Proven: Buttons are better than screens

A kilometer away

MG Marvel R Electric

MG Marvel R Electric

We often and like to scold it in car tests: an abundant use of touchscreens instead of physical buttons. Control via the screen is often intuitively more cumbersome and more distracting than touching a button, but now there is proof of that.

The Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare conducted extensive research into various operating concepts in cars. A diverse range of 11 new cars was compared, from Dacia Sandero to BMW iX. As number 12, a completely screenless Volvo V70 from 2005 was drummed up.

The test subjects then had to drive at 110 km/h in each of the twelve cars while performing a number of tasks. For example, the seat heating had to be turned on, the interior temperature increased by two degrees and the rear window heating had to be switched on. Then the radio also had to be turned on, on a specific station. The on-board computer had to be reset and – often inconvenient – the dashboard lighting had to be dimmed to the lowest possible position. It was also the intention to completely turn off the central screen. The results were recorded in terms of the time it took to get these things done, as well as the distance traveled during that time.

Interestingly and importantly, the drivers were given the opportunity to get to know the cars prior to the test. So habituation should not play a role in the outcomes, which should actually show how long it takes to complete the tasks.

The results

The result is easy to guess: the old V70 turns out to be the car in which these tasks are completed the fastest. After 10 seconds and 306 meters everything was settled. The number two is the relatively simple Dacia Sandero, which has a touchscreen but does not entrust all functions to it. Number three does that much more strongly: with the Volvo C40, for example, the seat heating is also in the screen, but due to the well-thought-out design by Volvo and Google (Android Automotive), this does not appear to be too much of a problem.

Research into infotainment Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare

It’s different with the cars that follow. The Mercedes GLB is not bad considering its complicated infotainment system (616 meters) and ends up more or less equal to the Subaru Outback. The virtually buttonless Tesla Model 3 follows and ends in the middle. The Nissan Qashqai does slightly worse, as do the two Volkswagen products in the test. The Volkswagen ID3 does a little better than the slightly more traditionally classified Seat Leon, which finishes in nineteenth place with almost 900 meters. The acclaimed infotainment of the Hyundai Ioniq 5 also does better, but is disappointing with a traveled distance of 815 meters.

The BMW iX does even worse, finishing in second to last place with 928 meters and 30.4 seconds. The very last place is for a car with a wattle of a screen: the MG Marvel R. In it, performing the aforementioned tasks took almost 45 seconds, covering a whopping 1,372 meters. That’s right: more than a kilometer more than in the V70.

Research into infotainment Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare

Photo: Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare

Costs and options

The trend to put more and more functions in screens has everything to do with a sleek and modern design, but also with costs. After all, developing a physical button costs more time and money than adding a function to a touchscreen. The screen solution also offers manufacturers the possibility to add or remove options and functions after the sale, a possibility that is extensively used by brands such as BMW and Tesla.

Also at AutoWeek we recently conducted an extensive study into the operation of cars. This happened at a standstill and focused more emphatically on the infotainment system of compact models, but is nevertheless interesting to take for those who are fascinated by this theme.

Photos: Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare


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