeable hand vac. Slogging to the car wash detailing center isn’t always possible, and my driveway doesn’t sport an electrical outlet for using a home machine at frequent intervals. Wouldn’t it be nice if a rechargeable little hand vacuum were fitted into a car’s interior? I vote for the otherwise useless “glove compartment” clutter collector in front of the passenger’s knees; that spot would be far better used to house an onboard cleaning kit.
Dry-erase dashboard. That expanse of plastic could be put to a lot better use if it could make like a giant Post-It note. Why not bow to reality – that for most of us, the car is a rolling combination of desk, tote bag and home office – and make the dash a write-on, wipe-off surface for reminders, directions and shopping lists?
Stowable seats. The best epiphany of my year was discovering Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go feature. I know they've been around for a decade but I don't drive minivans often, and until you see both rows of seats disappear like magic, leaving a jumbo cargo area, you really don't get quite how wonderful that invention is. The company said it invested $400 million to make the seats possible and worth every penny in my book..
Small cargo vans are vanishing at rental outlets, and even the global big-name fleet firms are unwilling to guarantee reservations for the smallest 10-foot trucks that we amateurs can pilot. Trust me, I've stood deflated at enough big-name truck agencies listening to a chipper "Sorry ma'am we never did get one of those small trucks in but don't worry, we've got plenty of 20-footers on hand and we'll give you one at the same price."
Who needs a 20-footer to move a few pieces of furniture or take an antique-hunting jaunt? Stow ‘n Go, available on easy-to-drive Chrysler minivans at passenger-car rental agencies, is the perfect alternative to leasing a truck for a day of glory at the flea markets. But wouldn’t it be great if more vehicles had such on-demand cargo space? As a solo commuter my passenger seat seldom is in use; I’d love to fold that baby into the floor and use the area for a bin to keep my purse and packages from flying into the footwell, or a crate to contain two active little Chihuahuas.
Santa, are you listening? Please pass the word to your elves, especially the ones in Dearborn, Detroit and Auburn Hills…
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her viaMelissa@MelissaPreddy.com.