Honda Snubs Touchscreen Controls: Good Idea, or Great Idea?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

As the status of the North American Honda Fit remains unknown, its more evolved global sibling (the Jazz) hasn’t held our interest. With sales of economy vehicles still losing ground to crossovers and U.S. Fit volume going from modest to borderline meager over the last five years, there’s a good chance Honda may not bother updating it here.

The 2020 Euro-market reboot only offers a hybrid drivetrain — a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle engine mated to a 96-kW synchronous AC motor — and adds a plethora of standard safety tech and connectivity features. While other markets will see internal-combustion version, the best Honda has on offer is a pint-sized i-VTEC (988 cc) making 120 horsepower. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like a good fit for this market and may explain the company’s reluctance to confirm anything for North America. But Honda has made some changes that we hope carry over to all of its future products, regardless of the name carried on the rear hatch or the engine lurking beneath the hood.

Back in 2016, Honda made the mistake of abandoning the volume knob on several models, installing instead a touch-sensitive slider that owners had to spend weeks mastering. It was an unpleasant and clumsy experience the brand eventually decided to remedy after customers began expressing their distaste for it. Unfortunately, the Jazz took this concept to the extreme by also incorporating the vehicle’s climate controls into the central display in lieu of any physical buttons or knobs. A stupid play, tragically in line with the general trajectory of the auto industry.

Many manufacturers, especially those offering premium vehicles, have begun transitioning to super-clean, minimalist interiors completely dependent upon touch-based interfaces. When done correctly, it can make for a beautifully designed cabin space. However, drivers still lose the ability to intuitively adjust the volume or temperature without taking their eyes off the road for a few risk-heightened moments. Customers are effectively being asked to choose between aesthetics and ease of use, with some opting for the former without realizing they’re even making a compromise.

According to UK-based Autocar, Jazz owners wised up pretty quick and told Honda that touch-screening everything wasn’t working for them. Sensibly, the manufacturer listened and restored traditional controls for the current-generation Jazz.

“The reason is quite simple — we wanted to minimise [sic] driver disruption for operation, in particular, for the heater and air conditioning,” explained Jazz project lead Takeki Tanaka.

“We changed it from touchscreen to dial operation, as we received customer feedback that it was difficult to operate intuitively. You had to look at the screen to change the heater seating, therefore, we changed it so one can operate it without looking, giving more confidence while driving.”

In Europe, the Jazz primarily caters to older customers who may not vibe with touchscreen interfaces in the first place. One imagines that cash-strapped and eco-conscious buyers below 40 (aka the typical U.S. Honda Fit shopper) would be equally appreciative. Fortunately, Honda has left HVAC controls on the U.S.-market Fit unmolested. We hope the brand runs with this trend on subsequent products, even if our hatchback never makes it to a fourth generation. Honda’s a regular brand for regular people. While some would-be buyers would surely love the idea of a sleek, buttonless interface, most would probably prefer something that’s easier to live with during the daily commute. We certainly do.

[Images: Honda]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Mar 31, 2020

    The touch screens are less expensive than switches but taking your eyes off the road to go thru a touch screen is dangerous. Maybe the answer is to get a vehicle with less options that require less touch screen functions.

  • Tankinbeans Tankinbeans on Apr 01, 2020

    Wasn't the original theory behind putting a touchscreen in all the things that they could also be controlled by voice? Granted that adds a different level of aggravation, especially when the VR leaves much to be desired, or requires a syntactic mess to operate correctly. Has part of the problem been that VR is less than useful? I find the system in my Mazdas to be delightful and fairly intuitive, but when I have needed to shout at Mrs. Sync in the past I have gone into seething fits of rage.

  • Analoggrotto Anyone seeking benchmark affluence will get the EV9 by Kia the most cutting edge electric vehicle on the market bar none.
  • Fahrvergnugen Any rollback would be inevitable if Agent Orange were elected anyhow.Next stop would be coal-powered ICE. Good clean American coal. Nice coal. The BEST coal.👿🐂💩
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh 10,000% the fault of deregulation, shareholders and trump.... good job luddites. *fear* progress and don't invest in any infrastructure and just keep taking profits.
  • Paul Pity. I think there's a market for these now that half ton pickups are so immense. A few more fumbles and GM could miss out.
  • Kcflyer So I get to continue to subsidize my neighbors new EV's. Bonus, I get to pay for they kids Gender Studies Diplomas.