Doctor Diesel

It’s that touchy subject again

Dear Doctor,

Hope you had a good Christmas. I’m afraid I’m going to jump aboard the bandwagon and share my thoughts on the increasing reliance on touchscreens in modern cars. I was reading a review of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class when I noticed that it had not one, not two, but three touchscreens in the car. Granted, the S-Class is a big car, but a 12.3-inch driver display and 12.8-inch central display seems like overkill to me. They’re not only likely to be distracting, but also bad for your eyes at night.

However, I think we may have also passed the point of no return in terms of interior design and style. Where’s the point of difference between different makes and models? Slapping a pair of displays on a dashboard is lazy and predictable. The S-Class used to make you feel special and wow you with its interior design. In the new one, it looks like the designer simply stuck a tablet behind the steering wheel and put a small TV on the centre console. It must be cheaper for the manufacturers to produce dashboards in this way, so will we see a reduction in costs? Of course not.

There are far bigger things to worry about in the world, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the matter. If nothing else, it gives us dinosaurs an opportunity to be grumpy together.

Keep up the good work, Doctor. I’m off to re-tune my MW/LW radio.

Take care,

Barry Knighton

Hello Barry,

Thanks for adding your thoughts to what’s becoming a common thread on these pages. You’re right about the latest S-Class – it looks like a branch of Tandy. I’d half expect a salesman wearing a ‘My name is Gary, how can I help you?’ badge to appear from the dashboard as I make my way to the really-rather-important board meeting.

I’ve always said that what you see on the S-Class today, you can expect to see on your family car within a few years. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that physical buttons and controls could be extinct by the end of the decade. Progress? I’m not so sure. You’re right about build costs – it must be cheaper to build a basic dashboard with slots for a couple of screens. The only point of difference will be the quality of the systems, but if everyone is using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, even that will disappear. To be fair, it’s probably what the next generation of car buyers want. They won’t know what it’s like to feel the excitement of discovering your next test car has a CD player. The good old days.

I can offer one chink of light. Take a look at the Mazda CX-30, which has a conventional, but rather stylish dashboard. Clear and logical dials for the instrument panel, a display accessed via physical buttons and a rotary controller on the centre console, and heating and ventilation controlled via buttons and dials. It’s one of my favourite interiors of all the modern compact SUVs. Then there’s the new MX-30 electric car. Again, the instrument panel is crisp and clear, there’s a display of a sensible size on top of the dashboard, and although there’s a screen on the centre console, it’s flanked by actual buttons. It’s excellent.

I take your point about bigger things going on in the world, but discussing the ins and outs of a touchscreen provides some light relief from the news. Thank you for that.

Enjoy listening to Radio Luxembourg.

Best regards,

Doc Diesel

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