By Nick Kurczewski (Road & Track)
To stand out in a crowded field, automakers have to push the envelope when it comes to adding unique attributes to a vehicle. Sure, your neighbor just parked a brand-new car in his driveway—but does his new ride have glowing speakers, or a built-in perfume dispenser?
We’ve combed through spec sheets and options lists in our search for the strangest new car features. What we found is an automotive world full of creativity and, in some cases, a few items that just left us scratching our head. What exactly is a “Gentleman Function” button—and what is it doing in a BMW luxury sedan?
Grabbing the attention of car buyers isn’t made easier when even the most basic economy car often comes loaded with standard equipment such as air conditioning, power door locks and a window-rattling stereo system. Even a supercar costing $1.7 million isn’t immune to adding some razzle dazzle to set it apart from, well, all the other million dollar supercars.
2011 Mini Cooper Convertible – Openometer
Mini Cooper Convertible owners apparently need an added incentive to drop their tops. How else can we explain the “Openometer,” a tiny gauge mounted on the dashboard that records in minutes and hours precisely how long the fabric top has been kept down. Fitted as standard equipment, the Openometer, says Mini, is “a tool to help keep you aware of your openness…so you can revel in the roofless hours you’ve spent on your trip, cultivating your open mind and a tan.” Our guess is that a few BMW-Mini engineers spent too much time in the sun before coming up with this useless gadget.
2011 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 – Top Speed Key
The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is among the fastest and most exclusive cars in the world. Not only do you need approximately $1.7 million to buy one, you’ll also need one very special key if you want to unlock this 1001-bhp supercar’s top speed of more than 250 miles per hour. An owner must fit the (unimaginatively named) “top speed key” before attempting to reach the Veyron’s outer limits. Give it a twist, and the Veyron’s suspension and rear spoiler are lowered for better wind-cheating aerodynamics. The steering input is also limited—at 250 mph, you want to make sure all your steering corrections are minor….
2011 BMW 750i – The “Gentleman Function”
The award for the most regal sounding— and totally bewildering—feature name goes to the BMW 7 series and the “Gentleman Function.” Located deep within the vehicle features of this refined Germany luxury sedan, the actual function of this device is less grandiose than its lofty title. Basically, it’s a clever way for the driver to make more room for rear passengers. With a few clicks of BMW’s iDrive controller, the front passenger seat can be maneuvered using the same controls used for the driver’s seat. Okay, but what’s the point? Unless you’re a limousine driver, there really isn’t one. The “Gentleman Function” allows the driver to increase legroom for rear passengers without forcing him or her to get out of the car and use the front passenger seat controls.
2011 Kia Soul – Glowing and Pulsing Speaker Lights
By now you’ve seen the cutesy commercials and are fully aware that hamsters have given the Kia Soul their full endorsement. Yet these furry household pets have a trick up their sleeve—or more exactly, a frivolous feature located in the front door-mounted speakers. Crank up the stereo in certain models of Kia Soul and watch as lights surrounding the speakers pulse and glow to the beat of the music. It’s fun, for about five minutes. After that, it’s about as enjoyable as having a bratty kid kick the back of your seat. To make matters worse, these illuminated speakers appear to be part of an ongoing recall related to the wiring harness of the 2010 Kia Soul.
2011 Ford Mustang – Adjustable Dashboard Lighting
Lots of cars have adjustable interior lighting, but the Ford Mustang takes top marks for the sheer magnitude of different colors on offer. With the scroll of a button, the Mustang’s gauge cluster can be tuned to one of literally hundreds of hues. This should really be the default sports coupe for any manager of a Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore paint store. What’s even wackier is that, in a weird way, the Mustang’s interior light show really works wonders depending on the mood you’re in. Feeling racy? Switch the gauges to a fiery red and stomp the gas pedal. For relaxed highway cruising, opting for an icy blue or forest green helps calms things down.
2011 Fiat 500 – Perfume dispenser
We tried to limit our selection of wacky features to vehicles sold in North America. But with U.S. sales likely to begin within the next few months, we couldn’t resist offering a sneak preview of the charming (and sweet-smelling) Fiat 500 city car. As an accessory, Fiat offers buyers of the 500 a built-in perfume diffuser for this retro-styled little hatchback. Available in white or black, the electric diffuser fits between the front seats. There are currently three fragrances: Citrus, Essence of Night and Breath of Fresh Air. The intensity of the scent can be adjusted by pushing the plus or minus buttons located on top of the device. About the only drawback—other than the giggling of your friends—is that the diffuser effectively turns the dual front-cupholder into a single drink unit.
2011 Honda Element – Dog Friendly Package
Your opinion of this next feature might be determined by whether or not you have paws and a tail. If you do—or happen to live with a creature that does—then the “Dog Friendly package” offered in the Honda Element could be your (second) best friend. For $995, this option package adds pooch-friendly features like a custom-fitted, soft-sided crate, spill-resistant water bowl, electric cooling fan mounted in the cargo bay, portable ramp, dog-patterned rear seat covers and heavy-duty dogbone- patterned floormats. Extra accessories include a leash, collar, ID tag and, yes, even a dispenser for dog-waste bags. Exterior paw-print badges on the tailgate and front fenders lets everyone know you’re a proud dog owner—as if being constantly covered in Fido’s hair wasn’t proof enough.