For the last 3 years I have happily lived with the driver’s assistance package in my 2018 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen. The assistance package includes adaptive cruise, blind spot detection, lane assist, emergency braking and several other features. Most of these items are not yet standard equipment and can sometimes demand a significant bump in the final out-the-door purchase price. The problem is that you can’t pick and choose which specific features you want in most cases. Like old-school cable TV, you can’t only get the sports channel – the TV provider typically bundled it with something like a children’s channel, which may or may not been useful for you. Here’s the Lou-down on what I can live without, which I hope will help you decide on whether or not to add the driver’s assistance package to your next car.
Firstly, the dearest feature of this assistance package for me is adaptive cruise control. If longer highway drives are part of your life, you owe it to yourself to spend some time in a vehicle with adaptive cruise. This is cruise control that paces the vehicle in front of you and adjusts your speed accordingly.
I’m on the fence as to whether lane assist makes me a better or worse driver. Lane assist doesn’t completely drive for you, but it does help keep you centred in the lane. As Tesla has experienced, their autonomous driving technology only truly works flawlessly if the driver is ready to take over at the first sign of trouble. The problem that manufacturers are facing is how to keep drivers attentive while at the same time telling us that the car can do the driving for us. The lane assist in my VW requires driver steering input every 15 seconds or it beeps and releases steering control. Can I live without it? Yes, it hasn’t at any point made me feel safer, perhaps just a bit lazier, as I sometimes must remind myself to pay better attention.
Blind spot assist is a feature that I believe should be mandated in all new vehicles. I do still perform a shoulder check every time I make a lane change, but the blind spot monitor provides an extra layer of safety. The technology required to provide this feature is not extensive and I’m confident in the next few years more and more manufacturers will include this as standard.
I’m not a fan of the emergency braking in my VW. Its intrusive. For example, several times I’ve been cruising at a steady speed when someone has made a rapid, tight lane change directly in front of me. Despite their poor lane change choice, I didn’t feel that I needed to brake aggressively as just releasing the throttle, lightly braking and giving them some space would have sufficed. The first time this emergency braking occurred I was caught off guard as my car suddenly decelerated while beeping loudly. I’m assuming this feature will get better as the technology develops, but for now I can live without it.
Rear traffic alert in conjunction with back-up cameras are a must on all new cars in my opinion. My automotive repair business is located directly next door to a large daycare centre. At 5:30 p.m. on all weekdays, dozens of children are being picked up by their parents. Busy, sometimes inattentive parents and kids being kids means sometimes they can get away from their parents. I have lost track of the times where my rear sensors and back-up camera have alerted me to a toddler wandering where they shouldn’t be. While I understand we are all not located next door to a daycare, I do believe this is a great feature, especially for parents of younger children.
Your automotive questions, answered
Driving for the last 35 years, I’m amazed at the advancement of cars since my youth. Granted, we don’t have flying/hover cars that were predicted in my youth by the 21st century. But cars are so much better than they were just 10 years ago. If you wanted a car to last 10 years, my choices would have been Honda, Toyota or Subaru in the past. But now Hyundai/Kia, any brand of full size pick up truck, or for that matter any new car seems to have the build quality, engine and drivetrains that are head and shoulders better than anything in the recent past.
What is your opinion, are we at the point where there are no bad choices amongst new cars? All that should matter is cost/usage/personal situation.
Or are there still a few cars to stay away from if you want a car to last for 10 years? Or should I accept, that revolutionary changes will appear in 5 years and that we have moved onto/accept the next revolutionary change?
When I was a young Honda dealer technician in the 90′s I firmly believed that Honda and Toyota were the cars to beat. I still holdfast this feeling for that time period, as Honda and Toyota had figured out early in their corporate existence, how to truly make a vehicle that could outlast their competitors. But that was then, and this is now. Since I’m all about the easy clichés today, I’ll add, all things must pass, and other manufacturers have seen the light. The huge variances in quality have been eliminated as production line robotics and advanced engineering practises make this a moot point for the most part. Each manufacturer seems to have one model that outshines its competitors, but the margins are much smaller.
Which cars to stay away from? My opinion is that European manufacturing leans towards vehicles that continually strive for an elevated, exciting driving experience. They are vehicles not intended for mere A to B transportation but are designed for the enthusiast. The latest models are always equipped with the most advanced technology and a pleasure to own and drive when the manufacturer is paying the repair bill. But sadly, they are someone else’s nightmare repair story as they age. So, buyer beware for these units.
I’m the kind of person who likes to buy old, reliable vehicles and drive them into the ground. My current ride is a 2005 Pontiac Vibe now with over 299,999 km and it’s served me quite well, but the day is fast approaching where I call the scrappers to come with a tow truck and take it away.
Are there any downsides to buying an old Nissan Leaf as a beater? I see them on the sell websites for under $10k from various places across the country. I don’t drive that often or outside of the city, and charging it is not an issue. Aside from the bi-annual 1500 km road trips – where I might be more comfortable renting a gas car anyways – an electric car is increasingly looking like it might be a good option. I just don’t want to spend $50k for a new one! Couple that to the fact that I have a teenager who will soon be driving – the range of an old Nissan Leaf is a bit of a selling feature.
What do you think, Lou? Keep buying these old Toyotas, or jump into the next century? Worth it?
For the most part I like Nissan Leaf’s, but unlike your Pontiac Vibe, I’m not sure the words beater and electric vehicle (EV) are ready to be coupled together just yet. The main problem with your theory is battery degradation and the subsequent extremely limited range. If the Leaf you are looking at is a first-generation model, then chances are you are on your own for battery replacement. The cost to do so is a hot topic within the EV community and becoming more relevant as 1000′s of otherwise very usable cars are heading to the scrap yards because the cost to replace the batteries is astronomical. Unless you are buying an EV with a decent amount of warranty left on the batteries, I would say, stay with what you already know.
Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.