Needless Needling

Needless Needling

30th May 2020 7:00 am

Sergius Barretto talks about gimmicky features in modern cars that we could do without.


If you’ve lamented the loss of BMW’s iconic twin-dial instrument cluster, you aren’t alone. Yes, change is good and all that, but change for the sake of change is pretty much pointless. For me, BMW’s new instrument panel design is exactly that. Gone are the lovely twin dials and in their place are elliptical bar charts of sorts with tiny needles rising to indicate speed and revs. Oddly enough, these needles turn into even smaller and harder-to-see bars in Sport mode, and despite this being a full digital screen, you can’t opt for a circular dial display.

Yeah, I know, perhaps I’m missing something; after all, large automobile manufacturers can’t get stuff wrong. But they do. In the race to distinguish their products and go one up on the competition, manufacturers are constantly trying out new things, gizmos and fads, and unfortunately in today’s times with cars built by committee rather than individuals, pointless stuff does slip in.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Honda City or the VW Group’s new HVAC controls, a great example of a bad application of good technology. Okay, on a satnav map, zooming around is great with a touch screen, and having reading lamps that are themselves touch surfaces (to turn on and off) is also just fine. But do you really want this for your HVAC controls? The trouble is then you have to take your eyes of the road and hands off the wheel and then try and hit the exact surface area. With buttons you can simply feel around for the right one and you are never in doubt about wrongly engaging anything, as you still have to de-press it. Not so with a touch surface, right?

Then there’s gesture controls for the stereo, like on BMWs and the Toyota Yaris too. Why would you take your hands off the wheel and wave it in the air to control something you could just as easily do with steering-mounted buttons or even your voice.

I’m not one of the traditionalists and all against technology, no, not at all. I love the touchscreen, but it has its place. There is a place for everything and mindless application of tech should be avoided.

Honda has of course readily admitted to its mistake and has stated that it will be returning to buttons for HVAC controls for the sake of safety and confidence. I hope others take note soon.

Unfortunately, Hyundai is likely to introduce the digital instrument panel minus dials and needles on the upcoming Elantra, Verna and i20. Perhaps it’s trying to get us used to a tacho-less future, what with the advent of EVs – and maybe this has some merit. But then again, come on! At least let us enjoy it while it lasts.


Sergius Barretto

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Sergius has been a part of the automotive industry for 18 years, fixing, selling, training and consulting on all things automotive. Auto enthusiast by birth. Auto engineer by education. Now auto journalist by profession.

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