Enjoy these features while you can!
Automobiles are cyclical: What's popular today might not be relevant the next model year. For example, electric cars were big business about a century ago, and yet after decades of slumber, they're just beginning to gain favor with consumers once again.
So too are the numerous features on new cars designed to enrich the driving experience in at least one way or another. Today more than ever, automakers are forced to balance adding technology and convenience with the burdens associated with reducing fuel consumption and keeping price points reasonable. Since features tend to either add weight or complexity, this is usually an uphill battle.
As a result, some items are definitely endangered, although that's not necessarily a bad thing. Here are 10 features you might not find on your next car:
CD player. CDs are all but ready to bite the dust thanks to the advent of smartphones and audio players and that's just fine with us. Hop into any new car and you'll undoubtedly be able to plug your iPhone into something, whether it's a standard headphone jack, a charge-ready USB or a full integration system (which is probably outdated thanks to the iPhone 5's arrival!). We can't think of a single car that doesn't at least offer Bluetooth streaming audio as an option, but we can think of a few that now force buyers to pay extra for CD players.
Example: A CD player is a $195 option on even the top-of-the-line 2013 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn, a $45,000 luxo-truck.
Steering feedback. Traditional hydraulic power steering is on its way out and its replacement is Nicola Tesla-approved electric power steering. The upsides are obvious: Less complexity means lower costs for automakers and the lack of a hydraulic pump means that the steering draws no power from the engine. In addition, automakers can easily tailor electric steering weight and resistance. But those plusses come at the loss of traditional steering feel (the ability to really feel the road surface below the vehicle), which we think is essential to any car.
Example: While the latest BMW 3-Series' electric tiller remains precise and balanced, it is far more detached from the road than its hydraulic predecessor.
Traditional buttons. Humans love touchscreens. At least that's what automakers hope. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of reasons to be happy about tapping a screen instead of a traditional button - the number of personalization options has increased exponentially at the expense of distracting button clutter. But on the other hand, touchscreens are frustratingly distracting to operate while driving (and voice control remains cumbersome on even the best systems) and the systems are prone to the same occasional lags and crashes that plague even a brand new iPad. We like that Ford has started to add more "old school" buttons into some of its models to control more commonly-accessed functions like audio presets and climate control. We're confident that these complex infotainment systems are going to get better.
Example: Cadillac's new Cue system looks beautiful, but its screen is less-than-precise and the haptic feedback it offers occasionally feels like it's still in the development stage.
"Stripper" models. No, not the pole-dancing kind. A few years ago, you could always tell when someone bought the cheapest version of a car. Steel wheels, unpainted bumpers, skinny tires, vinyl upholstery and roll-up windows were the marks of what our U.K. colleagues like to call "poverty spec." Today, however, even the cheapest version of many new cars looks and feels just like its bucks-up fully loaded showroom sibling, which is a real boon to everyone. The value-conscious shopper gets the right feel, while the high-end model's style isn't diluted by the presence of the $9,999 special.
Example: Only a few subtle chrome and shiny black trim bits differentiate the cheapest Chevrolet Spark from a loaded up model to casual observers.
Stick shifts. Like clacking away at a typewriter, rowing it yourself has become something of a pastime of days gone by. Although there are signs of a small revival in the compact car segment, where the number of cars available with manual transmissions seems to be growing, automatic gearboxes are clearly taking over. They're usually more efficient than manuals nowadays, and they also let drivers spend more time concentrating on the important things - like texting and driving, obviously.
Example: Long known for its sublime gearboxes, BMW essentially makes buyers special order cars if they want a manual transmission. And the trend isn't just in the U.S. - even European buyers seem to be losing interest.
Fog lights. When was the last time you used your car's fog lights for their intended purpose? Unless you live in a handful of locales, chances are never. Long used as styling bling, fog lights are rapidly being replaced by LED running lamps that give cars a unique face driving down the road. There are certainly some safety and visibility benefits to these daytime running lamps, but their implementation recalls the phrase "different... just like everyone else."
Example: When the Ford Fiesta arrived in the U.S. A few years ago, the fog lamp package offered on the Euro-spec model was replaced with LED running lights for us.
Big engines. How times have changed. 15 years ago, a midsize sedan with a V6 engine put out about 200 horsepower and netted 27 mpg on the highway. Today, a larger and heavier midsizer cranks out similar power from two-thirds as many cylinders while netting 8 more mpg. Who do we thank for this? Direct injection and turbochargers come to mind. Downsized engines are definitely the thing of the moment, which means that the end is nigh for the V8 engine in just about anything short of a luxury car, while V6s are quickly losing ground to boosted four-cylinders.
Example: Ford's aggressive EcoBoost strategy places direct injection and turbochargers on small engines. The Ford F-150's optional 3.5-liter V6 is definitely stronger than its 5.0-liter V8, while the Ford Fusion's 2.0-liter turbo four bests the outgoing 3.0-liter V6.
Lots of options. To cut costs and to reduce the risk of an oddly-optioned one-off languishing in the back of a dealer's lot, automakers have pared down once-lengthy options lists to just a handful of packages and trim levels. The upside for consumers is that dealers probably have the "right" model in stock. On the other hand, you're likely going to wind up paying extra for some options you wouldn't have otherwise ordered had you been able to select features a la carte.
Example: It's just about impossible to find a moderately priced car with a long list of available options these days.
Off road capability. Looking to do a little mud plugging or venture up a trail to get away from the city? You might have a hard time finding a vehicle designed to leave the pavement. Fuel economy requirements have all but spelled doom for high clearance vehicles with rugged frames, which guzzle at a higher rate than car-based crossovers. Toyota, Nissan, Land Rover and Jeep still offer go-anywhere vehicles, but the future looks pretty bleak for this once-strong segment.
Example: The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder isn't meant for any trail more challenging than your driveway.
Keys. Perhaps no facet of motor vehicle operation has faced more revolutionary changes over the last decade than the way we enter and start our cars. Metal keys are essentially a thing of the past, but even chunky fobs with high-tech electronics that can stay in your pocket are about to go the way of the dodo bird. Hyundai recently demonstrated a system linked to a smartphone - like credit card and information sharing technologies, the setup simply requires drivers to tap their phone against a tag on a car's window. Aside from some security issues, the advantages to using phones to start vehicles are almost endless. Settings can be recalled, cars can be started or unlocked from anywhere in the world and more.
Example: Many new cars offer an iTunes or Android Market app to lock, unlock and start cars, but nobody has replaced the key entirely... yet.