By Jim Gorzelany
Automakers not only strive to develop new gizmos and gadgets to capture the hearts and minds of new-car buyers, they love to create intriguing names for what are otherwise relatively mundane components.
The 1941 Chrysler Imperial’s automatic transmission was called the “Vacamatic.” In the 1960’s, Oldsmobile’s didn’t come powered by mere V8 engines, they were “Rocket 88s.” Buick’s once offered a “Super Sonomatic” car radio, and later christened its bump-absorbing suspension “Dynaride.”
That sort of oddball naming convention lives on in the 21st Century, with high-tech-sounding suffixes like “–tronic” and “–matic” continuing to abound and confound. Here’s a look at 10 current new-car features – some of them innovative, some ordinary, some are even silly – with handles that could well have been taken from a 1930’s edition of Popular Science.
• Gentleman Function. Arguably the new-car feature name that garners the most giggles, the hallmark of civility can be found in the big BMW 7 Series sedan, where it is used to adjust the passenger’s seat from the driver’s side controls. This can either work to let a chauffeur maximize a rear-seat passenger’s legroom, or to help a rider up front find his or her comfort zone.
• Openometer. In most climates, buying a convertible is not a particularly practical purchase. However, for those who feel the need to compile indisputable evidence that they’re in fact getting their money’s worth, the MINI Cooper convertible comes with an Openometer, which is a gauge that displays the aggregate amount of time the car’s convertible top has been lowered.
• Parking Lifter. Unfortunately, this won’t raise and slide a car sideways into a tight parallel parking space. Rather, it’s an optional system on a Ferrari 458 Italia sports car that elevates the front suspension slightly to clear ramps and speed bumps without unduly scraping the undercarriage.
• Magic Sky Control. It sounds like it could be the subject of a kids’ book (“Chauncey and the Magic Sky Control”), but it’s really an optional panoramic glass roof panel on the just-redesigned Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster. Fitted to the car’s retractable hardtop, this next-generation sunshade can switch from light to dark transparency at the push of a button.
• Plasmacluster. The uninitiated might mistake this for a previously undiscovered celestial formation spotted by the Hubble telescope, but it’s more mundanely used as the trade name for a climate-control air-filtration system offered in the Toyota Camry.
• Comfort Access. Though this name conjures up images of unfettered and unusually accommodating ingress into the driver’s seat, it’s BMW’s name for a keyless push-button entry and engine-starting system. Guess it relieves the unfathomable physical discomfort involved in actually inserting and turning a car key.
• City Safety. Presumably you’re out of luck with this feature if you live in the suburbs. Offered on the Volvo XC60 crossover SUV, City Safety automatically engages the brakes at speeds less than 19 mph to avoid rear-end collisions with other vehicles in stop-and-go traffic.
• Optitron. No, it’s not one of the evil Decepticon robots from Transformers. Instead this refers to the three-dimensional-looking backlit instrument panel gauges that have become a hallmark on most Lexus vehicles.
• Skyhook. You might think this is something that pops out of Inspector Gadget’s hat to help break his fall from a tall building, but you would be wrong. Maserati uses this trade name to identify its adaptive suspension system.
• Sentronic. We felt compelled to work in a “-tronic” ending name in here somewhere, and this particular one refers to the six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear-select function that’s offered in the Saab 9-3 sedan, wagon and convertible.