BMW's iDrive has emerged as the most user-friendly infotainment system.
BMW's iDrive has emerged as the most user-friendly infotainment system.

Traditional switches are much less distracting than touchscreens

By Tom Payne Time of article published Apr 16, 2020

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London - There used to be a time when cranking up the heating in a car was as simple as turning a dial.

But these days drivers are confronted with an ever-increasing array of technology, covering everything from the satnav to the in-car entertainment – not to mention keeping warm.

To control all this gadgetry, more and more carmakers are installing touchscreens. However, research now suggests we might be safer sticking to old-fashioned buttons and dials.

Touchscreens are much more distracting and dangerous than traditional controls, according to a What Car? test of 20 different in-car systems.

It can take up to four times longer to zoom in and out of a satnav app on a touchscreen compared to using a rotary controller, according to the magazine’s research. And it took twice as long to adjust heating controls using touchscreens compared to physical dials.

The findings are worrying because distractions are a factor in a growing number of road accidents – accounting for 15 percent of UK accidents in 2018, compared to 13 percent in 2016 and 14 percent in 2017, according to Department for Transport figures.

What Car? found BMW’s iDrive system was the easiest in-car system to use, while MG’s 8-inch touchscreen was the most distracting.

Overall, testers reported that cars with sophisticated voice control systems were the least distracting. Those in new Audi, BMW and Mercedes cars are capable of recognising natural speech, meaning drivers don’t have to take their eyes off the road.

Steve Huntingford, editor of What Car?, said: "The best systems provide physical buttons and voice control, while those that are most distracting have sluggish touchscreens and require too many steps to carry out commands." 

What Car? testers carried out and timed six tasks, including changing the temperature, zooming out on a sat-nav route and changing radio station.

They found examples of touchscreens which were "painfully slow to respond’ and which crashed frequently, forcing drivers to keep looking down at the screen."

This is how the 20 systems ranked:

1.

BMW 3 Series with Live Cockpit Professional

28

2.

Mercedes-Benz CLA with 10.25in touchscreen

27

3.

Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid with Connect Plus and PCM

27

4.

Audi Q3 Sportback with Virtual Cockpit Plus

26

5.

Mazda 3 with 8.8in colour display and Mazda Connect

25

6.

Volkswagen Passat GTE with 8.0 in Composition Media system

24

7.

Ford Fiesta with Sync 3 navigation and FordPass Connect

23

8.

Hyundai Ioniq with 10.25in touchscreen and Bluelink connectivity

22

9.

Vauxhall Corsa with 10.0in Multimedia Navi Pro

22

10.

Skoda Kamiq with 9.2in touchscreen, voice control and Amundsen sat-nav

21

11.

Jaguar XE with 10.0in Touch Pro Duo system

21

12.

Volvo S60 with Sensus

20

13.

Toyota Corolla with Touch 2 media system and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

20

14.

Nissan Juke with Nissan Connect

19

15.

Honda CR-V with 7.0in touchscreen, Honda Connect and Garmin navigation

18

16.

Lexus RX with 12.3in multimedia display

18

17.

Peugeot 508 SW with 10.0in Connected 3D Navigation and voice recognition

17

18.

Skoda Citigo-e iV with colour screen and phone holder

16

19.

Fiat 500X with 7.0in touchscreen and Uconnect Live

14

20.

MG ZS with 8.0in touchscreen

12

Daily Mail

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