Thursday, March 17, 2011



I am going on a rant today about a couple of things automotive related. I’m willing to bet you can relate to at least one of them, and maybe both.

I am driving a GMC Terrain this week. This is essentially a knockoff of the Chevrolet Equinox in just about everything except its exterior features -- same platform, same engine choices, same transmission, etc.

It’s not a bad vehicle at all, a bit underpowered when equipped with the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (a V6 is available) but otherwise up to the job it is designed for -- a compact crossover for hauling families and groceries.

Many reviewers have praised it and see it as a strong competitor in its segment, and I would agree with their assessment.

That’s not my rant.

My rant has to do with its optional navigation system.

The screen for the map display, though a nice-sized seven inches, is hard to see. The designers were thoughtful enough to add a visor at the top of the screen to shade the display from sunlight, a nice touch.

But when set in the “daylight” mode, it is difficult to see all the streets without straining. The background, you see, is something of a light gray in color. The main roads are in green and red and easily seen. But the side streets are outlined in white. They simply blend into the background, and often they are the ones you really need.

At first, I thought the problem might be my polarized sunglasses, so I took them off. No noticeable difference. Unless I leaned forward and squinted, I simply couldn’t see the side streets at a glance, which is the way it should be.

I thought maybe I could adjust the brightness of the screen to take care of the problem, and that is when I ran into the subject for my second rant. When I punched enough buttons to bring up settings for just about everything except brightness, I decided I had to go to the owner’s manual.
For an auto reviewer, this is throwing up a white flag of surrender, but you can’t win them all.

So I dug in the owner’s manual. It was no help.

I don’t know who makes up the indexes for owner’s manuals, but whoever it is has no idea of what the average slug (like me) might be looking for in them.

I tried various key words in both the regular owner’s manual and the separate publication for the navigation system and though I saw how to set up all kinds of visual and audio functions and what all the little lights on the instrument panel are for, I never came across setting simple screen brightness.

Maybe it was a knob right in front of me, but I couldn’t find it.

So I gave up.

I hasten to add that the problem with owner’s manuals and looking up things in them isn’t unique to GM products. It’s pretty common through the industry. Try picking up one of the manuals for a German automaker. They’re the size and thickness of the Oxford English Dictionary but written without the humor. If you want to find something specific in them, throwing them up in the air and hoping the right page comes up is as fast as searching through the index.

So, too, are some navigation screens on some models difficult to see. Jaguar and Porsche are two makes that come to mind, though both have taken steps in recent years to remedy the problem.

I don’t see how someone at GMC who was savvy enough to recognize the sunlight problem and add a very effective visor to shade the screen could then do something as dumb as outline streets in white on a light gray background.

What were you thinking?

That’s the end of my rant, but I will bring up one more thing.

Why did GM, which has a very effective lineup of trucks and SUVs in its Chevrolet brand that are near copies of GMC products (or the other way around), keep GMC and get rid of Pontiac, and before that, Oldsmobile?

Maybe the same kind of guy who would outline streets on light gray maps in white, I guess.

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