From the January 2023 issue of Car and Driver.
I’ve been accused of altering the world to suit myself. A fair assessment of the evidence: disabling a Glade PlugIn stinking up my building’s mailroom, traveling with tools to remove flow restrictors from hotel showers, asking for a TV-B-Gone for Christmas, and adjusting the steering column and display on my beloved’s Ford Escape whenever I drive it. I’m not alone. In fact, carmakers tap into our innately human desire to customize things.
A typical ’23 model has a dizzying number of settings. My basic pre-flight checklist goes something like this: Pair the phone and pray for wireless CarPlay, or add “jam frayed USB cord from depths of backpack into slot” to the list. Find the chassis and primary-controls setup. Go soft on the dampers (adaptive dampers do just that, adapt). Lighten the steering unless the weight seems unnatural. I want a sensitive throttle, and the transmission’s normal mode is a good starting place. Next up, safety settings. Goodbye, blind-spot monitoring—my mirrors are adjusted to see the blind spots. Lane-departure warning is for the inattentive, and I set the collision warning to sound as late as possible. I want all the doors to unlock when I touch the door handle or the unlock button. Off goes the easy-entry seat that slides back when you turn off the car; on goes the dipping right-side exterior mirror. Auto headlights shut off as soon as the car turns off. Parking warning silenced, fake engine sounds nixed, exhaust in normal mode, climate control on auto. Illuminated doors and floors make interiors look like a failing European disco—ciao to that. Wait. Why does this Taylor Swift song have so much bass? Search for audio controls.
10Best week, C/D staffers cycled through 40 cars in five days, getting an opportunity to test almost every settings menu and interface. Hyundai, Kia, Genesis, and General Motors do it best, making the possibilities easy to find and decipher. The Korean brands and Mazda go so far as to explain what the choice does, which is useful when deciding what effect Bose Centerpoint will have on your CX-50. The interfaces from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo aren’t nearly as intuitive. Former editor-in-chief Csaba Csere endlessly searched how to dim the Mercedes-Benz EQE’s giant Hyperscreen. Before you ask, he did read the manual, and he eventually found the control buried deep in a menu, not one labeled Light. I met two of the interface designers behind the Hyperscreen and asked what else they’d worked on—Hyperscreen was their first automotive assignment. Noncooks in the kitchen.
My philosophy is to let specialists do their thing. Engineers should set up a car’s ride and handling, not owners. Car experts who understand that phones and cars have different requirements should design displays and controls. While some adjustability is welcome, too much leads to what psychologist Barry Schwartz dubbed the paradox of choice—too many options stifle decisions and create stress. Throw in a confusing interface and, well, I’ll never leave this parking spot.
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