My twin brother, who is much cooler than I am and lives in Washington, D.C., rolled into the Pennsylvania Wilds, our native land, for a visit recently. There, he offered me the chance to drive his brand-new BMW X1 — a luxury, subcompact, crossover “Sport Activity Vehicle.”
The little thing was quick and responsive, so much so that forceful habits formed from driving less state-of-the-art vehicles (read: old) made my driving jerky at first. The front cabin felt wide open with barely-there window pillars. The seats were roomy and comfortable. And once I got used to the light-touch steering and ultra grippy brakes, driving the X1 was pleasant.
But man, was this car annoying.
For starters, I felt like a caveman trying to get the thing going. Twin handed me the “key,” which isn’t a key at all, but simply a lame, flaccid little fob that you can put anywhere. Except there’s nowhere to put it. I settled on setting it inside the cupholder, rendering that space useless for…holding cups.
Firing up the Bimmer had all the thrill of a C-SPAN2 livestream. You press and hold a button and wait for the car to softly start. It sort of vibrated gently while something called “iDrive” told me how to drive, warning me ironically that if I got distracted and dared to look at this giant glaring screen positioned inches from my face, I would be doing so at my own risk.
Then it was time to put the car in drive. “Now this I can do,” I thought. “I’ll show Twin I’m no country bumpkin!”
Alas. The car’s “transmission lever” requires one to press an unlock button, then push the lever “past the point of resistance” various times depending on which gear you want to select. It’s unnecessarily complicated and not at all intuitive. It’s also an added step compared to the old standard way of regulating an automatic transmission. How is this an improvement? It required me to look down at the lever the whole time, waiting for the right gear designation to light up as I fumbled and guessed my way through the process. And taking my eyes off the road is something I had already promised iDrive I would never do!
Driving the X1 was, as I noted, an agreeable enough experience. Until the car stopped running all on its own. The automatic start-stop system, which shut the engine down every time I brought the car to a standstill, unnerved me and spoiled the plans I had of leaving the Honda Civic stopped at the red light to my right in a cloud of luxe German dust. Any hope of even accumulating a cloud of exhaust died when the engine did, turning off when we stopped in the name of Obama’s “energy saving” fuel economy initiatives. Getting the X1 going again required me to let my foot off the brake and wait (while the pathetic Civic left me in the dust) for the starter to repower the engine.
The X1 boasts automatic everything: automatic climate control, automatic rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic headlight control, and automatic power windows, none of which do what you want when or how you want. The “infotainment” system “offers touch, voice, and physical controls to operate its many features and functions,” and you’ll need all three if you ever want to get the thing to obey your commands.
After frantically stopping the automatic climate control from blasting me clear to the Northwest Territories with its forced air, letting the rain-sensing wipers know in no uncertain terms that their sense of rain wasn’t sensitive enough, manually dipping the automatic headlights after being high-beamed by a blinded motorist, and pressing the up-down button 55 times to stop the automatic power window from going all the way down, I came to an exasperated realization: modern cars are the epitome of the conceited, controlling, nannying attitude that drives every liberal policy that espouses responsible governance of everyone but is a disaster in practice.
Modern key fobs, for instance, offered in the name of “convenience,” besides being totally unsatisfying to use, are a royal pain to get replaced. You can’t just go to the hardware store and cut a new one for a few bucks. First, you have to buy the fob. They aren’t cheap. Then you have to pay to have the fob programmed to your car. And if you have any backup keys, you have to take those to the shop, too, or risk having them rendered useless when the new fob is encrypted.
Oh, and another thing: you can’t go to any old auto parts place or nearby garage to get a new fob and have it programmed. “If you have a car that was built within the last five years, a new-car dealer will usually be your best bet when you need a replacement key fob, due to the expensive programming equipment that is required,” reports Consumer Reports. BMW estimates the cost of a new key can be up to $800.
Features like USB audio connection and hands-free Bluetooth are all well and good when they’re working, but has anyone ever had these devices connect and stay connected seamlessly? In my experience, there is inevitably a maddening (and dangerous! sorry, iDrive) struggle to get the car computer to recognize and pair with a phone, understand voice commands, and perform any of the high-tech tasks it’s supposed to.
You know what would be easier and doesn’t require removing one’s eyes from the road? Pressing a button. With your finger.
It’s not just that these fancy features often fail to work. It’s that the car presumes to tell me it knows better, and then gets it all wrong. I like to control how far down my window goes. I am perfectly capable of adjusting my own headlights, and I’m better at knowing how hard it’s raining than a robot. So let me be in charge.
The car industry is now being forced to pass progressivism onto us sporting people, ruining the art of motoring in the name of “saving the earth,” when a quick peek beneath the hood of these initiatives reveals they’re just more ineffective, feel-good nonsense.
Sure, the auto stop-start function may make you believe it’s saving you fuel, but when the engine is shut off at a stoplight, all the car’s electrical components must still be powered. By a battery. A big one. And where do batteries come from? Don’t tell the Prius owners of the world, but electric vehicles and anything else relying on batteries for power come at a cost that’s none too green. Mining and refining minerals for batteries results in human damage, in the form of “child labor, slavery, and pollution-induced illness and premature death in developing countries,” H. Sterling Burnett writes for the Heartland Institute.
Mining and refining minerals for batteries also results in devastating environmental effects that drivers ignore in exchange for the immediate psychological satisfaction that they are saving the earth by their engine being stopped for the 30 seconds they are at a stoplight.
The zippiness of the X1 was nice. Its leather seats were luxurious. But I’ll take my 2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Cummins Turbo Diesel truck over the BMW any day. Sure, the steering is a little squirrely. And the windshield wipers have to be turned on and off manually (or should I say, “manfully”?). But it has a real key that turns a mechanical lock tumbler and rumbles to a roaring start in a real, serious way. There’s no danger that you won’t hear me coming through an intersection. Not only does the massive Cummins engine not shut off at stop signs, it doesn’t even shut off until a few seconds after you take the key out of the ignition. It clunks definitively into gear. And goes definitively everywhere I — not “iDrive” — tells it to.
Modern cars, like liberalism, are demeaning, dehumanizing, incompetent, un-fun phonies. Let’s stick to combustion engines and see who wins in the long run.