In praise of the electric Renault Megane's physical buttons that make driving easier - and safer
Having banged on endlessly about how we deplore cars that overload your cognitive and finger-jabbing capacity by putting too many of their controls into touchscreens, let's hear it for one that doesn't. It makes it a far more relaxing car to drive, and I'm pretty convinced a safer one. You keep your eyes on the road rather than the screen, and your brain on the traffic rather than the complexity of the menus thereon.
The Megane doesn't just have real climate-control buttons. It has a lane-assist button I can find without looking, a textured button on a ledge to the right of the steering wheel. So I can easily turn it off for curvy roads where I want to kiss without interference the central line at the apex, when no-one's coming the other way. If I slide a fingertip along that ledge, I've also found the screen dimmer.
Between them is an ESP-off button but I have no use for that: I never want ESC off, and its intermediate 'loose' function is programmed into my 'personal' drive mode, which Renault calls Multi-Sense, on the big round button on the steering wheel's right spoke.
A switch just below disables the auto park brake. Which makes parking more precise and less snatchy. Again, the VW system puts that on a screen.
The usual lights stalk is on the left of the steering column. To the right side are three stalks. Confusing? Not really, because they're all different shapes so your fingers know what they're doing. The original P6 Rover 2000 had differently shaped minor switchgear for the same reason.
The upper one is the R-N-D-P lever. It needs no B position because you've got regen paddles. Below that is the stereo, with up-down volume buttons on its tip (press both for mute), a wheel for track or station search, and buttons on top for source and below for radio band.
So there you are. I can now drive this car with my eyes closed. Well, sorta. And in other news…
There's a lot of talk that EV drivers will be in less of a rush for roadside food than petrol drivers because their cars fill up more slowly. It's a return to sit-down service. But instead of greasy Little Chefs (remember the Olympic Breakfast?) and Happy Eaters (they of the PacMan-esque Happy Puker logo) it's gone upmarket now.
On a recent trip to Cornwall we stopped at the Mollie's Diner by the M4/M5 junction. It has a row of rapid chargers. The food is what you'd call transatlantic resto-mod: shrimp cocktail, chilli dog, knickerbocker glory. And very fine burgers of course. The staff are cheery, the decor smart, the booths comfy and the overall sense is of a place well run.
There's an imaginatively designed family motel on-site. It's part of the Soho House group so you can imagine how smartly targeted it is. We could happily have lingered, but by the time our mains had arrived, I got a ping on my app saying the Renault was sufficiently charged.
Thing is, wherever you have 100kW+ chargers, which is many or even most of those beside big roads these days, you don't actually need a lengthy stop. About 20-25 minutes' charging will give you another three hours' driving – and at Mollie's I needed only another two hours driving. Time yourself next time you stop at a motorway services, pee, get sandwiches to eat in the car, drive round to the petrol station bit, fill, pay and depart.