Let's Talk About Ignition Placement

Because I'm the kind of person that can talk about Magnetic Ride Control for hours, I’ve decided to focus on a subject which fourteen people in the world care about. No, it’s not about the font on Lexus navigation systems. Or tuning the radio using voice commands. And it’s not about touch points, because I’ve written about that before.

In fact, I'm talking about ignition key placement, because like Regina Spektor, it's a subject that's near and dear to my heart. This is because three of my favorite cars, the Hindustan Ambassador, the Saab 9-3 Viggen, and the Porsche 911, have had their ignition placed in locations which can only be called questionable.

Let's begin with the Ambassador, both the slowest car I ever rode in and a car with the most comfortable back seat ever made. I will admit current Ambassadors have the ignition on the right side of the steering now. But we had an older one, maybe from the 1980s, with the ignition right in the middle of the dashboard. That would be fine for a car with bucket seats.

However, the car had a bench seat intended to accommodate three, but more often had twice that number crammed into the front. The placement posed problems when the car was full, which in India, was all the time. This involved people's legs constantly hitting the keys while in the ignition and the driver attempting to find the key whenever the car stalled in heavy traffic due to a wayward cow.

Eventually, Hindustan Motors came around and put the ignition in a place where only the driver could get to it. Somehow, they still haven't gotten around to giving the Ambassador an engine with 100 horsepower and a stereo system that can connect to a smartphone, but I digress.

In the case of the Saab, I'd been reading car magazines long enough to know where to put the key. (But a buddy of mine couldn't find it for a good five minutes.) It was surprisingly easy to get accustomed to. Enter the car with the key in right hand. Sit in the driver's seat. Feet on clutch and brake. Put key in center console ignition and switch on.

The only major complaint with the Saab involved taking the key out of the ignition. I could never leave it in neutral or any other gear except reverse, otherwise the key wouldn't be allowed out of the ignition. And yes, I know I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Saab quirks.

However, instead of changing ignition placement in its products like Hindustan Motors, Saab went out of business, permanently leaving the world without a key determinant of high IQs on the world's highways.

Now, let’s discuss the obvious nameplate: Porsche, a company whose newest product is an overpriced crossover called the Macan, which will undoubtedly be the best in its class, selling like cronuts to Generation Xers whose 3-Series/A4/C-Class/Q5/GLK/X3 leases are ending.

Yes, I know Porsches have their ignition on the left due to their Le Mans heritage, when drivers used to run to their cars, turn the car on with their left hand and engage gear with their right, in search of that extra advantage on their competitors. I guess that one characteristic has served them well, considering they've won Le Mans sixteen times.

But here's the problem I have with Porsche. I can never make a quick exit in one, despite the fact that the ignition is on the left side for that very purpose. Being a right-handed person, the key is always in my right hand. And all other car companies have their ignition on right. As a result, I spend a good five to ten seconds looking for the ignition every time I start, stall, or need to switch off the car. This is something I haven't become accustomed to for three years. Which rattles me.

I guess due to my right-handed muscle memory, I've become way too used to mindlessly using my right hand to unlock and enter a car, insert the key into the ignition, switch on the car, check if a Regina Spektor song is playing, disengage the parking brake, shift into Drive, and set off.

Meanwhile, the other hand is checking text messages or is grasping the steering wheel. I fathom ninety percent of drivers probably do this right up until the first fender-bender/driving-while-texting ticket.

However, Porsche fundamentally believes that even a soccer mom driving a Cayenne or an orthodontist rocking a Panamera should be subject to the Le Mans experience. I'm sure they've become used to it since Porsche is at the top of the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. (On a side note, Toyota was in the bottom five in the same study while Land Rover wasn't.)

But these customers don't want to be Derek Bell. They probably don't even know who he is.

Now you may say, "Doesn't Porsche have a keyless entry option?" Well, even if you take the Porsche Entry and Drive option, there's no start button for that quick getaway. Porsche actually puts a fake key in the ignition and has the driver turn that, like a normal key, to start the car, while the actual key presumably is in your pocket. Apparently, a start/stop button isn't the Porsche way, but leaving the center console of a Panamera Turbo S full of blank switches without a start/stop button is.

Unfortunately, since Porsche not having its ignition on the left would be like Justin Bieber changing hair styles (losing a crucial part of your identity, but being tremendously successful anyway), it looks like I'll have to budget an extra five to ten seconds every time I get into a Porsche.

It's a pity. I'll never be able to pull a quick bank job with a Panamera. Prevent clogging school pick-up lines in a Cayenne. Pick up girls smoothly in a 918. Live out my Bob Wollek fantasies in a Cayman.

Or most importantly, accomplish a quick getaway from Corvette owners in a 911 after an argument about how Porsche Active Suspension Management is better than Magnetic Ride Control.

Satish Kondapavulur runs Clunkerture, named because "Clunker.com" was $82 at auction and would've taken 30% out of the balance of his Eagle Vision for LeMons fund. In between contemplating cross-country runs, he spends much of his time attempting to convince others that his MkV Jetta 2.0T Wolfsburg is indeed a sports sedan.

Photo courtesy Porsche.