I suppose we should file under ‘not entirely surprising’ the news that budget car maker Dacia has surveyed some drivers and decided they like budget car things.
Stand by for Dacia’s shocking statistics: 76% of drivers “think too much technology can be distracting in a car”, 78% of them “only want in-car technology that they deem useful” and 61% “would prefer more affordable cars that are equipped with technology they regularly use”.
But also I wonder who would argue against any of those things anyway. Who are the 24% who think too much technology wouldn’t distract them? Fighter pilots? How rich are the 39% who would like cars to cost more than is necessary and be equipped with technology they wouldn’t use?
Obviously, a survey instigated by a firm with the intent of making that firm look better is as honourable as a child telling you he definitely did more homework than his brother this week. But I’m also prepared to think that there are some truths behind it.
Quite a lot of new cars have too much stuff going on inside them. Now that most manufacturers are pretty good at screwing cars together and making them comfy, technology features are a premium selling point, so they feel obliged. Connectivity is still very much an industry buzzword.
I get the intent: a nice car must have nice things. And I sense that there’s sometimes resistance among industry commentators to not sound like Luddites when presented a swanky new infotainment system that can massage your back and play whale song if told you’re stressed.
But the problem with heavily loading a car with features is that, premium or not, there’s only so much you can ever do while driving it, and this stuff all needs controlling.
We can spare in-car technology our ears and mouths often but a hand only now and again and our eyes very briefly. We’re preoccupied with the actual act of driving – something that touchscreen menu designers would do well to remember.
There are baffling arrays of menus and sub-menus on many touchscreens. This doesn’t make a driving experience better or more premium. Scrolling through them to try to find the right settings doesn’t make a car more relaxing but less so.
The uncomfortable truth for car makers trying to wow us with multiple levels of technology is that almost all of us routinely use a device that has a great user interface and all the connectivity we will ever need dozens of times each day.
Mirror a smartphone on a car’s screen and you get immediate access to sat-nav, audio and communication, with easier-to-navigate menus, all of your contacts and locations and a voice control system that actually understands what you’re asking it.
And while I will accept it’s true, as a few engineers have told me, that mirroring a phone screen but bigger looks uglier than a bespoke system, I can live with that. Because my primary job is to look at the road.