Long Term Update 2: 2011 Chevrolet Volt
A Distracting Interface, or Is It?
Since getting lightly rear-ended in traffic, our Volt has been sidelined from active duty by paperwork wrangling between its owner, GM, and the offending car's insurance company. Frustrating, because the damage appears to be purely cosmetic and car is perfectly drivable. On the flip side, it's given us a pause in the action for a sidebar discussion I've been looking for an opening for anyway.
It has to do with that array of touch-sensitive buttons on the car's center console. I'd guess that, on first sight, this must look pretty impressive to customers wandering into a Chevrolet dealer -- the look's pretty high-tech. We've experienced something like it before with the Lincoln MKX and, functionality-speaking, well, we weren't impressed then, and weren't impressed with the Volt's setup either.
You can only shake your head. Why in the world should you have to aim your fingertip just-so while driving a bumpy, shaking car? Moreover, with the target being a tiny bump on a monotone surface? It's disturbingly distractive. And tell me again why texting in cars is considered a heinous behavior but we're blase about touch-sensitive surfaces? Yet another technological capability that common sense should have killed before it left the back of the envelope.
At least that's what I thought for my first few weeks driving the Volt. Alright, let me step back for a moment; perhaps the single most important credential we car writers can claim is - experience. We simply drive lots more cars than you do, and consequently can swiftly put something like a center stack's functionality into perspective. The trouble is, by week three, my finger-taps on the Volt's buttons had suddenly became eyes-on-the-road automatic. This whole arc of the learning curve - from maddening distraction to nonchalant familiarity - has been a bit of a revelation for me. I'm more cautious now about reflexively condemning a quirky new control idea.
So are the Volt's (or the MKX's) touch-sensitive buttons a good thing or a bad thing? It's not so simple. There definitely was an initial road-hazard period during which I was getting inordinate attention from the cars along side me. Any positives to it? I'll charitably say that the nub-ish button's tiny size allows them to be spaced further apart, which is good. And sometimes you can get away with just sliding your finger over them, however just as often my clumsy thumbs inadvertently trigger something entirely unwanted, too. The monotone treatment? No defense.
While I'll remain stonewall in my opposition to menu systems which absolutely demand diverted attention, we need to be careful not to instantly condemn strange new ideas like this. In the end, maybe they really don't work. But momentarily at least, they offer some novelty and keep us thinking. And every once in a while, might even be a step forward.
|Months/miles in service||4/6781|
|Avg econ/CO2||48.7 equiv mpg/0.46 lb/mi|
|Energy cons||69.6 kW-hr/100 mi|
|Maintenance cost||$89 (tire rotation)|