New softies

Steering You Right with Sharon Peters

Q: It’s been 11 years since we bought a new or almost-new car, and new terminology has me stumped. “Soft touch” materials are bragged about in ads and reviews. Are they talking about seat fabric?

A: No, though it’s not surprising you’d wonder. It’s always surprising to me how often a carmaker inserts a made-up term into its lexicon and how rapidly that’s picked up by other carmakers, leaving consumers in a fog of mystification.

But here’s the simplified definition: Instead of the stiff-edged, unyielding materials that used to be used on surfaces where there is or could be some body contact — on dashboards, for example — many manufacturers are now using softer, somewhat more forgiving materials.

The use of such materials is not limited these days to dashboards, though for most manufacturers that was the springboard locale. They’re being used, logically, since there actually is regular arm or hand contact here, on center console lids and front door panels, for example.

For dashboards, soft touch materials win points from some consumers because they’re not shiny — they’re matte finish, and tend not to bounce sun reflection up into the cabin of the car to the degree that older dashboard finishes do. Love that.

Some vehicle owners, however, particularly those in the South and Southwest, say that the relentless baking sun, plus ongoing exposure to vacillating temperatures, cause soft touch materials to crack and wear much faster than occurred with predecessor materials. Others who have had soft touch dashes for many years say no such problem exists.

Q: A couple of years ago when we were car shopping, the Acura sales guy said there could be a restyled and hybrid version of the MDX SUV in 2016. Has that come into being?

A: Later this year, Acura will roll out its 2017 hybrid MDX Sport.

The vehicle, which made its debut at the New York auto Show in March, does, indeed, have a redesigned front end — classier, with a stylish grill, and restyled headlights. It got quite a lot of attention.

Acura is promising that the new Sport Hybrid model will get seven MPG more during city driving. That means the EPA ratings are 25 in the city and 26 on the highway.

© CTW Features

What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear about what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving and repairing your vehicle. Email

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