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Hooniverse Asks: What’s the Bare Minimum Feature Set You Would Demand of a New Car?

Robert Emslie March 20, 2017 Hooniverse Asks 47 Comments

The 1920 Briggs & Stratton Flyer was notable for featuring five wheels—four to hold the platform up in the traditional fashion, and a fifth, hanging out back that provided some sort of motivation from its tiny one-cylinder engine. The Flyer is perhaps more notable however for the fact that it offers absolutely no other features what so ever—no doors, windshield, or even a passing sense that you wouldn’t die driving it.

The Flyer could be the ultimate expression of a car bereft of features, and that got me thinking about whether we today have a communal minimum feature set that we demand our cars and trucks possess. Could you do without power windows? What about air-con? Do you demand a tilt wheel? What set of car features are enough to make you say that’ll do pig?

Image: Remarkable Cars

  • P161911

    The last new car that I bought is a 2011 Silverado Work Truck. It has A/C, AM/FM/CD/3.5mm jack input sound system, and an automatic transmission (only option available). No power windows, no power locks, no carpet (rubber floor mats), no power seats, to automatic climate control. In retrospect, I probably should have sprung for power windows and power locks or at least paid to have them installed aftermarket (cheaper). The wife drives it on occasion and I always hear complaints about the lack of power windows and power locks. I’ve offered to retrofit them, but I think that she had rather just keep complaining.

    I did get a backup camera to retrofit. Now I either need to install it or pay to have it done.

    • outback_ute

      I last drove a new Mitsubishi Triton pickup (<1,000 miles on it), not absolute base model because it has the 2.4TD and auto trans rather than 2.4 gas & 5 speed, but otherwise it has the features you mention plus power windows & mirrors, USB input, cruise control and cloth seats with centre console (it is really too narrow for a centre seat). But the rear wall of the cabin is bare metal with the jack handle (I think) clipped to it – which is the source of most interior noise, it is pretty quiet otherwise.

      Mind you back in 2000 I drove a new Ford Falcon 1 tonner that was the same but had trim on the rear wall of the cab – no sound insulation but it looked better at least. That also had electric seat height adjustment but no aux input or USB because they weren't really a "thing" then. I was impressed with the CD & cruise control on a base-base ute at the time. It is hard to remember but I think it was straight-LPG (propane) powered which started with the series 2 update.

  • 0A5599

    Interesting timing on this question. Last week I was very enamored of a Craigslist find and was thinking about it as a light project and then primary transportation for my teen. This particular example was built when air conditioning was typically an extra-cost option, and the original owner had not checked that box. So I explained to my son how I went five consecutive summers in a series of un-air-conditioned vehicles, and asked if he would want to sweat for this one.

    He said yes. I’m at a stage in my life/career where I’d rather not show up drenched.

  • Considering that a new Focus hatch with features previously reserved for luxury cars (Heated Seats, Dual Climate, Remote Start) can be had for about $19,500, I just don’t see the need to think about what I’d leave off to save a buck.

    Maybe I’m just pissed off about the lack of manual transmission options.

    • crank_case

      This is it really, when you can have equipment for very little it’s more a case of why wouldn’t you? For example, DAB radio, not essential, but if the options there, I’m taking it. I sort of have the opposite problem on transmissions here in Ireland, nearly every car has a manual whether it suits the car or not, but an auto is only very slowly losing its perception of being a luxury thing so I’d need to spec a high trim level to get two pedals in many cases.

  • Original Fiat Panda. Yes, it’s loud, tiny, feeble, and you’ll die in any minor fender bender, but that’s the bare minimum I’d accept for shopping and my commuting. I would prefer something with more crash-resistance and a better heating, but a Lada (better heating) is a spacious landyacht in comparison, and a Smart (better crash-resistance) is a luxurious toy.


    • vega60

      I had a 1980 version with the ‘big’ 45hp engine. Great for dive-bombing city traffic, winning almost every 30 Yard traffic light sprint.

    • crank_case

      I ran a mechanically similar 90s Fiat Cinquecento SX (same 899cc engine) as a daily and I loved it, it’s a brilliant city car and seemed to return 50MPG if I drove it like a saint and 49MPG if I drove it like an Italian. I stuck with the latter style. I’d love one again just to have around. The spartan interior actually makes it an airy, pleasant place to be.

      However, you really couldn’t realistically run one as your only car unless you were very patient. It’s just not cut out for motorway speeds, you really do notice those long inclines and they engine is screaming for mercy if you try keep up the pace.

      Stick to the cities and country lanes and it’s wonderful, or perhaps throw in a Fiat Punto 1.2 8v engine (straight swap in the cinq apparently). Also cup holders, or the lack of. I guess Italians just drink espressos and don’t muck around or see the idea of a cappucino to go uncivilized when it should be enjoyed sitting around a cafe for two hours, but I don’t live in Tuscany.

      Anyone who thinks cup holders aren’t neccesary had never had a large americano end up in their lap (the coffee, not an overweight US citizen) because they thought they would get away with balancing it on the low dash shelf like an idiot. Thankfully there’s not much for it soak into, there was no milk to go off, and the car had a nice coffee smell for a week or so. Hey, they say it helps sell houses.

      • My commute doesn’t involve highways, luckily. Contrary, I have memories of sitting in the rear of one during an overtake attempt (pass a semi, not buying stocks): the driver dropped down into third, gaining speed behind the semi. Once he was sure about the oncoming traffic he swayed over and dropped into second… only for two seconds, but it was necessary.

        • crank_case

          My commute is five-ten minutes on a bicycle, but I do like to go places from time to time.

    • Sjalabais

      My mother bought one after reunification, her first car. Unfathomably rusty, but it had a full length fabric roof – and the reunited German market for used cars was vacuumed either way. It did, in all honesty, collapse in a fender bender.

      • “See? It wasn’t all bad in the West.”
        I forgot about the Italian export-grade rust indeed.

    • outback_ute

      Could say similar for my Hillman Imp, which I have occasionally used for the commute and done some decent length trips in (1000 miles). 4500 rpm on the highway is high but not a problem for the engine (it can hit 8000), but instead of “better heating”, “some heating” would be an improvement. I can think of one cold early morning trip where that would have been useful; there is a reason why windscreen defrosters are now mandatory!

      • As the VW beetle ad said: “Air won’t boil, air won’t freeze.”
        As the VW beetle owners added: “Air won’t heat!”
        My grandfather paid like 200 DeutschMark for an additional (electric) heater for his VW TL1600…

        • outback_ute

          Oil will boil though!

  • GTXcellent

    I’m assuming the question is in regards to a daily driver, as my GTX lacks power steering, power brakes, power windows, power locks, air conditioning, FM radio and I’m plenty happy driving that rig.

    So for a daily for me – which will always be a pickup – here are the absolute bare minimums: 4 wheel drive, power windows and locks (especially with the ability to ‘lock’ the window switches, damn kids), towing package (which needs – class III or better carrier, oil and tranny coolers and trailer brake control), a/c, cruise control and AM/FM. Everything else is gravy, but I also really love gravy.

  • crank_case

    It depends why I’m buying the car, and for who. Excluding pure toys like the Caterham, in terms of what I’d daily I’m a simple man, so to me something like a Toyota 86 is all the car I need, I dailied a MK2 Miata/Eunos Roadster RS for ages with no issue. I could do without power windows, but they’re handy and I don’t think add that much weight, even manual windows still have the winder mechanism. Even you wanted to save weight, you would just have fixed polycarbonate things. Aircon would be a must in a new car. It rains a hell of a lot in Ireland and it’s very good for keeping the windows clear and not feeling groggy in such a damp climate. I would also want a manual box, and if it’s RWD it’s gotta have a limited slip diff. A tilt wheel isn’t really neccesary if the driving position is good in the first place (like the MK2 MX5, it’s better than the MK1). A decent stereo with USB and aux inputs also.

    A transponder key immobilizer is pretty much essential to prevent car theft. (I’ve had several attempted break-ins on cars over the years)

    On the other hand, the next actually new car I’m likely to buy will be driven by my wife mostly, so that would be a whole different set of criteria, and likely an auto.

  • Kiefmo

    Tacho-speedo-temp-gas gauges.
    6 speeds with a clutch.
    Front and rear discs.
    Seating for two.
    ~25hp and two wheels.

    I mean a motorcycle.

    I miss riding.

    • ptschett

      A 6th gear and a gas gauge? How decadent!

      (Though, I did keep reaching for 6th on the KLR650. And didn’t enjoy the experience during one ride when the gas level fell below the regular-mode petcock standpipe just when I was crossing into city limits and traffic.)

  • engineerd

    In a new car, I think the bar has been set high recently. Heated leather seats, power everything, and 4-wheel disc brakes are becoming standard on even the smaller cars in the US of A. The only thing I really demand is remote start. Being able to start my car from my bedroom so it warms up while I shower is a blessing in the Great White North.

    • P161911

      Remote start only applies to areas of the country that aren’t fit for human habitation.

      I am in a minority that dislike leather seats, especially in cheaper cars. High end cars use a high end grade leather that will last nearly forever. Lesser cars use cheap leather that wears out quickly. My in-laws bought a 2004 Avalanche with leather seats, at about the same time we bought a Trailblazer with cloth seats (try finding cloth seats with a sunroof, there’s a tough combination). Their Avalanche has ripped and torn leather seats with about 170k miles. Our Tralblazer’s seats were still in good shape when I sold it last month with 169k miles.

      • engineerd

        Other than San Diego where the average temperature is ~65 F +/- 10 F, most of the country is unfit for human habitation. It’s either too cold (where remote starts let you pre-heat your car) or too hot (where remote start lets you pre-cool your car) for significant parts of the year.

        • P161911

          Roll down the windows and wait two minutes for the A/C to work, stay inside if the temp is over 95F, that solves the too hot for 95% of the rest of the country.

          • engineerd

            The summer I worked in Florida “staying inside” was not an option if I wanted to keep my job and even a 2 minute “cooldown” with the windows open was insufficient and brutal.

            • Most key fobs these days will roll down the windows as you approach if you hold the unlock button. This can be a big help. Not in Florida in August, but still usually a good thing.

              • P161911

                This feature is annoying as hell if you happen to leave your key fob in your pocket and all the other crap holds down the unlock button. Walk out one morning to all the windows rolled down.

    • 0A5599

      No Morgan for you, I suppose.

      • crank_case

        A Cobra replica owner summed up the experience of cars like these for me. “It’s not a car you go actually go anywhere in, every drive starts and ends back home”. You go for spin, you don’t really park it anywhere.

      • engineerd

        Not if it’s a daily driver.

  • Batshitbox

    A-pillars that don’t block your vision.
    Doors you can comfortably hang your arm out of.
    A hood you can tell where the end of it is.
    Brakes with some feel to them.

  • My current minimum requirement is an internal combusion engine on a stick.


    • 0A5599

      A stick that’s automatic.

      Have you been fitted for a neck brace, yet?

      • I have a NecksGen REV, so what could possibly go wrong?

    • crank_case

      Coil sprung? What? no Hydragas?

      • Had the British shown sufficient courage* to make their own version of the Hop Rod, I’d be in the market for one.

        *Arguably not the right word here.

        • crank_case

          The question is would you really have sufficient courage to get on a BL built version?

          • Of course not; I’ve concluded that BL is rubbish. That’s why the British cars currently in my fleet are instead from Austin Rover Group.

            • Vairship

              Or maybe you need a good Roote-ing. 😉

  • Victor

    Never bought a new car,came close once or twice. could not justify the money. When you buy it it becomes a Used car, and worth thousands less.( most of the time)

  • jeepjeff

    Well, none of my vehicles have fully enclosed passenger compartments, let alone power windows. The A/C is broken on my Jeep, and I’m just planning on removing it, and well, no option for A/C on the bikes. Honestly, Tim’s Ranchero is about the feature set I demand from a vehicle. There should be a seat. An engine. Brakes. Steering. Reasonable suspension (I don’t mind feeling bumps, so optimized for fast or rough terrain is better than comfort). Some modicum of driver safety (seat belts, &c.). Most importantly: a clutch pedal. Strong preference for RWD or part-time 4WD. Some kind of sound system is a nice-to-have, but not necessary (no, I’m not getting a BT helmet setup for the bikes, I anti-want a sound system when riding, TYVM).

  • Stick shift.

    Yeah, that’s about it.

  • caltemus

    In 2017, I want power windows, a keyfob for the door locks, and the stereo needs an aux jack and a volume KNOB. Anything more wont last 20 years, and I’ve grown accustomed to this level with my 90s beaters

  • A pickup truck with shifter on the column, no console, bench seat, ac, electric window and locks, towing package. Not around here. This is the land of special edition 4×4 super duties that retail for north of $60k,