• You probably already know this, but it takes longer to perform specific tasks on newer machines with multiple menu screens. If you didn’t already know this, a Swedish auto magazine proved it with science.
  • Vi Bilägare tested a dozen vehicles—mostly new but also a 2005 Volvo—to see how long it took to complete a series of four tasks. It took 10 seconds on the old car and up to 45 on one of the new models.
  • By timing the tasks while the vehicles were in motion, we can see how something as simple as turning on the radio to a specific station can mean that the driver’s eyes and focus are on the screen much more than they were before.

    Future drivers may look back at the current trend of replacing some of the simple physical buttons with touchscreens and wonder why we let this happen. The Volkswagen ID.4, for example, uses an almost entirely digital dashboard (pictured below) that makes using the infotainment system a headache. Eliminating or minimizing the number of physical buttons may seem neat, but a new report from Sweden shows how touchscreens and endless pages of menus cause, in a sense, driving distraction.

    2023 Volkswagen id4

    Inside Volkswagen ID 2023.4.


    Swedish automotive magazine We Car Owners recently proved that physical buttons are safer than touchscreens, just by looking at how long it takes to do simple, everyday actions. The magazine asked its reviewers to perform four common tasks while driving:

    1. Turn on the heated seat, raise the temperature two degrees and start the defroster.
    2. Turn on the radio and tune it to a specific station (Sweden Program 1).
    3. Reset the trip computer.
    4. Turn the instrument lights to their lowest setting and turn off the center display.
      1. Before the timers started, test drivers were given time to familiarize themselves with how to perform these tasks in different cars. The 12-car lineup included the touchscreen Tesla Model 3 and BMW iX, as well as a Seat León and a Dacia Sandero. By comparison, We Car Owners also brought along a 17-year-old Volvo V70 with physical buttons for days. (Top photo: A similarly equipped 2007 Volvo S60.)

        2022 bmw ix

        tesla model 3 infotainment screen

        The magazine timed the drivers as they performed each task while driving the respective vehicle at 68 miles per hour. Interestingly, the 2005 Volvo V70 with its dedicated buttons takes users the least time to complete the four tasks, at just 10 seconds. To complete the four tasks in the new BMW iX took three times longer: 30.4 seconds, but even this is not as bad as the MG Marvel R, which required 44.9 seconds.

        We Car Owners points out that it’s not just the lack of buttons that can be a problem. How an infotainment system is designed also plays a big role. The system in iX, for example, is one of the most complex and complicated user interfaces ever created, the magazine said. The Seat Leon’s touch-sensitive climate control buttons have no backlight, making them difficult to use at night.

        By timing drivers to see how long it takes to change settings, the publication was able to determine the distance these drivers travel (at 68 mph, mind you) while fiddling with buttons. This ranged from over eight-tenths of a mile (1,372 metres) for the MG Marvel R to just over 1,000 feet (306 m) in the Volvo 2005. The other vehicles were clustered around 600 to 900 metres, with the Dacia Sandero and Volvo C40 both in the low 400 meters.

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