Monday, January 7, 2013

Confirming my dislike of 'auto everything'

A few weeks ago I was in Switzerland on business and got to drive an Open Insignia that had auto-everything. Auto lights, auto wipers, power tailgate, three different driving modes that it automatically chose between. It was awful. The power tailgate was pointless, but all the added gear to make it work made it a really heavy tailgate to close manually. I had to fight the power mechanism to close it - compared to the amount of effort required to close a normal tailgate, this was extreme and I imagine all but the burliest drivers wouldn't be able to do it.
The auto lights were the typical nightmare you'd expect. The 'off' position didn't turn them off but put them on auto. The 'auto' position put them on 'auto' (why have an 'off' in that case?). The low-beam setting put them on auto-low-beam and the 'on' setting put them on auto. (Actually - because every setting was 'auto' the whole light switch seems pointless now I think about it). They'd blink on and off every time I drove into shadow or into a tunnel, and because they were HID lights, they'd auto-level every time they came on. So going into a tunnel, they'd flick on, and auto-level, which included a process of driving the reflector to its full extent both ways. ie. every time the lights came on it looked like I was flashing the people coming the other way. On off on off on off. It drove me crazy.
The auto wipers were particularly useless in snow. They didn't detect the snow, they didn't detect water already on the windshield, and they didn't detect water running down the windshield. Only direct splashing from actual rain would cause them to come on. Then it was a moving goalpost of sensitivity between them either not being on when you needed them, or wiping so much when they weren't needed that it baked winter crud on to the windshield, requiring a manual wash/wipe cycle. That of course resulted in water running down the glass after the wipers parked - something the sensor couldn't pick up - so then I had to run them manually. As with the lights, there wasn't a "normal" mode for the wipers.
The three driving maps were set to European, Lazy American, and Fat Lazy American. (I guess GM had the say on this). In default mode (Lazy American), the steering had a good 5 degrees of play in it before the wheels turned. The throttle was connected to the engine via a call centre in India, and the suspension was like a foam mattress. In 'tour' mode (Fat Lazy American) it took all those settings and backed them off even further. 10 degrees slop in the steering, no feel from the suspension, and a throttle that had a mind of its own. Randomly the car would choose between these two modes based on some dark logic that I could never figure out. The only even faintly usable mode was 'sport' which was as close to 'normal' as I could find. Decent throttle response, engine braking when going downhill, tight shift points in the gearbox and actual suspension and brakes. Of course there was no way to default the car to this mode and it would never choose this mode on its own.
One other bizarre thing: the buttons to lock and unlock the doors were located on the top of the centre console just under the GPS screen. It took me a good three days to find them because that's not a logical location to put door unlocks. (The doors themselves would seem like a much better idea, but then I don't work for GM).
The fundamental vehicle itself wasn't "bad", but it was inundated with so much pointless tech that it became a bad car because of it. The only vaguely useful 'feature' in the whole car was the auto-dimming mirrors.