It’s one of those penetrating questions that, at first, prompts other ones, like: a) Does anybody really care and, if so, why? b) Just what constitutes ‘cool’ in such a case? c) What was wrong with keys in the first place that they even needed to be replaced by fobs? And d) should I just turn my computer off now and, once more, try going back to sleep?
We’ll answer these penetrators in order.
- a) The first rule of the Internet is: no topic is so trivial that some passionate tidal wave of CAPS-LOVING champions with too much time on their hands will not surface to heatedly debate its merits. In absence of debating, luckily, there is still name-calling.
As for why they care, all will be revealed, some no doubt reviled.
But to be fair to the fob-nerd hoard (big shout-out, dudes!) there are actually some really cool gadgets available these days.
- b) ‘Cool’ in this case can be defined as something you may not have thought of that provides genuine utility.
One trend that researching this topic did unearth: The more expensive the car, the more likely it comes with a cool key fob. Conclusion? This topic is more Shark Tank than Jump the Shark.
- c) Nothing.
And d) no. Here’s why. This is actually really interesting!
Where does the word “fob” come from, anyway?
The word fob comes from German dialect. So you’ll be seeing some truly inspired Teutonic fobbery within.
First, a little something for the über-nërds: Originally a fob was a little ornament, or a chain or ribbon attached to a small ornament or medallion. It sat in a mini packet, also called a fob. Gradually fob assumed some association with that bobble on your key chain. In English we often call them key fobs, rather than just fobs.
Interestingly they’ve evolved to replace keys altogether, making the phrase ‘key fob’ quaint or at least obsolete. Like ‘dialing’ on your phone. The logical next step, once you no longer have keys with your key fobs? Soon you don’t have fobs with them either. Which is where we start our journey.
Key fobs from Kia K900 and Genesis G80 V8 are actually car cards.
We wonder, does “card” from Korean dialect? You may wonder, why have a card instead of a fob: which, remember, you had instead of a key? To which we could only answer, why not? After all, cards have been keys for your hotel room for over 25 years.
A key card does have some utility though beyond simply being cool. You can slip it in your wallet and suddenly you need one fewer thing to search for when in a hurry to leave home. Or leave the wallet altogether and slip the key card between your phone and its protective case with nothing else but a single credit card, then dance all night, distraction-free. You can also use the card to jimmy locks.
Not quite the Monopoly piece you were envisioning, but still very pretty.
Mercedes-Benz’s newest fob was introduced with the latest generation E-Class sedan (speaking of pretty) but will soon come with other models. According to the PR materials, the design “echoes the clean lines of the brand’s vehicles”. Which begs the question, what about wheels?
So kudos to the designers for not answering that one because such pandering only risks drawing the attention of purist nerdists who will want to equip their fobs with brake lights and windshield wipers, spoilers, shark fin antennae and so on. Far better to just let the echo be.
You say ‘echo’. I say ‘silhouette’. Let’s fob the whole thing off.
Porsche’s 911 Targa fob, on the left, and Panamera fob (yes, on the right) visually suggest “the silhouette of a Porsche”. But note those icons on the fob tops. They change by model. So you see the Targa roof’s gap on the left, and the Panamera’s dashing outline on the right. These miniscule differences are consistent throughout the brand’s models. What charming quirk. If you’ve ever been baffled trying to start a Porsche, you know their makers are not averse to such playful and nuanced eccentricity.
Who doesn’t fantasize about a big Swede wrapped in leather?
Like many manufacturers’ fobs, Volvo’s can let you in their cars without you having to put your coffee down and fumble through your pockets. They can also start your car remotely and even preserve your preferences for seating, mirrors, climate control, audio and such. And like most things Volvo these days, the fob is elegantly beautiful.
But what’s coolest is, like the next carmaker in this list, the function of that other red-hot fob.
What Dodge (and Volvo) learned from Ferris Bueller’s parking experience.
This is truly brilliant. Buy a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and it comes to you with two key fobs, one red and the other black. Only the red fob “can unlock the full horsepower and torque potential of the SRT Hellcat engine, while the black key fob limits the driver to a reduced engine output.” Suckers!
They even call it Valet mode, which, when activated essentially attenuates all the fun stuff and punitively locks the driver into electronic stability control (which albeit keeps them alive, but ultimately weakens the gene pool). So, leave the valet the naughty nanny key to lessen the temptation for a joy ride. Brilliant.
But the winner is: BMW Display Key for 7 and 5 Series.
If the world’s slickest airport lounge were converted to a car, it’d be the 7 Series. If it were shrunk further to a fob? You guessed it. There’s a little screen on the Display Key. You power the fob up almost like a phone, then slide through the options on the heat-sensitive screen.
It has loads of uses but here’s the coolest: Without you in the car, the display key will remotely park in those sweet but narrow spaces that make squeezing through the door impossible for anyone who’s worked long enough to afford a 5 or 7 Series. And there’s no need to trust your judment whether the space is too tight: the car’s computer can read which parking spaces it’ll squeeze into, scratch-free, at speeds of up to 35kmh. Fantastisch!
The Jaguar F-Pace and BMW 5-Series both also get wristband key fobs you can wear as a watch. For the active set.
(Dis?)honourable mention goes to . . .
When we sent our feelers out for this article the manager of Volkswagen Canada’s PR department responded and we quote: “Our key fob is the best ‘cause it has the Volkswagen logo on it.”
How you can help but salute such daring?
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