After many years of testing every major brand, we have come to the conclusion that there are certain things that make infotainment more complex than it needs to be, and a few things that work best. Here is our simple list of what to look for and what to avoid if you are not interested in your car being a video game and just want to jump in and go.
What Is “Infotainment?”
Infotainment is a word invented by folks in the auto industry to encompass your audio system, your navigation, your vehicle information screens and all things related to phones in your car. We’ll throw in things like your vehicle settings as well, since you access them now via the infotainment system. If your vehicle has a head-up display that is part of it too. As you can see, the infotainment system is quite a large set of systems in all modern vehicles.
Look For Touch Screens With Buttons
Our first item to look for in any simple vehicle infotainment system is a touch-screen. Just like it sounds, a touch-screen is a screen that has menus you can select by simply tapping the screen. There is nothing more intuitive than a touch screen. However, in actual operation, you won’t be touching it very often. Once you have set up your audio system presets and input a few of your favorite address locations you will use other controls most of the time. Notably, your steering wheel controls. Learn how to use the steering wheel controls and you won’t have to take your eyes off of the road at all. Audio volume, station selection, call answering and call ending, audio muting and your cruise control system can all be handled by touch with very little practice in almost every car.
However, you will sometimes need to switch your infotainment system to a new screen. Say you are driving and decide you want to view the navigation system’s traffic map. You may already have the audio system screen enabled and you will need to hit the “Nav” or “Map” button on the main menu. Our preference is to have additional main menu buttons above or alongside the touchscreen. They are easier to hit when moving and you won’t smudge up your touchscreen. Notice they are there on the upper right of the infotainment screen in the Nissan Leaf system shown above.
Look for Volume and Tuner Knobs and Presets Via Touch and Hold
One part of infotainment controls that automakers seem to want to get rid of is the volume and tuner knob. although we know how to control volume and the station presets using the steering wheel, having a volume knob and tuner knob is essential to a simple to operate infotainment system. They take up almost no space on the dash and your passengers will understand them and how to operate them without you giving them a tutorial. We would avoid any infotainment system that doesn’t have both. Additionally, be sure that the audio presets are in a row along the audio screen someplace. They should be simple to set by setting the station you want and then pressing and holding the preset number to lock in that station. This has worked for the better part of a century in cars and there is no need to reinvent this. Yet, some automakers try.
Look For HVAC Controls With Real Buttons And Knobs
If there is any sane reason why heating and cooling controls need to be arranged with anything other than simple knobs and buttons we can’t think of it. Avoid any vehicle that incorporates things like seat heaters, temp adjustment, and fan speed into the touch screen. These are things you should be able to access at any moment and using your hands as a guide, not your eyes. The Ram 1500 North Edition, shown above, is a great example of how HVAC controls be should designed. They can even be operated while wearing gloves.
Avoid Remote Interfaces – Mice, Touchpads Etc.
For some reason, many luxury brands feel the need to overcomplicate infotainment. Worse, in order to use these remote interfaces, you need to move a pointer around a screen by aiming it with your eyes and hands in combination. This requires that you look away from the road. We have never found any benefits to these mouse or touchpad systems by comparison to a good touchscreen. Your passenger won’t be able to use these either. Their wrong hand is located closest to the remote interface and the mouse button will be on their pinky side, not their index finder side. For those seeking simplicity, we suggest they avoid these systems altogether.
Avoid In-Screen HVAC
We’ve said it before, but we feel it merits repeating. You should be able to adjust your HVAC system without looking and with just your right hand. Systems that incorporate the HVAC controls into the screen negate this possibility. Avoid them. Many automakers offer both. They have a touch screen menu for HVAC, but also have buttons and knobs. No harm there.
Infotainment systems have evolved and are many are now quite simple to operate. Others are a hot mess. If you are looking for a modern car that is simple to use these simple guidelines will help you make the right choice.