Buttons vs. Touchscreen: Which Infotainment Controls Do You Prefer in Your Car?

Could an automaker hire Robin Thicke to sing a version of his famous song “Blurred Lines” but say “Clean Lines” instead? The clean lines of modern dashboards give the control center an attractive look, but is this the best way to go? Many dashboards include more of the infotainment controls in the touchscreen and leave the buttons in the parts bin; is this a positive change? Let’s explore.

Do you like the look of a dashboard with buttons and a screen or just a touchscreen?

Clean lines and look of the dashboard  in a Tesla Model Y
Dashboard Tesla Model Y | Tesla

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There’s no denying the attractive appearance of a dashboard with a large touchscreen in the center and no buttons. Tesla brought this look to the market, and many other brands are trying to copy this style. The futuristic cabin features more screens and voice controls, and fewer buttons. Even though the look is great, should we have infotainment controls on the touchscreen, or should some items still be offered with easy-to-find buttons?

Infotainment controls are a bit distracting

Driver Using a Touchscreen
Driver Using a Touchscreen | Wiki Commons

Are you going to pull over to the side of the road if you want to adjust the temperature or the music playing in your car? No, you’re not. Most of us expect to adjust the climate settings and audio system while driving but fiddling with several menus and screens can be distracting. The longer your attention is on the touchscreen menu, the more likely you’ll be in an accident. Some automakers still offer the redundancy of physical buttons for climate and audio controls, but not all. Should they?

Which controls can you use faster?

Volvo V70 Dashboard featuring buttons and no touchscreen for the infotainment controls
Volvo V70 Dashboard | Volvo

How long is your attention off the road when performing specific functions in your car? This is the question the Swedish automotive magazine Vi Bilagare sought to answer. They chose several vehicles, most of them modern, and required testers to perform specific driving functions. The only car that wasn’t a newer model was a 17-year-old Volvo V70. Can you guess which driver was able to perform the tasks fastest? That’s right, the driver of the older Volvo.

Car and Driver offers a summary of the results of this contest. Suffice it to say, the four tasks that Vi Bilagare asked drivers to perform were pretty simple. These tasks were:

  1. Turn on the heated seat, increase the temperature by two degrees, and start the defroster
  2. Turn on the radio and tune it to a specific station
  3. Reset the trip computer
  4. Turn on the instrument lights to their lowest setting and turn off the center display

While the team at the magazine used 12 cars, you only need to know a few of the results to understand the conclusion. Some of the times to perform these four tasks were:

  • 2005 Volvo V70 – 10 seconds
  • BMW iX – 30.4 seconds
  • MG Marvel R – 44.9 seconds

The BMW and MG vehicles have only touchscreens and don’t have buttons for drivers to engage the infotainment controls.

Is it safer to use buttons or the touchscreen for your infotainment system?

The new 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment display on the Lexus GX 460.
The new 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment display on the Lexus GX 460. | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

Based on the results from this test, the safest way for any driver to use the infotainment controls is through physical buttons. Of course, in the 2005 Volvo V70, the controls weren’t called infotainment, only climate and audio controls.

Many new vehicles have complicated screens and menus, making it difficult for drivers to find the desired adjustments. Thankfully, while these new touchscreens are becoming faster and buttons are disappearing, drivers can complete some infotainment controls via voice command. Maybe the next contest will show how well various voice command systems operate.

Next, check out the best cars for road trips, or watch the video below covering the contest performed by the Swedish magazine.

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