A test asked drivers to use a number of features while driving on a closed course
A number of new vehicles were tested against a 2005 Volvo which doesn’t have a touchscreen
The distance travelled while the driver was performing the tasks varies by more than 1 km
A recent test performed by ViBilägare in Sweden proved that touch screens are in fact not as safe and convenient as physical buttons in cars.
Many drivers have complained that new cars are abandoning buttons in favour of hiding every control in the infotainment system and this test shows they might have a good reason to complain.
Indeed, having the driver take their eyes off the road to look at the controls is dangerous and this time should be limited by making the features easy to find and use.
In order to determine which car’s infotainment system is the most user-friendly and therefore the safest, the website pitted 11 new vehicles against one another in a series of tasks.
Interestingly, they decided to add a 17-year-old vehicle to the comparison in the form of a 2005 Volvo V70, a car that doesn’t have a touchscreen and whose features are all controlled by buttons.
Each driver had the same set of tasks to perform, divided into four categories relating to the climate control, the audio system, the trip computer, and the displays.
The specific tasks called for the driver to turn on the heated seats, increase the temperature by two degrees, and select the defroster.
Then, they were asked to turn on the radio and tune a specific station before resetting the trip computer, dimming the dashboard to the lowest level, and turning off the center screen.
It is important to mention that all drivers had time to get to know the infotainment systems of each vehicle beforehand, so the result could be much worse for drivers who jump in a new vehicle for the first time.
Unsurprisingly, the 2005 Volvo was the clear winner of this test by requiring the driver to look at the controls for only 10 seconds in order to complete all of the tasks, during which time the car travelled 306 meters while driving at 110 km/h to simulate highway conditions.
Doing the same actions took 44.9 seconds in the MG Marvel R, a Chinese-developed model that isn’t sold in North America. During that time, the car travelled more than 1 kilometre further than the old car, with a total distance of 1,372 meters over which the driver was distracted.
The second-to-worst car in the test is sold here however since it is the new BMW iX. The electric SUV took 30.4 seconds and 928 meters for the driver to complete all tasks. The website blamed the complexity of the infotainment system for this poor performance.
The Hyundai Ioniq 5 didn’t do much better either, with 26.7 seconds and a distance of 815 meters, and neither did the Nissan Qashqai (Rogue Sport in the US), which required 25.1 seconds and 765 meters.
Slightly better was the Tesla Model 3, despite almost all of its controls being integrated into the center screen. This shows that Tesla’s interface is more intuitive than others, but a time of 23.5 seconds and a distance of 737 meters are still quite far from the old car.
Interestingly, the best-performing new vehicle in this test that is offered in North America (and second overall) is also made by Volvo. Indeed, the C40 Recharge equipped with the automaker’s latest Google Built-in infotainment system only required 13.7 seconds and 417 meters for the driver to complete the tasks.
This proves that touchscreens can be made to be almost as user-friendly as physical buttons, but most automakers don’t seem to view ease of use as a priority over the number of features or the aesthetics of the display.