BUYERS GUIDE: Touch-Screen Or Mouse? Buttons, Or Not? What Defines A Great Infotainment Setup?

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There is no consensus on what makes a great infotainment setup. Do you know one when you see it?

Much of what defines a great infotainment system is subject to one’s opinion. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to features. All that matters is what you want in your car. To help buyers narrow down preferences we have chopped the infotainment mechanics down into three sections. Here are the choices. Think about these before you head to the new car lot to buy your next vehicle. 

Dash Placement – Do You Like Innies or Outies?

There are two basic ways that an infotainment screen can be placed inside your vehicle. It can be mounted external to the dash or console, almost like an old-school Tom Tom from Radio Shack, or it can be integrated directly and flush-mounted into the dash. There is no price component here. We’ve seen outies in $100K Mercedes-Benz vehicles and ones that look just like it in Mazda3s costing under $25K. We have seen flush mounted displays in Jaguars costing $64K and similar ones in Ford vehicles costing $37K. It really comes down to preference. What look do you prefer?

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Interface Choices – Are You a Toucher or a Mouser?

Like the choice above, this one has no price element. Affordable Mazdas use a great rotary knob with a separate volume knob that both fall to your right arm when it is at rest. The Audi line uses an almost identical setup in its pricey models (Can you tell which is which above?). On the other side of the fence, the Land Rover line uses mostly touch-screens, while the Jeep line does as well.

In this section, we can explain one reason why some folks hate touchscreens. Fingerprints. They drive some people nuts and we can’t say we blame them. We have heard from many people that the fingerprints left when using a touchscreen mar the look of a fine interior. We thought that was a slam-dunk reason to avoid touchscreens until we tested the BMW 6 Series GT. The 6 Series uses a multifunction mouse as part of its iDrive system. The image on the left is what BMW shows in its literature. It appears the solution to fingerprints marring a great interior is at hand! Except as soon as we used the piano-black glossy BMW mouse it immediately became covered in, you guessed it, fingerprints.  So much for that easy decision.

Controls Choices – Knobs or Taps?

Honda has struggled mightily with a key decision as of late. To quit on the signature high-revving normally aspirated engines that were the heart of every Honda? Nope, Honda ditched those without a second thought once turbos were properly sorted out. The philosophical struggle Honda is wrestling with is whether to get rid of audio control knobs. Honda has gone back and forth on volume knobs and now has some models without a volume knob (Civic) and some with (CR-V). Either way, Honda stole your tuner and station selector knob. You will now have to aim a careful tap at the screen to make those command inputs. Other brands retain knobs for volume and tuner and still give you the steering wheel controls if you opt to use those instead. This one is a no-brainer if you started driving before 2010. Once you learn to quiet a car with a volume knob it is very hard to stop reaching for it. If you are new to driving, it comes down to personal preference.

Remember, mainstream vehicle owners are proven to be just as happy as luxury vehicle owners when it comes to infotainment and technology. The only question is what style do you want?