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

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
honda snubs touchscreen controls good idea or great idea

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]

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2 of 55 comments
  • 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.

  • Jeff S I ignore the commercials. Never owned a Mazda but I would definitely look at one and seriously consider it. I would take a Honda, Toyota, or Mazda over any German vehicle at least they are long lasting, reliable, and don't cost an arm and a leg to maintain.
  • GregLocock The predictable hysteria and repetition of talking points in the meeja is quite funny. it does not divide Oxford into six zones. it restricts access at 6 locations , one on each road, to reduce congestion in the town centre. Florence, which faces the same issue, traffic and narrow historic streets, lined with historic buildings, simply closed the entire town centre off. Don't see anybody whining about that.
  • Jeff S I have rented from Hertz before and never encountered this but if I had I would sue them. Would not want a gun pointed at me and thrown in jail for renting a car.
  • Arthur Dailey I did use a service pre COVID to get the pricing that the dealers were alleged to have paid the manufacturer. It also provided 'quotes' from multiple dealers .
  • Arthur Dailey Has anyone else concluded that we may have a new 'troll' on this site?