There are a lot of reasons that we here at FCP Euro love European and German cars. They're safe, well-engineered, usually fun to drive, and often more fully-featured than many other cars on the market. While some of these features may be fairly common and well known, there are a remarkable number of unique, hidden, or obscure features that many owners may not know about. Here is a quick list of just a few of the quirky cool features on European cars.
Audi C5 A6/S6 Solar Panel Sunroof
First up, we have the rather ingenious Audi Solar Panel Sunroof, available on multiple models, but perhaps best-known as an option on select models of the popular C5 Audi A6 and S6 models. In principle, it seems like a no-brainer to equip the roof of a car with a solar panel to take advantage of the near-constant sun exposure that most cars have. Audi did this, but they didn't put the Solar Panel Sunroof in for the reason you might think. No, it's not there to charge the battery, but instead is linked directly to the climate control system's blower motor. A thermometer measures the temperature of the interior of the car, and in hot weather, can vent the sunroof and turn on the blower model to move air through the cabin, and push the hottest air from the sunroof. Audi developed a basic, but pretty ingenious solution to help owners from opening their door to a blazing inferno on the hottest of days.
Mercedes-Benz Standing Lamp Function
Mercedes-Benz has long been known as one of the safest auto manufacturers for decades. While some of this is down to their strong chassis and advanced safety features such as stability management controls and airbag systems, one of their more interesting features is to help prevent an accident, rather than protect you once you get into one—the Mercedes Standing Lamp function. With this simple system, the driver can activate either the left or right side parking lamps for increased visibility when parking on a narrow street or any low-visibility situation. The Standing Lamp Function can only be used when the ignition system is off, and since only one side of the car's parking lamps is turned on, it minimizes the amount of power it drains from the battery.
Depending on the exact car and year, there are multiple ways of activating the Standing Lamp function, but on the newest Mercedes E-Class and other models, it's right there on the headlamp switch. It can be activated on older models by pressing the turn signal stalk for either right or left to turn on the respective Standing Lamp. A simple, but potentially very useful, little feature.
BMW Rest Climate Control Function
This one is sometimes referred to as the "MAX" climate control setting but is most often known as the 'REST' mode in many modern BMW climate control systems. Whatever it's called, the function works in the same way, and we have to admit, it's pretty ingenious. Designed for cold-weather use, the BMW REST button allows the driver to keep the car's interior warm and toasty for as long as possible once they've reached their destination. After powering down the car, all they have to do is press the REST button, and the car's climate control system will automatically use the residual heat that remains in the engine and cooling system to pump warm air into the cabin. If you're running errands when it's super cold out and want to keep your BMW comfortable in between trips, the REST button may just be your best friend.
BMW E36 3-Series Digital Tach
We're going to stick with BMW and talk about one of the cooler if potentially more well-known hidden features. This one really has nothing to do with an intended feature for BMW customers to use, but is there for BMW technicians to use when troubleshooting and calibrating the instrument cluster in the E36 M3, 318, 325, or 328, i, and iS models. By toggling through the instrument cluster's test functions, you're able to turn the 3-Series odometer into a digital tachometer. Perhaps not as useful as the full-sized analog tach when it comes to spirited driving, it's still pretty cool (and useful), especially if you're trying to troubleshoot common BMW problems.
Volvo Auto Folding Rear Seat Headrests
Volvo is another make that comes at the top of many customer's lists when it comes to safety. Like Mercedes-Benz, they are known for robust designs and advanced safety features designed to keep you safe behind the wheel in the event of an accident. Advanced safety belt systems and advancing seat designs mean that things like headrests, designed to minimize head and neck injuries and previously only seen on front seats, are now standard on pretty much every modern car. An unfortunate side effect is that rearward visibility is much less than it used to be.
Like Mercedes, Volvo knows that keeping their customers from having an accident in the first place is the best way of keeping them safe, and visibility means safety, so what do you do about those rear seat headrests? Enter the Volvo Auto Folding Rear Seat Headrests. Available on many modern Volvo models such as the Volvo XC90, the rear seat headrests can be automatically folded from the front seat with just the touch of a button. Perfect for increasing rear visibility for parking, backing up, or as our own Michael Hurczyn demonstrates, taking care of rowdy backseat drivers.
Volkswagen Think Blue. Trainer
Owners of many modern Volkswagens may stumble across the Volkswagen Think Blue. Trainer app as they scroll through functions in their infotainment unit of their GTI, Golf R, or Jetta GLI and think to themselves, "What the heck is this?" If this describes something you've been wondering, allow us to enlighten you—basically, the Think Blue. Trainer is an app that is designed to educate drivers on how to drive more efficiently. Drivers are scored on things like fuel use, acceleration, speed, and gear selection, with the goal being a perfect '100' for the most efficient drivers.
It can be fun to see just how high you can drive up your score, and when you're able to activate that 'Eco' mode while still maintaining highway speed, you know you're in the zone. Perhaps the most interesting part of the Think Blue. campaign is that while you may think it has to do with the new Volkswagen electrification initiatives, it actually dates back to the early 2010s when VW was still heavily pushing their TDI technology. Either way, the Think Blue. Trainer app seems like an interesting way to help train drivers on how to get the most out of their (potentially) electric future VWs.
We had to throw in the always-popular VW/Audi 'Funk' button as an honorable mention. While not really a hidden feature on any USA Volkswagen or Audi models, the Funk button is a standard momentary switch that is interchangeable with other switches or blank-off plates in common VW models like the Mk4 Golf, Jetta, GTI, and GLI. The Funk button's original real purpose is to allow the driver to switch between the standard VW radio system and a 2-way radio. The most popular use was for police cars, so the police officers could communicate with dispatch, but it was also used in taxis or any other commercial vehicle requiring a 2-way radio. Over here in the States, you can wire the Funk button to turn any system option on or off, and while you could use it for fog lights or something normal, we'd suggest using it to turn on sound-activated LED underflow. It's definitely the funkiest use we can think of.
From convenience to safety, it always amazes us what car designers and engineers come up with by using modern technology to provide solutions to common everyday problems. We're sure this list is just scratching the surface, and there are plenty more quirky-cool features of popular European cars that we didn't mention here. Leave your favorites in the comments below.
FCP Euro's Event Director by day, writer and contributor by night, and wanna-be race car driver on the weekends. Nathan has been working in the VW and Audi performance aftermarket for nearly two decades, and dabbled with Porsche and BMW. He also used to write under the pen-name of Alex Rogan for magazines like Eurotuner, Performance VW, Total 911, and European Car. He has a Cornflower Blue Rabbit Edition GTI daily driver which is surprisingly still mostly stock, and a Mk5 GTI track car which is mostly not. ••• Instagram: @njbrown55