By on March 31, 2020

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.

Image: Honda

[Images: Honda]

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55 Comments on “Honda Snubs Touchscreen Controls: Good Idea, or Great Idea?...”


  • avatar
    thelaine

    Thank you Honda. A practical mix of knobs, switches, and on screen controls is a great choice

  • avatar
    cprescott

    I am very surprised at how cheap recent Honduhs feel on the inside – a co-worker has a top of the line Honduh Oddity and it just reeks of cheapness in design and material construction. For a minivan, the middle seat was more uncomfortable to sit in than a 1966 Ford Falcon station wagon that my parents owned decades ago. I don’t see why Honduh is even a buying consideration other than its cheap parts are well screwed together.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      Please don’t take this as a personal attack, but if you start off with “Honduh”, people know right off the bat you’re a hater.

    • 0 avatar
      lstanley

      Every single thing you say is directly contradicted by the three Hondas I currently own.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        lstanley,

        not true. Exhibit 1. My bro pretty much owned every model of Accord that existed since 1998. One in his current park is 2011 LX. And I own 2011 Mazda3 iTouring, which is basically same trim level. Let me tell you something. Similar mileage, these 2 cars feel today extremely differently. His Accord is all hard plastic, big panel gaps, color is fading. Basically, good that engine works great, and no pleasure otherwise. My Mazda3 does not feel old car at all. Everything assembled top-notch, soft touch materials and better switchgear than in Accord. My has Blue Tooth, his doesn’t. Mazda holds it way better.

        • 0 avatar
          lstanley

          And I had a Mazda CX-7 that blew a turbo on a trip in Wisconsin.

          Hence, Mazda sucks?

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            lstanley,

            Honda interior and packaging suck independently if they blow their engines and transmissions. Honda seats are some of the worst ones in the industry. Next time don’t buy car with turbo. Same CX7 was available with regular engine. Last year I picked Highlander over CX9 because it has v6 vs Turbo. Mazda seats and interior way better. Highlader seats are not perfect but still better than corresponding Pilot and Passport. I don’t hate Honda. I just don’t like anything they do. Their fit and finish is not very bad but not high quality. Their dashboards, push-button shifters, small turbos, trim packaging. And on top of that, they dropping in quality really fast. They are firmly in the low-mid-pack right now. With Acura 3rd from the bottom. I really don’t understand why people buy them en-mass. Their v6 still require timing belt – $900. 1.5T have all sorts of issues. Honda’s current products and in the last 15 years suck, period. For example, until 2018-19, I would say same thing about Toyota. But Toyota improved a lot now. Honda goes in opposite direction.

          • 0 avatar
            Alasdair

            A Mazda without a forced induction device, or with a non-working one, probably does suck, that’s pretty much a given.

    • 0 avatar
      6250Claimer

      Yeah, using “Honduh” stopped me right there from continuing.

      Memories of BTSR. A lot of you have been around long enough to remember that guy.

      You know who else is coming out with all this touchscreen & slider nonsense? VW in the Mk8 Golf/GTI/R. It looks horrendous. Not a conventional knob or button to be found. Even the steering wheel has capacitive controls. It’s gonna be a big fail, just like it was for Honda and others who have learned the hard way. VW must have designed that stuff in before the fit hit the shan a few years ago, and nobody was willing to go back and fix it before charging forward with the Mk8. No doubt they’ll have to address it when the mid-cycle refresh hits, which will probably now be sooner than later.

  • avatar
    silverfin

    In view of the worsening economic situation in the US the 4 gen Fit is looking like a good, safe choice…I hope it comes to our shores. Even with gas at sub $2 gallon….if you cant pay your rent or mortgage because of job loss (and there will be much) a penny saved is a penny earned.

  • avatar
    randyinrocklin

    What happened to good old-fashion simplicity?

  • avatar
    AnalogMan

    Thank you Honda! I’m appalled and shocked by how far some manufacturers are going (cough… Tesla… cough) in putting controls into a touchscreen. It might look ‘cool’ and ‘futuristic’ in the showroom, but there’s no rationalizing the simple fact that it’s just not safe. Certainly not as safe as traditional physical buttons.

    Unless a person possesses superhuman dexterity and spatial memory, you have to take your eyes off the road to look at a touchscreen to use it. Traveling at 65 mph, you cover 95 feet per second. So in the ‘only’ 3 seconds it takes to look away to use the touchscreen, you’ve traveled nearly the length of a football field. A lot can happen in 300 feet, and in a much shorter distance as well (search: Tesla autopilot accidents). Even at city speeds of 30 mph, that’s 44 ft/sec, and 2-3 seconds is over 100 feet – which can be the difference between safely driving, and having a very bad day that results in injury or death.

    Much less important but still a factor is simple utility. Here in New England it gets cold in the winter (even with global warming). Most of us often drive with gloves. You can’t use a touchscreen to control something essential for winter driving – like, heat – with gloves on (and no, I don’t want to drive with special haptic touch gloves, I want to wear ones that actually keep my hands warm).

    Touchscreens have their place in navigation systems, where it would be more difficult to control everything through physical buttons (though I’ve owned a couple of Infiniti’s that did just fine with that, and you still have to look at the screen to use it). But most navigation systems are (logically) disabled when the car is in motion, not practical with HVAC.

    I can’t believe the NHTSA allows touch screens in cars. If a normal administration were in charge, there might be more investigations like the ones into Tesla’s ‘autopilot’. I suspect the car manufacturers are going to touchscreens for the simple reason they always do with any changes – because it’s cheaper than physical controls.

    Like with anything else in our litigious society, I also suspect it will take a few expensive high-visibility lawsuits from people who unfortunately had accidents, or bystanders who were injured or had family members die because of a driver adjusting their touchscreen, to send a message to manufacturers that this is a monumentally bad idea.

    Until then, a touchscreen only interface for HVAC or radio in a car is an automatic deal breaker for me, no matter what other features a car might have.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Totally agree. Touchscreen HVAC, in particular, is a bad idea, and a deal killer.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      Yup! My wife’s Chrysler 300 has a touchscreen stereo, and I don’t ever want another. You have to dedicate your eyes to it to do anything, and at night it’s a big, bright display shining in my eyes when I’m trying to see the road.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      AnalogMan, plus if you are driving on anything but glass-smooth pavement, there is rarely a good place to ‘brace’ your touchscreen hand, and any little bump can send you to a selection you didn’t intend.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @Analogman. 100% in agreement. Plus I have seen early touchscreens that froze at approximately minus 40 (which is about the same in both Fahrenheit and Celsius).

  • avatar
    JimZ

    I thought it was funny how Honda (and others) went to mostly touch controls just a couple of years after Ford reverted back to knobs and buttons after getting ripped for touch controls and touch sliders.

  • avatar
    civicjohn

    Give me wireless CarPly.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    “In view of the worsening economic situation in the US the 4 gen Fit is looking like a good, safe choice…I hope it comes to our shores. Even with gas at sub $2 gallon….if you cant pay your rent or mortgage because of job loss (and there will be much) a penny saved is a penny earned.”

    Agree, a simple utilitarian vehicle that is affordable. I would suggest that Honda not only continue the Fit in the US but that it offer a base trim like a fleet trim and offer it as a lower cost option to their other products. Keep the switches and knobs and keep the touch screens to a minimum. Offer a base radio with USB and offer base colors. Keep the production costs down so the price is low enough to be affordable to those who normally would not be able to afford a new vehicle.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That looks pretty nice, but there is still a vestige of protruding screen at the top.

    FWIW, my 19 Ioniq seems to have a great mix of touchscreen and manual controls. Hyundai got it right.

    https://i.ytimg.com/vi/fGPy1gCYC9g/maxresdefault.jpg

  • avatar
    haroldhill

    I don’t understand the distaste for a bank of toggle switches and dials. It has worked well for aircraft for a hundred years and, frankly, it feeds into my fantasies to have that in a car. Unlike icons, switches are always where you last left them, and importantly they are physical so that you don’t have to look at them to get your finder in the exact right place. And learning where everything is takes, maybe, two outings?

    I am also one of those people who, when I rent a car, immediately look for the way to turn the screen dark. Then I can drive in peace.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Honda just does things right….

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      But it is a fix because they did things wrong (went to all touch controls) and as has been pointed out, did so after other manufacturers have learned this.

      I drove a Civic Si this weekend. They do plenty right. This wan’t one of those things however.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I’m good with some amount of touchscreen capability, combined with buttons and rotating knobs.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    As someone who wears reading glasses, the car’s instrument panel is a little blurry for me, so normal controls are much preferred over touchscreens.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I prefer to have both. Touchscreen for abstract settings (nav directions, in particular; operating keyboards from a dial / pad is a PITA); physical controls for stuff that physically changes things about the car (HVAC, seats, wipers, safety stuff).

  • avatar
    Rocket

    Honda pulls their heads out of their keisters. Bravo! Meanwhile, Volvo stays committed to minimalism at any cost to safety, and Audi has decided that their future will be completely buttonless.

    When it comes to auto interiors, it should ALWAYS be function over form.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    I wish they would just drop the NA 1.5 from the Fit and put the 1.5Turbo in it instead. We finally gave up and traded in our 2015 Fit after 70000 miles. It never ran smooth and required thousands of dollars in repairs. Honda of American covered most of the cost but I never trusted the car after that. We still like Honda enough that we bought a civic and a ridge-line but the direct injected 1.5 without the turbo is a dog.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    It seems like the best use of buttons would be if they were contextual. For example, right below the screen is an area where they can put some style-ized buttons for radio station/sat nav presets/controls for streaming music/source switching. Have the buttons change how they light up based on the source. This would be no more than 5-6, good looking buttons and would add to the tech selling point.

    When I go from my ’07 to my wife’s leased ’19, it’s stupid how complicated all of the audio controls have become. It’s an unneeded distraction that can be fixed.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    If you can’t text in a car why is it OK to use a touch screen? Same thing. You can’t have too many knobs. Zero touch screens. How to you use the heater on a touch screen when wearing gloves?

  • avatar
    EGSE

    @65corvair – “If you can’t text in a car why is it OK to use a touch screen?”

    Excellent point. My ’02 F-150 and ’07 Civic are all knobs and buttons. No need to divert attention from driving a vehicle with 500,000 foot-pounds of kinetic energy to adjust the heat.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    I have a19 HRV with volume knob and controlls for the Hvac. Its great and works well. Compared to other cars in its class the interior is streets ahead quality and feel wise.

    However I will never buy another honda with a crappy cvt again. It gets neither good mileage nor works well. I can only think it was cheap so thats why honda did it. As long as honda squanders what left of their reputation with engineering shortcuts under the assumption the consumer wont notice, they’l suffer.

    This is a company founded on egineerign excellence, now I think the koreans are better at that.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I agree that touch screens can be problematical (especially on rough roads) the advantages in cost for the OEM are significant by practically eliminating the need for multiple pushbuttons, pushbutton caps, multiple different contacts, etc. These cost savings can (though not necessarily are) able to be downstreamed to the buyer in a lower purchase price compared to the push-button models.

    The problem with most is that they’re too sensitive, reading the touch almost instantaneously instead of waiting for a set amount of time to ensure such touch is intentional and not accidental due to inadvertent contact from hitting a pothole, for instance. I’m forced to brace my thumb against the screen’s surround to better stabilize my hand and ensure contact with the correct screen location because if I don’t, I’m far more likely to ‘touch’ the wrong icon which could force me to re-start the menu dive and make the originally-intended touch, which adds to the distraction factor if you’re the driver and trying to perform these tasks. Oh, voice response does work on occasion and the steering wheel controls as well but sometimes you still have to tag the screen itself to get the specific display you want quickly and accurately.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Makes perfect sense, and I’ll have to shout out to the 17-19 Buick Lacrosse again.

    I think some makers are starting to “get it” and I’m glad to see the “Apple-inspired” design of haptic controls and touch screen only interfaces are starting to move to the trash heap where they belong.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    This is a step in the right direction. But touchscreens shouldn’t be in cars, period. You need to look at them for more than a quick glance to do anything, and they often have menus or sub-menus or need you to scroll, even the best designed ones. A quick glance to check the song playing, or the nav, or different monitoring systems ( oil or coolant temp, tire pressure, etc. is all any screen should do. It should never have to be touched. Every actual control should be a button or knob.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Great idea.

    Sure, you might eventually tolerate looking away from the road for extended periods of time and pushing multiple buttons to do something that you used to do by feel, particularly during the first few seconds of driving as the screen is warning you not be distracted while you try to get past it to access the climate controls, wishing the wife had bought a CX-5 instead of a CR-V right before she met you.

    After awhile, you may even stop rapidly and forcefully pressing the “climate” button every time that message comes on, realizing that, unlike the other electronics you’ve despised and destroyed, there will be no catharsis if the thing finally does break because Honda will just install an identical unit under warranty.

    As the operation processes become routine you might even finally accept that a touchscreen and some code was cheaper to make than physical buttons, and it’s both cheaper and easier to just put up with the delay and distraction of it all than to get another modern vehicle that will surely have its own annoyances.

    But you’ll still always wish you could just retrofit the controls from a ’90s Civic.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    “we changed it so one can operate it without looking,”….you wouldn’t think it would take a couple years of customer complaints for people WHO DESIGN CARS FOR A LIVING to figure out that might be important, but here we are. Either I’m getting smarter or the world’s getting stupider.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    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.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    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.

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