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

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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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