Top 10 Most Gimmicky Automotive Features

Dan Ilika
by Dan Ilika

Cars today are packed with more features than ever before.

And while most features were developed with good intentions, some of them end up being no more than a marketing line. You know the ones; these features attract an awful lot of attention and might seem great in theory, but never end up being truly useful in real life. On that note, here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of the most gimmicky features recently on the market.

Honda Ridgeline’s In-Bed Audio System

International Auto Show

Some things about the Ridgeline’s bed are ingenious. Its in-bed trunk, for example, or the way the tailgate can be opened two different ways depending on need. The in-bed audio system, however, isn’t worthy of the same praise. Sure, you’re bound to be a hit at the next tailgate party you attend, but a few pounds of chicken wings have the same effect for a fraction of the cost. Worse still, the Ridgeline’s bed isn’t even fitted with real speakers. No, six so-called “exciters” are instead bolted into the bed walls and can vibrate to the beat of the stereo in the cabin.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Honda Ridgeline Review

BMW’s Gesture Control

While we’re on the subject of in-car entertainment, there’s the Gesture Control functionality in cars like the BMW 7 Series. While this feature isn’t purely a novel one and does serve a purpose when it comes to safety, it is fairly limited in its functionality at the moment. Using a tiny camera that recognizes hand movements, the twirl of a finger offers a fast way to turn down the volume of the stereo, while a swiping motion will ignore a phone call. The advantage here is one of safety, allowing the driver to conduct menial tasks while keeping his or her eyes on the road. Of course, until the functionality expands, Gesture Control will remain little more than a cool way to impress people.

Ford Focus RS Drift Mode

If you’re out to impress people, the Ford Focus RS might be your best choice. It’s fast and fun and looks every bit the 350-horsepower hot hatch it is. The Focus RS also took home top honors as’s 2017 Car of the Year, and its user-friendly ways played a big role. Of course, it is possible to be a little too user-friendly, which may be the case when it comes to the car’s Drift Mode. Said to have been developed by mistake, it takes little more than the flick of a switch to get sideways in the RS. Unfortunately, it’s also a quick way to shred tires, and undoubtedly gets old quickly because it shouldn’t be used anywhere except a track. As far fancy features goes, this is about as gimmicky as it gets.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Ford Focus RS Review

Toyota Tacoma’s Crawl Control

If it weren’t for the practicality it brings to the table, the Crawl Control feature in the latest Toyota Tacoma would be right up there with Ford’s Drift Mode as the ultimate in automotive gimmickry. Should you bury your Tacoma axles-deep in a sand dune, it now takes but a little electronic trickery to get you out and back on your way — which is exactly why this feature makes the list. If you can’t get yourself out of a mess like that on the trail, as the theory goes, then maybe you shouldn’t be out on the trail in the first place.

Jeep Trailhawk Tow Strap

That brings us to our next feature on the list: The tow strap that’s offered with every Trailhawk model Jeep sells. It’s not that Trailhawk models — the tally now stands at four, ranging from the Renegade to the Grand Cherokee — aren’t capable, because they most certainly are. But to think that more than a handful of owners are willing to put their rides in positions precarious enough to need a tow is absurd. As if those shiny red tow hooks weren’t garish enough, Jeep had to throw a “recovery bag” in the back, complete with a tow strap and gloves. This stinks of gimmickry.

Cabin Perfume Dispensers

Speaking of unpleasant odors, cruising around with an air freshener dangling from a rearview mirror is tacky, especially in a pricey premium vehicle. The solution, then, is to integrate fresh scents directly into the car’s HVAC system. Mercedes-Benz and BMW have both done this, though it’s hard to think of it as anything less than a neat trick to show off to friends. Just believe us when we tell you that the novelty will wear off quicker than the “energy of cool woodlands” scents brought on by BMW’s Green Suite of smells.

Mercedes-Benz’s Swarovski Crystal Headlights

It’s not just for its ploy to pump perfume into its cars’ cabins that Mercedes makes this list. In fact, that ploy pales in comparison to the Swarovski crystal headlights that were available on the coupe and convertible versions of the S-Class. Seriously. Apparently, each headlight is packed with almost 50 genuine Swarovski crystals that help refract light. If you ask us, the only thing they really help refract is money out of your wallet and into Mercedes’ coffers.

Rolls-Royce’s Fiber-Optic Headliner

As far as lighting systems go, the only thing more outlandish than those crystal-lined headlights is the fiber-optic headliner offered by Rolls-Royce. Because buying a convertible to actually look at the stars is far too peasant-like, the automaker’s bespoke division will gladly stitch you a headliner full of as many as 1,600 fiber-optic lights. And people say kids these days don’t spend enough time outside.

Cadillac’s Rear Camera Mirror

Replacing a traditional rear view mirror with a camera display is a sign of the times. It’s also a little too gimmicky for our liking. Cadillac claims this fancy digital display, which uses a rear-mounted camera to display a live look at what’s behind the car, improves rearward vision by 300 percent compared to a traditional mirror. In theory, it’s a great idea, but we’ve tried using it before and just can’t get used to it, so it ends up being pretty useless, especially at night. Chalk this one up to the old if-it-ain’t-broke adage.

ALSO SEE: How Cadillac’s Blind Spot-Busting Rear-View Mirror Works

Paddle Shifters in Non-Sports Cars

And finally, we have paddle shifters. What was formerly reserved for the likes of Ferraris has now trickled down market to be featured in everything from family sedans to minivans. This is a trend we’d like to see put out of its misery, though that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. It’s a pretty safe bet that people who don’t drive sports cars will never use their paddle shifters — that’s why they bought an automatic to begin with.

Become an AutoGuide insider. Get the latest from the automotive world first by subscribing to our newsletter here.

Recent Updates:

December 8, 2021 – Updated the introduction for improved performance. Reformatted headings and links. Corrected footer. Updated Ford Focus RS Drift Mode text for accuracy. Reworded Mercedes-Benz’s Swarovski Crystal Headlights text for accuracy.

Dan Ilika
Dan Ilika

Dan is's Road Test Editor, a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan, and a car guy since childhood. He enjoys long walks on the beach and long drives just about anywhere the road, track or trail will take him. You'll see him driving around evaluating cars and in front of a camera talking about them. Dan is a member of the World Car of the Year jury.

More by Dan Ilika

Join the conversation
2 of 4 comments
  • Kaffekup Kaffekup on Mar 19, 2017

    Ok, Dan, we get it, you're just not a 1%er who appreciates the finer things in life, like displaying your wealth to family, friends and strangers. :-) Some of the safety features may actually work for people who go where you don't, and, if they don't want them, they won't buy the car. But we realize you need to write articles for a living, so keep on.

  • Wcjeep Wcjeep on May 01, 2017

    Paddle shifters in a Toyota Camry are gimmicky. Special fiber optic headliner in a Rolls Royce sounds about right.