Report: Audi Wants to Ditch Interior Buttons, Free up More Screen Space

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
report audi wants to ditch interior buttons free up more screen space

With Cadillac torpedoing any hope we had that the touchscreen trend might come to swift end, we started digging around to see the latest and greatest interior screen experiences automakers are hoping to push onto the market. The worst offenders cropped up in concept vehicles, though most automakers aspire to equip future models with more screen space than you’ll know what do with — see China’s Byton for an example.

As for less speculative specimens, Audi had us covered. The brand’s MMI Touch Response infotainment system sacrifices physical controls for three rather large interactive displays. Limited to higher-end models (A6, A7, A8, and Q8), MMI groups a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, 10.3-inch central console, and a smaller 8.6-inch display for controlling the HVAC system. Apparently, that’s the interior Audi wants to run with for all future vehicles while it works up something new.

According to Motor Authority, Marc Lichte, Audi’s head of design, said the company eventually plans to phase out buttons in the cabin to better embrace newer technologies and forge a premium appearance. The next sweeping change for Audi interiors will be a head-up display utilizing some level of augmented reality (meaning it will adapt and interact with what you see on the road ahead).

Meanwhile, the gauge cluster will become smaller and show less information — allowing the HUD to convey fundamentals. Lichte also wants to see the center console morph from two separate screens into one really big one (think Tesla). Obviously, this change will have some ramifications.

From Motor Authority:

While today’s setup has a real volume knob, Lichte said in the future there will be no more buttons. The traditional volume knob will disappear, but some sort of alternative will remain, likely a volume rocker on the steering wheel for those who don’t want to use the touchscreen or voice controls.

While voice controls open cars up to the same privacy concerns we’ve seen with smart-speaker technology (e.g. Google Home and Amazon Echo/Alexa), it’s probably the best solution to keep drivers from getting distracted. Our main gripe with touchscreen implementation is how much more attention they demand of a user compared to a simple switch or knob. Several small-scale tests support this claim. But perhaps the most damning evidence came from the U.S. Navy, which decided to revert its destroyer fleet back to traditional controls after the National Transportation Safety Board faulted the new design as partially responsible for a fatal shipwreck. Surveyed crewmen also said they didn’t care for the new touchscreen systems, claiming they produce more fatigue and aren’t as intuitive or functional as dedicated physical controls.

That doesn’t guarantee Audi is making a mistake, just that there are some obvious drawbacks to its strategy. Those big screens are going to constantly draw the driver’s eye; interfacing with them will require more focus than the clock-radio units jammed into the dashboards of yesteryear. They’ll also grow heavy with fingerprints as you begin using them on a daily basis and may eventually drive you bananas with promotional items you didn’t ask for. But they’ll look slick in a dealer showroom and likely offer novel app-based features that require a very specific, and screen-centric, interface.

[Images: Audi]

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  • Newenthusiast Newenthusiast on Dec 18, 2019

    Well, I guess my current Audi is my last Audi. I use prescription sunglasses, so the are polarized. I was considering transition lenses for my next pair, but that would give me the same issue. HUD never works with those. Some of the touchscreens don't even work. I literally see a blank, black screen. Or in the case of HUDs, its like its isn't there. Also, if I have to take my eyes off of the road to do something as simple as adjust the HVAC temp or change the volume or input of the sound system, then that's a safety regression. Smaller screens, less screens, and a few easy to operate buttons please. It's not an airplane or a Star Trek shuttlecraft.

  • Polka King Polka King on Dec 19, 2019

    This world has gone mad. Goofy cast wheels, giant trucks for guys who should be spending their money on Viagra, and now touch screens. I will not have a touch screen if it means I have to buy every next car from Hemmings.

  • SCE to AUX Let it die with dignity - no electrification. That would kill the spirit of the original.Mazda needs to think about survival and market share, not tinker with a niche car with waning sales, or dying on Wankel Hill.Maybe their body and paint engineers could help Tesla once Mazda folds.
  • Lou_BC H-E-L-L-C-A-T
  • EBFlex "EBFlex speaks more truth."It's sometimes a burden being right all the time.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird Add a couple of more body styles. A coupe with a vestigial rear seat like the BRZ along with a shooting brake version would appeal to a number of drivers who want something sporty but not a hatchback or crossover.
  • Theflyersfan It's the mother of all "ifs" - if Mazda gets the small rotary/hybrid combo going, I can see them using that in the next MX-5. Can they keep it under 2500 lbs and somewhat affordable? Not sure...this is why I don't run a car company! But if they want to replace it around 2025, and it's 2023 now, they need to get started very soon with some rumors and leaks to keep us going. But with the rest of their lineup going greener in next generations, and Mazda selling under 10,000 MX-5s per year, how does it really impact any average emissions and fuel economy ratings? If they can keep tweaking the Skyactiv-G engine for better fuel economy and fewer emissions, they should be able to get the NE generation using gasoline before being forced to go EV or hybrid with the NF. The mission of the MX-5 is light, affordable, open air fun and it's their halo car. And while I agree that EVs are going to be a much larger part of the future, the "all things by 2035 or 2040 or so on" edicts have "kick the can down the road" written in massive font size 1,000 written all over them. We'll be on gas for a while longer - just continue to eke more mpg out of what we have.All that being said, if they were to put the turbo Skyactiv-G engine in the MX-5 for 2024 and make it a Mazdaspeed model, I'd put a deposit on it right now. I love mine, but if it gets bumped up from 181hp to 250-275hp, it would be a flat out riot to drive.