Top 10 Little Things That Count
In the time our editors spend reviewing hundreds of cars a year, we run across features we simply can't live without. The features that make us whine when we don't have them aren't high-end, expensive gadgets but little conveniences that make a high impact on everyday usability and comfort. Here are our 10 favorites:
One-Touch Power Windows
Sure, one-touch up/down windows only save three seconds, but that's three seconds you can use to get out your checking deposit slip at the bank teller's window. And if there's a person you don't want to delay, it's the one who handles your money. The 2010 Toyota Camry has the one-touch up/down feature on all four windows.
With a USB input, you can tuck the MP3 player out of the way, let it charge and control your 10,000 songs through the stereo, which is much better than the more common MP3 jack. Bonus points go to stereos that recognize older iPods — some won't — as well as searchable song lists. Interfaces that aren't alphabetically searchable make it agonizing to turn the dial a hundred times to get to your Weird Al Yankovic collection.
Telescoping Steering Wheel
Telescoping steering wheels not only give you more adjustability for finding a comfortable seating position, but they also help keep drivers in a safe position if the airbag deploys. The feature is available in every class of vehicle, so a model that doesn't have a telescoping steering wheel is at a competitive disadvantage.
Backup cameras make navigating parking lots infinitely easier and can pay for themselves by preventing even one parking lot fender bender. Our favorites have lines on the screen that preview the vehicle's backup path. However, we'd still like to see more backup cameras as a stand-alone option rather than tied to an expensive navigation package.
There's probably nothing you have more interaction with in a car than the steering wheel and stereo, so having controls for both in the same place cuts down on the time your hands are off the wheel. Even better are steering wheels with cruise control buttons -- a separate cruise control stalk almost always gets mistaken for the turn signal at some point.
A trip computer with mileage readouts can be an easy, no-cost way to improve fuel economy. By looking at the instant mileage, you can tailor your driving habits for the best results. Also included in some trip computers is an outside temperature gauge. Although we can't change the weather by looking at the gauge, it's quantitative proof that the weather forecaster is making stuff up.
Fast-food drinks and jumbo-size coffees are more satisfying when they're not all over your car's carpet. The best cupholders are deep enough to keep cups from tipping over and accommodate different-sized drinks — from small coffees to Super Big Gulp Slurpees — using adjustable feelers and grips.
This quintessential winter feature makes dealing with subfreezing temperatures as easy as hitting the heated seat button to "on." Heated seats start warming before the car's heat is able to blast at 90 degrees, and they can be fitted on cloth or leather seats.
Seats that adjust vertically are so critical to sitting comfortably that when a car doesn't have more than four-way adjustability, it seems grossly outdated. Six-way adjustable seats should be the bare minimum; anything less should have been left in 1996.
Three Sets of Latch Connectors
Just because a big SUV has three rows of seating doesn't guarantee there will be more than two sets of Latch connectors for child-safety seats. SUVs that have three sets of Latch anchors or more, like the 2010 Honda Pilot, offer more flexibility for larger families.