When will a car’s tech catch up with digital expectations?

If the internet is to be credited with having any material influence on humankind, near the top of that list must be how it has accelerated our expectations of technology.

Patience has become a virtue only of the pre-worldwide web age and all of us, the young and the-not-that-so, expect faster, slicker and smarter digital relationships with our phone, tablet, desktop computer and now, latterly, the automobile.

And it’s the latest, and largest, arrival to the IoT party that seems to be struggling most with these consumer expectations. Vehicle hardware takes at least three years to make it from the drawing board into hard mass-market metal and much of that time is spent on ensuring all the technology is robust enough to withstand ever more stringent regulation plus the extended shelf-life we have come to expect from a modern car.

Enter the venerable Peugeot 3008 which, since its launch in 2008, has proven to be a firm favourite with fans of the compact MPV/crossover vehicle able to take on a multitude of tasks to fit the busy lifestyle of the modern family.

And it became the car of choice for my 1,200-mile return London-to-Switzerland drive to cover the 2016 Geneva Motor Show. The Peugeot 3008 1.6 BlueHDi 120 Allure Auto S&S proved comfortable and fully at ease with the high speed single-day drive crossing the snow covered roads of the Jura Mountains with the greatest of ease thanks to generously rubbered 16-inch winter tyres and the Allure’s snow drive mode selected for extra grip.

Its 118bhp diesel 1.6-litre BlueHDi provided good performance coupled with excellent economy for the size of craft.

It also boasts a variety of seating/storage combinations to suit most family and business users and, since its facelift a couple of years ago, is also a rather handsome looking car. In short an excellent vehicle and, with a starting price for the Allure test car of just £22,395 ($32,144), it compares well with all rivals.

Yet, the perfect car has not yet been built and the 3008 does have a couple of design issues mainly with the baffling lack of cup-holders for all but the driver whose unit is placed exactly in line with the elbow – a major irritation for anyone choosing the manual gearbox.

But the biggest disappointment lies with the car’s infotainment and connectivity package. On paper Peugeot Connect reads well with full Bluetooth connectivity to smartphone or portable device and an embedded satellite navigation suite, both updateable for free for the first five years of ownership.

Sadly, the world has turned too many times since the base software was written and even the updates can’t seem to keep pace with our expectations. The Bluetooth connectivity claims to be able to hook up audio wirelessly from a smartphone yet it failed miserably to connect to any iPhone and required the USB connection to stream media files. The connection, too, was always far too slow and would even require re-pairing a couple of times during the 1,600-mile test.

As for the sat-nav, while it did boast traffic updates and occasional diversion options, it simply could not distinguish between motorways and toll roads so when choosing to save a bit of cash you’ll end up conducting your trip on slow and winding minor roads instead of toll-free dual carriageway highways.

Finally, and something Peugeot’s sat-nav has in common with many other carmakers’ kit, the software doesn’t distinguish between urban and extra-urban roads in terms of ambient speed. So a two mile estimate to final destination in the UK’s capital city is given at a laughable two minutes! Surely it’s not beyond the ken of the next update to calculate slower average speeds for a city especially in view of the fact that the average car speed across London has only been between 7-9mph for the past ten years or so? In these digital days we have come to expect a much smarter human-machine interface, where the technology can be an asset and not just a dumb robot whose advice we routinely have to ignore.

Naturally, the fact that a vehicle has to exist far longer in this fibre-optic paced life than most other IoT organisms puts the car at a distinct disadvantage. I once interviewed Professor Dale Harrow, head of vehicle design at the UK’s Royal College of Art, who surmised that car designers of the future will have to create platforms that can change four or five times through their lifespan – a MPV turns into a SUV that morphs into a two-seater sports car that ends up as a city electric trike.

A crazy notion? No, just what we are coming to expect from all of the IoT and only those car manufacturers who deliver to our exacting digital demands will populate this challenging new landscape.

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