Opinion: do car companies deserve praise for bringing back knobs and buttons? | Top Gear
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Saturday 23rd September

Opinion: do car companies deserve praise for bringing back knobs and buttons?

Skoda’s out here acting like it’s invented interior common sense. Is all forgiven?

Published: 30 Aug 2023

Every day the TopGear.com office is swamped with a deluge of tedious press releases. “Did you know 114.5% of car owners can’t change their oil filter while blindfolded?!” they shriek. “New research suggests Lamborghini owners are THREE TIMES more likely to name their cat after a Marvel character. Please reply ASAP if you’d like more data for an article.”

Luckily, our delete-email-forever reflex means none of this dross ever gets bounced out into The Real World. But yesterday, we did get a press release that was amusing. And bleak. 

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Ready? Skoda has revealed the interior of the new Superb and Kodiaq – its big saloon and SUV. Yeah, be still your spluttering heart. But the headline act on this dashboard is – wait for it – knobs. And buttons. 

 “Enhancing onboard operation”, according to Skoda, “the customisable Skoda Smart Dials allow for easy control. Each rotary push-button provides intuitive access to various vehicle functions.”

But wait, there’s more. These are not just knobs. These are “innovative rotary push-buttons that cleverly integrate haptic and digital components for a more intuitive experience.” 

Opinion Top gear buttons touchscreens

You’re hooked now, aren’tcha? You’re hungry for more info. Skoda duly obliges. “This entirely new approach [really? The Superb and Kodiaq never actually lost their knobs] … allows quick access to numerous vehicle functions based on the equipment level. The two outer Smart Dials for the driver and front passenger control the interior temperature, seat heating, and seat ventilation” and so on, forever and ever, amen.

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I’m sorry, but what Skoda is dedicating several paragraphs to here is the fact its top-of-the-line flagships still  have knobs and buttons. And it’s busy parading that fact around like it’s invented a flying car that runs on seawater. Usually that sort of self-congratulatory “we invented the future all by ourselves” nonsense is reserved for Elon Musk fan accounts. 

What makes it all the more ironic is that what we’re actually seeing here is a great big U-turn from Skoda, as the VW Group finally puts the brakes on its disastrous touchscreen misadventure and attempts to salvage some reputation for common sense by bringing physical controls back to ruined cars like the Golf, the Octavia… basically the entire mainstream line-up. And desperately hoping the public notices before they turn away in their millions and buy a cheaper Chinese runabout instead. 

Opinion Top gear buttons touchscreens

Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted the saboteurs within the VW & Co. design office have been smoked out. I’m elated that turning up the heating in a next-gen Skoda or Volkswagen won’t be a nightmarish experience. Hopefully it’ll be rolled out across the range and make the likes of the ID.3 and Buzz ‘not awful’ to spend time in.

But do carmakers really deserve to highlight all these about-faces like they’ve philanthropically innovated their way to a brighter tomorrow? For my money… no. It’s a rationality rebate arriving half a decade too late. 

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Perhaps they presume we all have short memories. So, look out for new announcements in the coming weeks, as Ferrari demands a Pride of Britain Award for binning the SF90’s haptic steering wheel and Tesla finally admits the Model S yoke was its dumbest PR stunt to date, and gets a Nobel Peace Prize in return.

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