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Touch Screen vs. Dial Menu Navigation and Controls

April 24th, 2013

Your smart phone probably has touch screen controls and menu navigation.  But, are touch controls right for your car?  At True Consumer Reviews, we recently invited 100 luxury sedan owners to evaluate 8 different 2013 luxury sedans, the BMW 328i, Mercedes C250, Audi A4, Infiniti G37, Lexus IS250, Acura TSX, Cadillac ATS, and Lincoln MKZ.  In addition to learning all about what these owners liked and disliked about each sedan, we got a good read on what they like and dislike about touch screen vs. traditional dial and push button controls.

2013_Lincoln_MKZ_Center_Stack_ControlsFive of the sedans we tested had traditional dial and button controls for most features, including scrolling through the display screen menu.  The IS250 has touch screen menu navigation mixed with traditional sound and climate push button and dial controls.  But the two newest models we had luxury sedan owners evaluate, the 2013 Cadillac ATS and 2013 Lincoln MKZ, have touch screen menu navigation and touch screen climate and sound controls.  Essentially, most of the center instrument panel is one big, illuminated touch screen, something akin to a giant iPhone display.

So, which do luxury sedan owners like better, traditional dials and buttons, or touch controls, and, perhaps more importantly, why?  The answer is that we found them to be sharply divided in their preferences.  Here in a nutshell is what they like and don’t like about the two control systems.

Touch screen (hepatic) controls:

Those who like them like the cutting edge, high technology look and feel of touch controls.  They like that their car has finally caught up with the technology in their phone, electronic notebook, and electronic home appliances.  They like the clean, open, smooth interior design made possible by touch controls.  And, they like the visual icons and feedback not possible with traditional dials and buttons.

Traditional controls:

BMW_328i_Menu_Nav_DialThose who prefer traditional dials and buttons express a number of concerns with touch screen controls.  These include potential problems with unsightly fingerprints, reading the controls in bright sunlight, unfamiliar or absent tactile feedback, and doubts their about long term durability.  Some dislike the need to look down at the controls to see where to press verses feeling for a knob or button.  Also, for navigating through display screen menus, some express concern about arm fatigue on long drives.  The issue here is having to hold your hand in midair to navigate the touch screen.  These owners prefer the set up in the 3 German luxury sedans in our recent test, which allow them to rest their arm on the center armrest and turn a dial on the console to navigate screen menus.  For some, simple unfamiliarity with touch controls was the reason for preferring traditional controls.  With the ATS for example, some confused the chrome trim bars with buttons and were unsure where to press on the screen, not realizing they need only press the icon itself.  Some admit they might grow to like touch screen controls with time.

Whatever your preference, it seems likely the new touch controls introduced by American luxury manufacturers are the wave of the future and that other manufacturers will soon follow.  Find out more about touch and traditional controls, and how the 8 luxury sedans we recently tested fared in other areas.