A recent three-week stay in Detroit gave me the chance to drive some of Detroit's latest offerings. American cars, the kind that make Europeans sneer.
One was the Cadillac CTS-V -- an aggressively styled premium sedan equipped with an old-fashioned 5.7-liter V-8 and a six-speed manual. I was intoxicated with the crisp gearbox, the firm chassis, and the roar of the Corvette-bred engine. Here it was, the special oneness between driver and machine that I thought had disappeared.
Get into a German high-performance car and prepare for an electronics nightmare. Take the BMW M5, universally lauded for its magnificent dynamic capabilities. Turn the key and there is just enough delay to remind you that it is the computer and not you that activates anything in this car.
You start with 400hp. To get the full 507hp you paid for, you press a button. Want more aggressive throttle characteristics? Enter mDrive, the M5 version of BMW's iDrive interface. The seven-speed sequential transmission may confuse you on exactly which gear you are in, but it is extra smart. It has five settings for manually operated mode and five for automatic mode. The No. 11 special setting lets you save a second or so accelerating from 0 to 250kph. To do so, you must follow a memorized, time-consuming procedure to engage "launch-control" mode.
But the M5 doesn't offer the most desirable option: a manual transmission.
It wasn't so long ago that German engineers took pride in refining a reasonable minimum of technology to a maximum of precision, performance and reliability. US and Japanese carmakers' attempts to artificially enhance flawed mechanical layouts were dismissed as mere electronic experiments.
Today, German premium cars constantly overrule the driver. Stability systems that can't be turned off, even for on-track driving, are just the beginning. Better memorize those magic steps on iDrive, Mercedes' Comand or Audi's MMI, if only to kill annoying default settings.
Burdened with needless functionalities, these systems rest at unexpected times. With common bus connections and interfaces, if one function coughs, they all come down with a bad cold.
I have two suggestions.
1. For the Germans: Ask your customers before loading vehicles with countless functionalities.
2. For competitors: Don't benchmark the Germans.
E-mail staff reporter Jens Meiners at .