Physical buttons outperform touchscreens in new cars, test finds

The i3 interior was way ahead of its time. It still looks fresh!

Totally, the i3 has it “dialed” on the interior and on controls. I especially agree that the center console dial + elevated screen location enables eyes-on-the-road interaction.

In general I miss the haptics and control of a stick shift and the console dial fills that void a bit, as you drop your hand to it similarly without a glance.

Have you ever bothered to train on the scribble pad of the jog wheel?
I was stunned to see it exist as feature but have never bother to become proficient…
I’m. hyper-miler so the Miler/KW is what I watch. I don’t mind the switching gears I’m constantly trying to get the recharge. I think the faster one is traveling the higher the recharge.

I replaced a 6 speed Volvo C30 that I use to think was great:)

I didn’t even know you could do that! I just looked it up and will have to give it a try.

Any other brand doing this with their glove box access? Improved HF reach for the driver granted, but the UX breaks all of the sensible and traditional rules in favor of screen based interaction and agency.

Wait for it…

Seems like overkill. I never had an issue with a manual glove box latch.

I have a friend in transportation design. He had lunch with some engineers and marketing people where he asked, “what do you think will replace these touchscreens”. Everyone looked at him strange and said, “what do you mean replace?!?! The touchscreen is the pinnacle!”.


I really like the TT solution. I think Bugatti does something similar with a screen that folds into the dash. I wish we saw more “pop-up” screens than full dash screens.

I truly believe that that the human interaction aspects of product will morph into more of last mile, weak binding, late compilation,… (choose your analogy) problem.

Meaning every product will be so bland from the factor. That local integrators will tailor them to meet our desires. A small dense rectangle with a screen will contain personal choices of our preferred modes of interaction. The devices we encounter will be a busy box of controls that will assume preferred configuration.

That is the world I’m trying to design for.

Apoliges for nothing exclusive to cars.

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The future may be floating Hologram UIs with haptic feedback.

As in you will actually “feel” the UI holograms as though they are solid when you touch them.

What technology wizardry actually makes that happen and when it will arrive is anybody!s guess.

I hope my future uses Hologram UI haptic feedback as fallback interface when something more physical isn’t available.

phew that is a lot of screens… at least there are some buttons. The knurling is nice but I’m not a fan of these diminutive shifters in new Porsches.

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That interior says, “Don’t think about driving at all”. Sad.


This is utterly obvious to anyone who drives yet appears to be a big secret to everyone involved in automotive design. I can think of plenty of reasons why it ended up this way, but none are of ergonomic or any legitimate benefit to the user. We didn’t evolve over millions of years to use our fingers on glass for one thing, and knobs and buttons have the (again obvious) advantage of hardly needing to be looked at to be used.

Conversely, needing to look at a screen to choose options, often through several layers of a menu while driving is annoying at best, and dangerous at the worst. This started to creep into automotive design about ten years back, but the Tesla “giant iPad on the dash” is the pinnacle of terrible industrial design. Absolutely no hint of form following function, I know no owners who actually like that aspect of driving one.

Anyway: It’s documented stat that drivers are more likely at this point to be distracted while driving by the car’s interface than their phone.

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We have a VW Passat that’s 12 years old and the last of the fully physical interfaces for them. More than 75% of your list would not need to be touched on a vehicle like this because most of the settings can be left as they are in Park (or Off). There is no “reset” to any of the options because they are all knobs and dials, other than obvious ones like Cruise Control.

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I drove a loaner recently while my car was in the shop; switching from my phone’s music playlist to the car’s radio took a couple of clicks and turning a dial (while briefly taking my eyes off the road). It only takes one button push in my 2014 car.

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We are in a weird place in the automotive industry. Half way between ICE to EV and driving to full autonomy.
We are trying to figure out how people will use their cars, while being driven or waiting for a charge.
plus over the air updates allow for lots of changes that physical buttons would not allow.

I did my senior project on this subject in college - definitely agree that its not necessarily a fight physical UI vs touchscreens, but more of reopening ourselves to the idea that physical buttons still are the right choice in a lot of applications, particularly cars. Both have pros and cons, but in terms of any control surface with which the driver interacts, the benefits of a tactile control seem to outweigh the cons. Physical/tactile UI I think is still the right choice in a lot of other product categories.

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what R&T considered the best new interiors:

From my own experience, I think physical controls & digital controls can be lumped into two general buckets:
Physical Controls = Climate Control & Basic Audio (binary options: up/down, on/off, next/back)
Digital Controls = Anything that requires navigating options.

Quick comparison of my 2 cars:

2013 Subaru Impreza
The climate controls are great. I don’t have to take my eyes off the road for more than a split second, if at all, to adjust anything from fan speed to defrosters.

The radio is ok, connect Bluetooth before driving, but if you want to connect a new device? Good luck navigating the basic interface.

2021 Rav 4

Try changing the fan speed on this while on the highway. Not fun trying to find the correct choice out of 8 flush identical buttons.

If you want to connect a new phone to the Bluetooth the touchscreen makes it much easier.

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