The great button reduction programme has become a populist movement that needs an intellectual check. I think in contemporary cultural terms it’s called ‘jumping the shark’, although it sounds as ridiculous when applied to a car as it does when attributed to a television programme. But basically it means: don’t take all of the buttons away.
There comes a point, you see, after you’ve removed so many buttons and replaced them with icons in sub-menus on a touchscreen, that, quite frankly, it becomes almost completely unusable while driving. It’s almost – and I choose this word carefully – dangerous.
Yes, it’s fine to hide certain car functions – and Lord knows, cars have a lot of them these days – within menus if you’re not going to want to use them very often. It makes total sense to have most navigation options a couple of menus away, perhaps, too, the radio bandwidth selector, or the way to turn lane-assist warnings off and on.
But there are some things you shouldn’t hide beneath a sub-menu, no matter how clever and intuitive you think the touchscreen is, because I’ll tell you now, compared to a button, it isn’t. Heating and ventilation controls, the heated seat control, the only way to scroll through radio stations: leave ’em be on the dashboard.
Actually, while I’m confessing: this whole touchscreen thing in general. I used to really like a touchscreen. I still do, in a way. But it’s hard to hit the right icon on a touchscreen when a vehicle is moving. I don’t know about you but when I’m driving, I want to look at the road a lot, almost all of the time, ideally, so I choose my moments to adjust settings carefully. But I can’t hover my finger over an icon indefinitely while not looking, and picking the right icon and hitting it takes deliberation and time. A rotary dial with – guess what? – a button to assist with the controlling, doesn’t.
So I take it back. Yes, making a car interior look lovely is all well and good, but there’s a reason we invented buttons in the first place. Nice though it is to have clean-looking car cabins, it’s not so usable that the button should be un-invented just yet.