User-adjustment better than factory pre-sets

Posted on November 18th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Engine Management,Handling,Opinion by Julian Edgar

I’ve been thinking about the way in which cars are heading. More and more these days you see driver-selectable modes. A sports mode – or even super sports mode – on a double clutch transmission. A button that sharpens throttle response, changes damping and alters auto trans shift points.

Two points.

Firstly, if the car drives badly when in standard mode, fitting a special button doesn’t fix the car. The ‘fix’ needs to be far more fundamental: at minimum, all modes need to drive well.

But the main point I want to make is this.

Why on earth are manufacturers giving only ‘digital’ control over this type of driver selection? Why an on/off switch when it would be far better to provide an analog knob that allows the driver to adjust the action of the system to their taste?

A knob for power steering weight.

A knob for auto transmission ‘sportiness’ (ie revs and throttle position at which up- and down-changes occur).

A knob for the severity of the action of the stability control system.

All lend themselves perfectly to subtle variations in driver preference. All could easily have analog-input control, whether to slide between different software maps (as many ECUs do with ignition timing), or to alter the way the software looks at a critical variable (eg in a stability control system, just changing the importance placed on detected car yaw).

In past AutoSpeed stories we’ve covered a modification that allowed the driver to have access to a knob to dial-up the precise steering weight they wanted; and in an all-wheel drive car, to be able to alter the cornering front-rear torque split. Similar ‘knob control’ of turbo boost is very common in the aftermarket.

In a factory car, different knob positions could be marked with easy to understand labels.

It’s hard to see why drivers wouldn’t relish the ability to set up a car exactly as their personal preference and driving circumstance dictate.

11 Responses to 'User-adjustment better than factory pre-sets'

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  1. Rob said,

    on November 18th, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Drivers would love a knob like this, the same way the Linux user love tweaking and tinkering with their OS. On the flip-side are those who couldn’t care less about how sharp the throttle response is – much like Mac users (grin).

    The other thing is cost. I’m pretty sure there would be a sizable difference in development costs to have three, four or more “maps” developed between the extremes (ie: off and on) for a particular system, and also make that system behave in a predictable manner in it’s interaction with other systems in the vehicle.

    I dare say that some of the electronics suppliers like Bosch are already doing something like this, but it won’t be mass-market for a very long time

  2. Aussie Tourist said,

    on November 18th, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I don’t want much. I just want a knob to adjust the fan speed of the airconditioner in the car!

  3. Julian Edgar said,

    on November 18th, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Aussie Tourist – that’s pretty easy to do. A kit is available and early next year we expect to cover a pre-built electronic module that will be able to do it.

  4. Peter Tawadros said,

    on November 18th, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    Aussie tourist, I don’t have a knob that does this, but I do have analog control over it. I wind the window down, and if I want a low fan speed I only put my right foot down a little bit, but if I want a high fan speed then I put my foot down a lot more 😀

  5. Peter Tawadros said,

    on November 18th, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    ps…beat that for easy to do Julian!! 😛

  6. Chris Katko said,

    on November 18th, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    >The other thing is cost. I’m pretty sure there would be a sizable difference in development costs to have three, four or more “maps” developed between the extremes (ie: off and on) for a particular system, and also make that system behave in a predictable manner in it’s interaction with other systems in the vehicle.

    I would venture to say that if car companies already put countless dollars into designing the systems, and then making them function acceptably with the human element (ergonomics and all), then making them adjustable is merely sprinkles on a cupcake. Compared to baking that cup cake? Virtually nothing.

    This of course depends on what we’re talking about adjusting. But for many features, its dead easy. For transmissions? The TCU already can adjust them! Look way back into Chrysler’s “intelligent” electronically-controlled automatic transmissions (early 90s?). They changed shift points based on how the driver controls the car over a period of time. Casual drivers get soft shifts low in the RPM range while racerboy drivers get high rpm quick shifts that are more apt for a downshift come the need. Being generally intelligent, it also adjusts for extra load like when towing. It even adjusts as the engine wears down (or in my case, a lean mixture reducing power).

    So while some TCU’s already automatically adjust to conditions, there’s nothing preventing it from just accepting input from the driver on how aggressive it should be. In fact, it’d be easier to do than actually having it smart enough to guess in the first place!

    Cars with electronic throttle control would be easily adjustable from an electronics standpoint as well.

    I’d like to see a control knob or two that had to adjustable detents. One for sport and one for casual. And while you could set the knob anywhere for circumstantial adjustments, you’d still always have those detents in the knob for the consistency.

  7. Ben G said,

    on November 20th, 2008 at 3:28 am

    I agree it would be great to have analogue control over the response and even the weighting of the controls – steering, brake and clutch pedal bite points and weight, throttle weight and response. Some cars I find horrible to drive and they are spoiled by the poor response of just one control.

  8. Henry said,

    on November 20th, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    I don’t know. If you look at cars like the BMW M5 which pretty much have what Julian is suggesting it seams like techno overkill. Personally I want the car set up correctly from the factory with a maximum of two modes. “normal” and “max sport”.

    90% of people who own the car though probabily won’t care or will fiddle with it once and then never again.

  9. Philip Armbruster said,

    on November 22nd, 2008 at 11:46 am

    IMHO if you supply adjustability of suspension etc etc, you just give the opportunity for people to adjust them incorrectly.
    I was in the motocycle industry and Japanese and some European bikes have had suspension adjustability for a long time. Most were and are adjusted incorrectly.LOL
    BMW was criticised for having soft suspension which was not adjustable but on the road they performed better .
    Regards Philip A

  10. Teelo said,

    on December 1st, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    Totally agree Julian. Even basic things like dash lights, intermittent wiper delay and radio volume adjustment is fixed position buttons/digital in a lot of cars.
    My ’89 BMW 535 has analogue rotary control of fan speed for the climate control, touch slide control of volume, rotary control of dash lights, rotary control of headlight position to mention a few.
    Love the idea of control knobs with adjustable detents for your “favourites”.
    I think I would enjoy playing with an M5!!

  11. Ford Man said,

    on December 2nd, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I second Henry’s thoughts.

    Also the odds of a manufacturer getting lots of options right is a lot less than just setting up the vehicle correctly at the start. (which seems to give enough trouble),