QotW: What technology made modern cars less interesting?

To the average consumer the formula is pretty straightforward: new = good. But JNC owners know better than that. The last couple of decades have seen an in-car technology boom, but if you’re reading this you likely long for the days when technology enhanced driving performance, not digital convenience; fuel injection, not
blind spot monitoring. Modern cars are faster than ever but arguably less fun. What was the turning point? CVTs? Drive by wire? Touchscreens? Mandatory traction control? Let us know when tech began detracting from the driving experience rather than amplifying it.

What technology made modern cars less interesting?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What works from your childhood fueled your love for cars?

The comments this week provided a nostalgic journey that brought fond memories out of long-term storage. It seems that almost unanimously, Knight Rider and Dukes of Hazzard were highly influential. We won’t even mention all the times those were brought up because it would get pretty repetitive. Instead, here are the other works that fueled your love for cars.

For Ian G. it was the Cannonball Run series, though others mentioned it as well, and as a bonus it featured some actual JNCs in the form of a Subaru Leone and Mitsubishi Starion. Lakdasa added Airwolf as well as The Highwayman and Viper, both incredibly short-lived series, to the mix. For Alan it was the The Karate Kid, which actually featured a Honda S800 in the sequel. Sammy B reminded us of a whole bunch of shows and movies, like The A-Team, Magnum P.I., Smokey & The Bandit, The Blues Brothers, and Back to the Future to name a few.

The 80s wasn’t just a great time for car-themed TV shows and movies. There were plenty of automotive IPs aimed directly at kids. As Arman mentioned, there was the all-consuming Transformers. And how could we forget the Love Bug, Herbie, as nominated by Christopher Scott? Toy-wise, there were lines such as Hot Wheels and AFX Slot Cars as suggested by Nigel. Fred Langille brought up even more obscure toys like the Crashmobile and Design-a-Car set.

Last but not least, there were video games such as Sammy B‘s beloved Test Drive II and akbarfit‘s pick, Gran Turismo. 

The winner this week was Streetspirit, which brought to our attention something we knew nothing about. Apparently in one Crayon Shin Chan installment the titular character went bosozoku. We had seen other Crayon Shin Chan movies filled with JNC content, but this was a new one to us.

As someone right between Millenial and gen Z there was little in terms of young pertolhead entertainment but shows like ‘Totally Spies’ and ‘inspector gadget’ as well as what little anime made it to our screens had lots of cool rad-era inspired cars.

My greatest kid-petrolhead television memory(specific, i know) was seeing my first zokusha in an episode of shin chan.
How shin chan was ever seen as a kids show is beyond me but in one episode he did his tricycle up in bosozoku style and started roasting two bad guys in what i assume was a tricked out soarer or as shin chan called it ‘a pink weeniemobile’.

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

JNC Decal smash

This post is filed under: Question of the Week and
tagged: .

26 Responses to QotW: What technology made modern cars less interesting?

  1. Art says:

    The drift button.

    I understand there is some form of traction control in every modern car, which is a very useful driver aid. Long before we had anti-locking brakes (ABS) and traction control, drivers were advised to take special training to handle any form of oversteer or braking in winter conditions. Thanks to ABS and traction control we no longer need to take these courses.

    For spirited drivers that actually like to drive without the traction control, we can actually disable this in most cars. This means we can polish our skills and still drive sideways (preferably on a track or closed environment) when we like to.

    Over the past decade, we have seen the arrival of cars that introduced a new capability: the drift button. I believe it started with the Focus RS or the Fiesta ST that offered an AWD system. The drift button will send all power to the rear wheels and add more (or less) power to maintain the drift. This is a zero-effort feature that requires no skill at all. Since then these features have been added to numerous other cars.

    I understand manufacturers adding safety features to cars. However, the drift button is just making things less interesting

  2. Steve says:

    I won’t win stickers for this, however, ETB kills the driving experience for me. Even the most mundane car has such a delay from the throttle pedal to the throttle body it is insanely unsafe and unfun. When I enter a roundabout, I NEED my car to go on my command. Not when some programmer meeting EPA emissions or miles per gallon requirements thinks I need to go with other enthusiasts in old school Miatas and Supras blasting through the fun of a roundabout without delay.

    • Jim Simpson says:

      Admittedly the ETB’s have improved over the years but I long for the simplicity of cables and linkage… something to give me a sense that I am connected to the engine and car. Our 2024 Mazda 3 with a manual gearbox drives extremely well, but I can’t understand the lack of manual gearbox cars available in the market place…

    • interstataphobia says:

      It’s not really the ETBs, but the tuning/programming. ETBs are quite capable of being just as fast, and better, than cable operated.

    • Sammy B says:

      Good call. drive by wire and overly boosted power steering really take a lot of the old school “feel” away. Things feel a bit too sanitary and almost video game like.

      the associated “rev hang” we see on some cars annoys me too.

  3. Fred Langille says:

    To me, it’s the plethora building up of electric vehicles … I meant vehicles in the form of cars, trucks, SUVs and motorcycles. Par of the as-it-was-in-the-beginning-and-it’s-all-that-ever-shall-
    be-world-without-end … and can we have a big AMEN fooooooor … engine noise! Yes, engines that make noise like in VVVVrrrrrrroooooooooooom VVVrrrrroooooooom! Electric cars don’t have the necessary ear candy that my 75-year-old ear drums like. What is more inviting to put the pedal to the medal … the crack of exhaust or, the whine of ‘trons spooling up? Its the noises of any car plus, the noxious smells of exhaust vice the ozoney like odor of electric motors that make driving, whether racing or, not … pleasureable to the nth degree and … whoops, you’ll have to excuse me, gotta start up the S-Cargo and Merceds-Benz for my morning aural fix, both having the smells to match in the exhaust areas!

  4. Crown says:

    Well, this is ancient history as far as technology goes today, for me the introduction of “safety bumpers” in the ’70’s. Those things that stuck out past the front and rear of the car.

  5. MikeRL411 says:

    The automatic transmission! I appreciate its longevity, but it has allowed a generation of asinine drivers on the road!

  6. Jeremy A. says:

    Computational fluid dynamics. Because of the addition of so much safety equipment, and the continual tightening of fleet fuel economy, all of the manufacturers turned to computers to calculate the optimal shape to cut through the air and allow a vehicle to obtain the maximum fuel economy while getting bigger and heavier. And as a result, before the crossover craze, all vehicles ended up looking like a used bar of soap, and after the crossover craze, they all ended up looking like a slightly bigger and boxier used bar of soap. Vehicles are no longer unique or instantly recognizable. No manufacturer is getting bold and imaginative with their designs. No, it’s all just what the computer says is optimal, so all the vehicles with very few exceptions, look extremely samey now.

    • MikeRL411 says:

      Designers are all domestic USA based, They all or almost all attended the same school and used the same design software. Any guess why all their designs look alike?

  7. Sedanlover says:

    I’m not sure I understand the point of this one…
    Are you asking us what automotive technological advances we hate based on the fact some “modern” cars may one day be classed as JNC’s? And if cars are now faster than ever before, isn’t it safer to have things like blind spot monitoring?

    I know it’s just a bit of fun, and the once-a-year QOTW comes around asking for the diehards to “tell us your rant on why modern cars suck”, but is this not pointless? We are all car enthusiasts here. We all love the older Japanese stuff, and I dare say ~90% of contributors to this blog either own a newer car or have at least driven in one several times to form an opinion, but we aren’t out here white-knuckling it every day in our old fumey, bouncy, unsafe steel chariots, fighting our way through traffic. These are our pride and joys. Not our everyday cars.

    Please tell me if there is anyone on here that will never drive a modern car.

    Surely we can all agree that the technological advances made in each new vehicle release are for safety, comfort, and convenience. But with these updates, there is always a payoff (loss of pure driving experience, that raw feeling we enjoy). But hang on! Isn’t that why we have kept our passion for old cars alive, and in most cases, still own an old car?

    I’m not sure hating on modern cars is the rhetoric JNC should be endorsing. We all still watch some form of newer motorsport. We all have to drive in traffic and use GPS sometimes. And I don’t think anyone on here is stuck in a time loop from 1985 with magic access to the internet.

    • CycoPablo says:

      I’m in 89 and 05 Hondas, both manuals with cable throttle bodies. The latter is a 1.3l Jazz and it’s a hoot.
      Nice places to be!

  8. Alan says:

    They recently remade Final Fantasy 7. It’s been completely revamped with ostensibly improved graphics, sound, gameplay, reduced load times, etcetera. But I have less than zero interest in it, because it was the very limitations of the PlayStation’s primitive architecture that made the original great. Unspoiled by near-limitless processing power and memory, the artists and designers behind the original FF7 were forced to dig deep to do more with less, and created something magical and transcendent in the process.

    The problem with modern cars is parallel in both concept and timeline; the dawn of cheap processing power supplanted the creative impetus of engineers with the promise of free power steering (EPAS), instant gearchanges (DCTs), and seamlessly linear (uninspiring) turbocharging.

    Why spend precious resources and man hours carefully calibrating a rewarding ride and handling balance when countless suspension “modes” are available at the touch of a button? Why design an engine to make a pleasant sound when a barrage of pops and bangs are as simple as programming the injectors to dribble out a few more drops on the overrun? Because they feel and sound phony, like ten thousand lines of code, and not the passion and hard-won knowledge of an expert driver/engineer.

    Software is not a satisfactory substitute for a touch of human spirit in our stories and machines.

    The 8-32 Bit and Analog Car Eras were Zeitgeist defining, just as the games and transportation devices of the 21st century are of a desperate dystopia.

  9. interstataphobia says:

    The automatic transmission. Yes, I know many of them are better performance-wise compared to the manual and for certain people and/or driving situations, far preferable in their ease. But I can get in almost anything with a manual and, at least to me, the vehicle comes alive. I’ve become an integral working part of the overall machine; a central cog. In an auto, I only feel like an operator on the outside telling it GO, STOP. A bit of exaggeration to prove a point: In an auto I own the car, I’m not a part of it. I wanna be in this together.

  10. Lakdasa says:

    Miss the mechanical feel of them, cars have become softer and given birth to a lethargic generation that will not be able to drive any of the old mechanical cars. Yes it has meant more safety and catering to the masses and not just people who love to drive.

  11. Franxou says:

    I stumbled upon a well worn but loved ’94 Ford Tempo the other day and I went nuts over it because “Holy cow I grew up and learned to drive in one of those!” It was the same specs, wheels and color. But it was just a Tempo, cheap transportation for people who couldn’t really care less. Eventually it becomes rare, and by being rare it becomes cool when we see one. Kind of similar for a last-gen two-doors Dodge Colt near my home, I can’t believe the old couple keeps it as their sole transportation, and how nice it has been kept. Super good looking little car.

    I drive electric now I really love the magic carpet feeling it gives me, so I am all for new technology, but I still like my old classic rumbling car, and motorbikes too.

    I really get a lot of the comments above mine, that today’s cars will one day be cool pieces of history and so we should not just bash them mindlessly.

    That said, What technology made modern cars less interesting? THE EXTINCTION OF POP UP HEADLIGHTS!

  12. TheJWT says:

    This may not be a popular answer, but turbos. Or rather, turbos when they became good. The Porsche 930 turbo didn’t get its reputation as a widowmaker because of a whopping 260hp. It got that reputation because that 260hp came all at once like a brick wall. For as much as people moan about electric cars being boring, modern turbo cars with arrow straight powerbands and horrible sounding exhausts aren’t all that different

  13. Chet Manley says:

    Just one? I would say the standardization of power windows. While the power window isn’t a bad thing, I have yet to see a car with standard power windows that is an objectively better driving and more exciting than anything with the option of a crank window.

    • Alan says:

      I feel that my LS430 is objectively better with power windows.

      And IDK, have you ever tried steering with your knee while holding a window crank in each hand, one at TDC and one at BDC, and tried to wind them in sync with the tach while pretending your the engine? Pretty damn fun, def adds to the driving experience.

      • Chet Manley says:

        I’m not saying that the windows make the car better but is a car with standard power windows a better/more fun car than an older model without them?

  14. Taylor C. says:

    If “less interesting” means “less dynamically interesting,” then I would say the whole apple carplay android compatibility thing sure did it. Sure, it’s useful for integrating your phone to the car and makes things, at times, safer. However, it’s basically turned the car into a giant smart device now. And that’s what’s gotten a lot of companies to focus more on nowadays. Case in point, I was overseas in the Middle East and saw a commercial for the Infiniti SUV, I don’t even remember which one. The entire commercial was focused on the smart device interface and how it integrates “seamlessly” to the vehicle. Throw in a couple of USB ports in the back, and that was the end of the commercial. Nothing on the driving experience or the variable compression ratio engine or even the interior accommodations. My jaw dropped, and I wasn’t sure if that was really the commercial. Sure enough, the commercial aired again 20 minurtes later, and I just shook my head.

    A colleague of mine was also car shopping, and his main requirement was “Apple Carplay.” I was like, “nothing else? power, # of passengers? sportiness?” I understand the car will be an appliance to certain folks, but c’mon…

  15. speedie says:

    Cruise control. I have been driving for over 40 years and can count on both hands the number of times I have used it. I know lots of people like it since it “relaxes” their feet, but I think it just makes you a lazy driver. A close second is tiptronic style transmissions; either make it automatic or put in a real manual. What are you afraid of, that someone will get a left foot cramp?

  16. エーイダン says:

    The Crossover SUV. It’s taking over the automotive landscape like a giant, all-consuming, ghastly blob. A blob that shapeshifts and takes one the names of those it devours. From the Mustang MACH-E (of which I have dubbed the Mach-R-E) to the soulless abomination that is the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. These automotive monstrosities are bland, boring, lacking in any flair or excitement and are just hideous all around.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *