Recently, dashboard touch screens and center-console unified “multifunction” control knobs have become all the rage. Which in many cases means a fashion trend that infuriates practically everyone. Would like to tune a radio station or find the seat heater in a brand-new car? Figure on knob-jogging or finger-poking your way through up to five separate steps.
Based on what we should saw with the New York auto show, it looks like the tide may be turning. More and more new cars have restored or bravely retained a discrete radio-tuning knob and other physical buttons to activate popular audio, climate, and other must-have functions. Glancing around at some very new cars, we were struck by the sensible simplicity of the manual audio controls within the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, certainly one of several new vehicles using a rotary radio-tuning knob located where it must be, to the lower right in the display screen. Others current notables include the Mazda CX-9, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Passat. Chevrolet provides fairly simple, intuitive controls for several years.
Many systems that use menu screens, either touch-based or knob-activated, impose a delay after you start the engine while the system initializes. Do I need to see a Ford logo or Acura ELS audio screen for 10 seconds or so? I know I bought a Ford or an Acura, thank you. So before you can see where the radio is set, for example, you have to stare at an electronic logo or legal disclaimer for a few seconds. In some instances, at least, it is possible to usually turn on the seat and steering wheel heaters via traditional physical buttons while you’re waiting.
Who hasn’t got the content yet? Lots of the laggards are some pretty high-end cars, such as those from Cadillac, Jaguar, and Land Rover. Mainstream offenders include Honda and a lot of Fords. No less than Mercedes, BMW and Audi-Benz let you use their controller as a tuning knob through stations with good receptions or as being an old fashion knob.
It can be argued that BMW started this whole unified-control revolution with its notorious iDrive system back in 2002. About every year since then they’ve tried to undo the damage they caused, even while most other luxury brands followed them on the cliff. Many iterations of iDrive later, it’s now almost easy to use compared to newfangled systems from competitors. Although it can be frustrating to the uninitiated, once the iDrive logic is grasped, it’s doable. It facilitates several shortcuts through steering wheel mounted thumbwheels which will help. Recent BMWs, provide some actual, physical, station buttons that could be programmed for radio presets. If you find the right menu and choose Manual which takes some digging, the center knob can be used as a rotary tuning knob.
As for MyFordTouch as well as the Cadillac CUE system, we’ve almost run through our ink budget denouncing their inherent user-unfriendliness. To be truly more comfortable with those systems, you really should have joint degrees from MIT and the Juilliard School of Music. The first will give you the technical know-the way to understand the menu structures, whilst the latter can help you develop the finger dexterity required to locate the right touch buttons. (Read: 5 factors to consider in a car infotainment system.)
Like BMW, they haven’t yet crafted a good system but just produced a bad system less bad, though it’s true that Ford has made numerous attempts to improve on the initial MyFordTouch design. Cadillac’s CUE still seems to be behind the eight-ball, as it were. Besides, beingslow and clumsy, and complex, it brings other vexations. At least with our CTS sedan, for instance, once you shift into reverse the radio volume reduces. Before you get the sound back, You’ve got to be rolling forward again.
Despite those specific discontents, it looks just like the car industry as a whole is actually thinking about user-friendliness again. With luck, we’ll soon have cars whose creature comforts are as easy to understand while they were 25 years ago. Based on our initial experience, even that isn’t a slam dunk, even though perhaps Apple’s CarPlay could be the answer.