By on October 16, 2018

Image: Adam Tonge

A certain Lincoln owner I know was forced back to the dealership yesterday. The problem? A worrying diagnostic message on his crossover’s gauge cluster. Don’t worry, he’s covered, and the trip offered him a chance to roll outta there with all the swagger of John Shaft — surrounded by all the opulence a Ford Fusion platform can carry.

Naturally, this man, who we’ll call Adam T. (or A. Tonge, whatever he prefers) jumped at the chance to pilot a Continental loaner for a couple of days. Who can blame him? It remains an intriguing, plush sedan that unfortunately garners fewer buyers with each passing month. As he triumphantly posted images in our Slack chatroom, a conversation sprung up around a feature common to all present-day Lincolns, something for which no one can muster much enthusiasm: the push-button shifter.

In the Continental, the placement of the buttons just to the left of the center touchscreen calls to mind a bank of radio presents and generally seems out of place. Lincoln’s not giving up on this, however. So, if buttons there must be, where and how would you like to press them?

While 2019 Lincolns continue with the push-buttons, the upcoming Aviator mimics the larger Navigator in arranging them horizontally, just above the leading edge of the raised console. These buttons require a downward stroke, like the toggles on a 1970s home stereo, whereas the MKZ, Nautilus (née MKX) and MKC all present their owners with a vertical strip of buttons to the left of the center stack.

Image: Ford

2017 Lincoln MKX, Image: Steph Willems

Big, bland buttons you’ll have to reach awkwardly for if you’re the long-legged type. A week spent in an MKX last year was not nearly enough time for this practice to become old hat. Invariably, my right hand fumbled above the sparse console, searching for a ghost. They’re laggy buttons, too, and make three-point turns more time consuming than necessary.

Suffice it to say I think Lincoln’s buttons suck. There’s other options out there that work better, to varying degrees. GMC’s Terrain sports a row of buttons at the bottom of the center stack, but the important two (reverse, drive) require a toggle action, pulling them towards the driver, while the others can be pressed like you’re in a Lincoln. Honda uses a fore-and-aft alignment for its push-button array (see below), with a rearward toggle action required to engage reverse. It could be argued that the park button is too small and the drive button too overbearing, but at least you won’t find this feature on all models.

2018 Honda Odyssey shifter - Image: © Timothy Cain

Hyundai must have channelled Edsel’s Teletouch system for its tight grouping of buttons in the Ionic Electric (see above), but this quartet has thankfully been moved to the console, where they lie just ahead of a raised handrest. This setup is fast and intuitive, and it places the buttons closest to where your hand naturally wants to fall. Drivers can accomplish a three point turn with just some left arm motion and the index and middle finger of their right hand.

Let’s hear from you, B&B. If the Lincoln brand is to continue without a shift dial, knob, lever, or stalk, where do want to reach when the time comes to change directions?

[Images: Adam Tonge, Ford Motor Company, Timothy Cain, Hyundai]

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76 Comments on “QOTD: Are You Ready to Push Some Buttons?...”


  • avatar
    Dan

    I’d like to reach for a different set of keys.

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    Turn signal lever on the left, wipers on the right, cruise on the steering wheel and gearshift, if not traditionally located, somewhere I won’t mistake it for something else.

    Finally, infotainment center and phone in the cargo space, so fellow drivers and I won’t be tempted to take our eyes and minds off the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Cruise on the steering wheel strikes me as the most intuitive set-up and has become the industry standard. That said, I find Toyota’s traditional stalk on the right side of the steering column actually works better, especially in traffic. It has a nice weight and spring tension to it, and is good for quick, minute adjustments up and down. Apparently it’s being phased out, so what do I know.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    All of them look better executed than the push-buttons on the current gen GMC Terrain. The Terrains buttons at the bottom of the center stack are so far away from most drivers I can’t imagine even using the +/- to go up and down gears (no there are no paddle shifters).

    Lincoln’s at least look largely accessible for those who have the seat and wheel well adjusted for themselves and I’d prefer it over a big ole knob (aka Chrysler).

    • 0 avatar
      ldl20

      I have a Terrain, and it feels ridiculous to select Low and then use the +/-…I did it once and never again.

      Oh, and I’ve shut the car off more than a few times without first pressing park–thankfully the car knows the error of my ways and I realize what I’ve done. I would love a column shift like my sister’s old 92 Blazer, but we know that ship has sailed.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        My wife (she’s driven her Dad’s new Terrain a few times) is lack of tactile feedback. She wants a click or thunk or something when the button is pressed.

  • avatar
    oldsnwbrdr

    I have an MKZ. I admit it takes a little time to get used to the push button transmission. One might wonder why it takes a moment to press the D or R or P… but it does.

    That said I’m used to it and I really like all the space it frees on the console. I’m definitely a fan and would love to be able to lease a (very heavily discounted) Continental in two years.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    Good gawd, why can’t we just get a lever, attached to an actual linkage, and be done with it. I have to imagine the pushbuttons save money and weight, but I don’t trust the dumb things. I also wonder how my aging parents would do with these newfangled set-ups.
    Pushbutton start is irritating enough, I’m perfectly content with the console-mounted levers in our little fleet.

    • 0 avatar
      cicero1

      amen. I rented a Continental and the push buttons were very unsatisfying. (I also hate the turn knob in some cars).

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Good gawd, why can’t we just get a lever, attached to an actual linkage, and be done with it.”

      because that lever itself takes up a lot of space, not to mention the mechanism and support/mounting bracket. And then there’s the cable routing; actuator cables have constraints like minimum bend radius so that really limits the ways they can be run from the selector lever to the transaxle.

      ” but I don’t trust the dumb things.”

      said every old person ever.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I have doubts that the Acura and Hyundai systems shown actually save much space compared to a traditional console shifter.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          I’m not just talking about the “real estate” on the top surface of the console, but inside the console as well. That shift lever needs something like this:

          https://www.oempartsquick.com/oem-parts/ford-shifter-assembly-6e5z7210g

          inside the console. that’s a big mechanism.

      • 0 avatar
        Blackcloud_9

        …And you kids get off of my lawn!

      • 0 avatar
        ravenuer

        Yeah, amazing how they managed to get that shifter to work for all those years, heh Jim?

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        Meh, I’ll take a lever any day except for that hot mess used with ZF slush boxes.

        Frankly I don’t get the fuss over console real estate other than some obsessive need to optimally locate cup holders.

        Then again I don’t have much love for automatics in the first place and much prefer a manual transmission for my driving experience.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      If your aging parents can’t figure out how to use a push button shifter after being shown once then they probably shouldn’t be out driving on the road in the first place.

      Also push button shifters are not new, they were found back in the 50s and 60s.

      • 0 avatar

        @whynot: I remember, as a kid, my father’s cousin had a new Dodge (? could have been Plymouth) that had push buttons on the left side dash instead of any kind of lever for transmission control. I thought that was so cool and “space age” looking (being 5 or 6 years old at the time). As an adult driver now, I could probably get used to the idea. I get the reluctance to adapt as “comfortable” is always preferred it seems when it comes to many routines in life.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Electric shifters are here, and they are not going away. That being said, I think the Mercedes Benz column shifter is the best solution. Tesla licenses that solution as well. Since there’s no mechanical linkage, it doesn’t clutter the center console needlessly, and is always in a convenient spot for the driver.

      • 0 avatar
        Menar Fromarz

        Totally agree! My GLK 250 BlueTec shifter is awesome! I really liked the golf club shifter in our departed Lexus CT200h as well. Not a fan of buttons, they just get lost in the clutter!

      • 0 avatar
        Richard Chen

        All of my daily drivers (Volvo/Mazda/Toyota) have their wiper stalk on the right side, shifter on the floor or center console. The only newfangled shifter I’ve used is the Prius’, which has its own learning curve, my muscle memory is getting a bi sticky as of late.

        Fortunately, I’m too poor/cheap for Tesla & Mercedes, and I see that the BMW i3’s transmission stalk goes in the opposite direction.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        MBella, I am not quite sold on the Mercedes column shifter. It’s in a good spot for crash safety, and you can easily reach it from your seat, but it doesn’t really give any tactile feedback, and just returns to center each time. Which might not be so bad, except it also doesn’t give any visual feedback, especially because the wheel and column block your view. Only the gear indicator between the gauges gives any feedback.

        I think I might actually prefer Lincoln toggles or a Jaguar knob to the shifter mentioned here.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          It does give you a tactile feedback on all selections except neutral. Visual in the cluster as well, and you can here the shifter module on the trans selecting the different position.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      The current LaCrosse shifter is a travesty given the target audience. It is a joystick that returns to center after every movement

    • 0 avatar
      BrentinWA

      My god… how old are you!? I am 43 and you sound like you’re at least twice as old as me. I cannot stand the thought of having to start a car with a Key and cannot understand why it took us so many years to figure out push button start.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        The thought of using an ignition key to start a vehicle genuinely causes you anguish? If you think about starting a vehicle with a key, is it that single action that bothers you or do you become overwhelmed by the idea of performing the sequence continually for the entire vehicle ownership period? Is there some kind of traumatic experience behind this aversion to ignition keys?

    • 0 avatar
      tooloud10

      The steering wheel and gas pedal aren’t mechanically connected to anything any more, but the electronic gear shift is the part you don’t trust?

  • avatar
    statikboy

    Put them about 200 meters away from the clutch pedal.

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    I hate buttons. Only base model vehicles on my driveway.

  • avatar
    cammark

    guidelines for an auto trans shift “interface”

    1. should be within reach while seated in a proper driving position while both shoulders maintain contact with the seat back.

    (column-mounted lever with tele-tilt steering seems to lend well to this one.)

    2. once familiar with its location, position selection should be possible eyes-closed with 100% certainty.

    (for example, I know it’s in park; I can close my eyes, reach for it and move it into drive and know it is in fact in drive without looking. obviously there should be some visual indicator of the current position/mode as back-up/redundancy/reminder)

    3. easily identified and understood by “first time” drivers of the vehicle.

    (clearly differentiated from all other controls and intuitive.)

    on the topic, I can’t think of a good reason why all driver gauges and controls (other than pedals) shouldn’t be column mounted. The whole driver control/info assembly should follow the adjustment of the wheel. Nothing other than tradition is preventing this.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Agreed. See my Mercedes columounted shifter comment above.

    • 0 avatar
      DavesNotHere

      Ergonomics is preventing this: If the gauges are moving with the wheel while the Driver’s head stays level, they are not in visual (parallel) alignment and actually much harder to read. Paddle shifters are one of the few controls that benefit from rotating with the wheel.

  • avatar
    riggodeezil

    Pushing buttons vs. manipulating a stick. Are we talking about cars or foreplay? Buttons, twist-dials, etc. to pick PRNDL (or whatever) probably works for the young kiddies. Me, I’m man enough to admit I don’t mind playing with something vaguely phallic to make my car go.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I personally really like column shifters on automatic transmission vehicles. However just about every review I’ve read of an Escalade or Yukon goes “LULZ! OMFG! Column shifter!” so I must be in the minority with that preference.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      I do too, provided we aren’t talking about the tiny stalks from Mercedes, Prius, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      There’s something strangely satisfying about pulling a massive column shifter down into Drive, but on some level I’m a secret geriatric.

      Also, strange no one thinks of what Mercedes uses as a column shifter even if it’s a shifter on the column.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        Mercedes shifter is actually very good, and I don’t get the hate. Down for drive, up for reverse, button for park. Also, opening the door will put it in park as well. People that talk bad about it haven’t had a chance to really drive with it.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          The reason I don’t like the Mercedes solution (and others) is basically just my old habits. PRNDL top to bottom is hardwired, and messing that up in any form is not intuitive to me. I found myself in reverse all the time when trying for park. Admittedly that is just from test drives and not ownership.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I think a well done column shifter can work. Nobody gives Mercedes any grief. Something tells me the GM truck column shifters still work and feel like something from the 1960s.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      I’m a sometime borrower of a truck with a column-shift automatic. All other things being equal, I prefer it a console-mounted automatic selector.

    • 0 avatar
      TwoBelugas

      Same here, I like the column shifters, intuitive and you don’t need to move your right hand much to get to it. I applaud GM and Ford keeping them on as many vehicles as they do, unlike Chrysler who saw it as a chance to squeeze some more euroes by going to the parts bin rotary shifter from the 300.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Right of steering wheel and left of infotainment. Must have great tactile and ergonomic qualities. I’m thinking buttons IE Corvair Powerglide. Buttons, knob, lever? I don’t that any are better than shift lever in center console area, even if the lever is not attached to anything.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I could care less. Give me a couple of days with a car and I’m used to it, no matter what the control layout. And I don’t really get the big whoop over pushbuttons, as I can remember them well on the 1956-64 Chrysler products.

    In fact, I remember street logic saying anyone driving a Mopar back then had an clandestine advantage in impromptu street drags, due to the combination of the excellent TorqueFlite and the superior shift capabilities of the pushbutton drive.

  • avatar
    derekson

    The Honda setup seems pretty logical and like something I could easily live with. As for the others…. I’d even take the dial over the buttons next to the infotainment screen…

  • avatar
    cdotson

    Pushbuttons should be arranged as they were on the ’60s TorqueFlites: On the dash to the left of the instrument panel.

  • avatar
    kenwood

    I got to drive an MKZ for a weekend and it didn’t bother me at all. I even kinda liked it. It was new and different, and by the second day, I had already adapted. I didn’t confuse it with radio presets or anything else. I do like the Mercedes column shift thingy, but I’d be fine with a push button. As for how it’s oriented, either the MKZ or the Conti, with a slight preference for the longer layout and larger buttons on the MKZ.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    I’d much rather have push buttons than the strange – let’s rearrange the letters/shift pattern because we can – setup in most Buicks and the Chevy Bolt.

    That being said the having the column of buttons right next to the infotainment system could be problematic. I would prefer to have them on the console or deliberately separate from the infotainment cluster.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Automakers try to push “the tech” as advancements, when it’s really just simple cost-cutting and planned obsolescence.

    So they launch it in their most luxurious or high end, dummies are impressed, then automakers graciously let “the tech” trickle down to Sonics, Rios, and other throwaways, which is really where it should start (and needed the most), then have it worm its way up.

  • avatar

    My 1956 Plymouth had the transmission push buttons on the corner of the dash, to the left of the steering wheel.

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    that Lincoln setup has always been a trigger to my design/ergonomics OCD.

    As someone who has never sat in the Continental, should I push the letters or push the horizontal bar in between the letters? a noob has to think about it for a second after looking up/down the entire interface.

    Former Ford company Aston Martin got the push button shifter exactly right—big buttons with P/N/D/R written on each button so there’s no ambiguity, no wasted time.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Looks like the Lincolns have P/N/D/R written on each button so there is no ambiguity. None of my family had to even think about what to do the first time they drove our MKZ.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    While I agree that the ones in the Conti look like radio buttons due to their placement I love the set up in my MKZ. The GM and Honda systems where you must pull the switch are stupid and the opposite of intuitive. The Hyundai solution is the worst of the bunch as it does not follow the standard prndl sequence giving you pdnr, again the opposite of intuitive.

    I also don’t know what you are talking about saying the Lincoln buttons are laggy. It is not like the old mechanical linkage transmissions immediately engaged a gear, just like today it took time for the servo or clutch to fully fill and engage the gear. Because today’s shifters are electronic no matter what they look like shifting out of park is going to take a moment as it is a motor that is moving the parking pawl and to insure it won’t get stuck when excessively loaded like when parked on a steep hill they have a lot of gear reduction to make a small motor put out a lot of force.

  • avatar
    JMII

    The problem with these buttons are thier location relative to the radio. Due the style of the buttons and the bezel surround them they very much appear to be radio presets as noted by the author. When switching to AM for the traffic update suddenly has you in reverse that could be a problem. I actually think the knobs you twist make sense. If not a lever or slider of some kind should be used. Just plain buttons that allow you to pick ANY gear at ANY time seems like a terrible idea. At least a knob or lever requires you to move in the standard PRND (then Low, Sport or Manual) pattern we all understand. This forces you into N between D and R. The fact that this is no longer a manual, cable activated connection is a bit worrisome since a bad connection or damaged wire means your entire vehicle can’t move.

    I’ve got a manual transmission so no button worries here. I move the stick into the gear I want as desired. Well except when the stupid GM 1st-to-4th skip shift thing happens in attempts to help my fuel economy (in a 460HP Corvette? HA!) but $20 connector on the transmission will fix that annoyance soon enough.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      If you are cruising along at freeway speeds and hit the R button nothing is going to happen, the computer makes the decision and if you’ve asked it to do something that it shouldn’t it won’t.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      They’ve had the skip-shift for the last 20 years. I agree, it’s silly, but it’s easily defeated by anyone with Google, like you said, and it probably lets them game the fuel economy numbers for those cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        I could be off base here, but hasn’t a design criterion of the C4s through C7s been to avoid the US gas guzzler tax, at least in base guise? I actually can see some merit in that, although I’m not the driver contending with the 1st-4th skip.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Lincoln could move to the rotary gear selector on the Ford vehicles, which I believe is used on the Fusion and Expedition. It’s a bit more intuitive, in my experience with it.

    Meanwhile, a buddy of mine just traded his JLU Wrangler for a ’15 BMW i3 and no car payment. The i3 has a gear selector that’s mounted on the steering column, which rotates up and down, with a dedicated park button. Most BMWs and even the Rolls-Royces with column shifters have a R-N-D arrangement, but the i3’s is inexplicably D-N-R. I bet that would be confusing for anyone who owns another BMW Group vehicle.

    Also, I hate the monostatic gear selector in my ’15 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is well-publicized due to contributing to the demise of Mr. Anton Yelchin, and which was replaced with a traditional shifter in 2016. The monostatic unit responds to directions of movement. So, from park, it has three simulated detents rearward, the first for reverse, the second for neutral, and the third for drive. Likewise, from drive, three detents forward will put it into park. However, it’s got some sort of lockout mechanism that keeps you from pushing or pulling it more simulated detents than are available (so you’d only be able to move up 2 to get into park from reverse, for example). Sometimes, the lockout mechanism activates prematurely/inappropriately, so instead of pushing it all the way forward to go from drive to park, I have to push it into neutral, then wait, then reverse, then wait, then park.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      What a goofy and needlessly complicated idea. What, did they get 90% through development and then somebody told them, “We need detents.” And the engineers were like, “…..Why didn’t you tell us that before?! We would have given you THE OLD SHIFTER.”

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Instead of buttons, I prefer to move a lever to select different gears, requiring first that I push in a third pedal placed to the left of the brake in the footwell.

    That said, the Navigator and Aviator are the correct way to do a pushbutton shifter, exactly like classy home audio toggles.

  • avatar
    ldl20

    “Naturally, this man, who we’ll call Adam T. (or A. Tonge, whatever he prefers)”

    Nice Principal Skinner reference!

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Is it just me, or are the buttons backwards on the Hyundai backwards? R should be on the left and D on the right. At least to me. Also, sequential shifters should be back to upshift, forwards to downshift.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Other than manual transmission cars, I haven’t driven a newer vehicle with a shifter that works consistently and without looking at it. I get chasing down costs, complexity and space efficiency, but not at the expense of ease of use and safety.

    “You’re going the wrong way!” – Steve Martin

  • avatar
    la834

    Nice compendium of 1950s pushbutton shifters: http://justacarguy.blogspot.com/2011/03/push-button-gear-selector-switch-aka.html

    Mercury and Packard both did it nicely.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    I’m waiting for Toyota lawyers to implement two factor authentication for gear selection.

    One can never be too careful.

  • avatar
    Mike-NB2

    I’m about to hit my second anniversary with my ’17 MKZ and to this day I still haven’t developed the muscle memory to consistently use the buttons effectively. In simplest terms getting the car started and moving involves pushing the start button with my right hand, reaching down to the lower left of the dash to release the parking brake (yeah, I know most people would never use a parking brake but I’m new to an automatic so it’s part of the process for me) and then push the D or S button to get rolling. But… I’d say 20% of the time I forget the third step and I’m sitting there wondering why I’m not moving. Oh yeah! I gotta put the car in gear!

    For me the intuition of the movements to start a car and get it moving that I’ve lived with for 36 years are just ingrained in my DNA and to get beyond them takes some thought.

    After two years I’m barely over cringing every time I start the car because I haven’t pushed the clutch in. But I do have a solution. Next year there will be a Golf R with a manual in my garage.

  • avatar
    jfb43

    I will not buy a car with pushbutton shifting. I don’t even think I’d get one with the new rotary knob, even though that would be marginally better. All this talk about freeing up console space – go back to the future with column shifters, at least on base model vehicles.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Just raid the ol’ parts bin and install the shifter from one of my current Fords, the Fiesta ST. It is intuitive with the numbers one through six clearly denoting which forward gear you wish to select and an intuitive reverse lock out mechanism. It works easily in conjunction with an extra pedal installed on the left. If it doesn’t have this arrangement, I really dont care.

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