Auto Peeves: Features that need a little more thought

Panned out a bit, you can see the hard-to-reach location of the HDMI and USB ports in the 2016 Honda HR-V. (Photo courtesy of Honda)

Sometimes, I have to wonder exactly who is testing features in cars before they go to market.

Is it just one guy in a dark room that says: "Yeah, that's a good idea, go with it." Is it a group of people? Do they test cars in heat? Cold? What about short people vs. tall people? Or thin people vs. heavy people?

Or is it just your average guy who lives in a cloudy locale and doesn't use modern technology?

Because, if it's that guy, we need to talk.

Today's peeves come from features in vehicles that may look like a good idea, but in actual practice, they need more work.

2016 Honda HR-V USB port location

The Honda HR-V is all-new for the 2016 model year, and it's a great little SUV. It's smooth, efficient and comfortable. And the flexible cargo space is brilliant. But whoever thought it was a good idea to put all the outlet ports underneath the center stack - and incidentally underneath the gearshift -- needs to go back to the drawing board. Sure they're hidden from view, which may be aesthetically pleasing, but they are almost completely unusable. I consider myself relatively flexible, but reaching those ports while sitting in the driver's seat was a lesson in futility. My face hit the steering wheel and my arm had to bend at awkward angles to fit the plug into the port. And I'm small. Imagine someone bigger and wider trying to do the same thing. If the thought is that you'd plug the cord in and then leave it there until the next time you need it, think again. I live in a city. When I leave a car, everything visible leaves, too. I don't know where else you'd put these ports, but anywhere is better than where they currently are. Base price for the HR-V is $19,995.

2015 Land Rover Range Rover seats

In this instance, I think the person vetting the seats in the Land Rover Range Rover had to be at least 6 feet tall and weigh more than 200 pounds. These seats certainly can't be comfortable for anyone smaller than that. They weren't for me. And they weren't for my husband who's 5-feet 9-inches and weighs 180. The headrests are pillowy soft, and the stitching is quite lovely. But the angle and height of the headrest pushed my head at a funky angle, and I found myself either moving the seatback so that my upper back and head didn't touch the seat or driving with my head at a forward angle - neither of which was good for my neck or back. I have to roll my shoulders just thinking about it. I get that the "pushy" headrests are there to help prevent whiplash in the event of a car crash, but there has to be a better way. And there is - even within Land Rover. The sporty seats in the Range Rover Sport SVR were perfect. Can we swap those in please? Otherwise, I love the go-anywhere comfort of the Range Rover, but those seats Ouch! Base price for the Range Rover is $85,945.

2015 Lexus LS 460 gearshift

Whenever I see something that looks pretty but is somehow impractical, I always think of the Billy Crystal character "Fernando" on old Saturday Night Live reruns. One of his catch phrases is: "It's better to look good than to feel good." Vehicle designers often get the "look good" part nailed down, and the "feel good" part is optional. At least this was the case with the metal on the gearshift in the Lexus LS 460. It looks good, but when the sun shines and it's hot outside, it does not feel good. I've encountered metal on gearshifts in several other automakers' vehicles, and it always gives me pause. This is one of the first touch points a person feels in a car, why would you want an owner - or a potential owner - to burn themselves every time they shift into drive during the summer? It may look "mahvelous," but perhaps this is one case where leather - or even (gasp) plastic - would be the better play. Base price for the Lexus LS 460 is $73,500.


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