Haptic Hype: Revolution or Ridiculous?

The Volkswagen Golf Mk 8 is finally reaching the automotive community and the initial reactions are in. This generation has a truncated range of models, with efficiency and technology being highlighted as the main selling points. As an enthusiast, this has me worried. The German review site Autogefuhl did an in-depth review of the launch range of cars (link at the bottom of this page) and highlighted a minor, yet telling point. Volkswagen has does away with the Golf's hydraulic bonnet strut in favour of a cheaper prop rod. My alarm bell began ringing immediately. The Golf has always been a quality product and this little item (that no one really sees or thinks about) underlined what differentiated it from other hatchbacks in perceived quality for generations. Now it is gone, and it is possibly a sign of cost cutting. Indeed, the Mk 8 sits on a modified version of the old car's platform, sharing the same wheelbase as before. A cynic may say that Volkswagen is not trying very hard with this new Golf. On the other hand, it could be argued that they are saving money on hydraulic struts and platforms to invest in new exciting interior technology and connectivity.

 

The big selling point for the Mk 8 Golf is the interior. Volkswagen has gone all Tesla chasing and removed most of the physical buttons with haptic pads and screens. Haptic technology basically means you can feel when you have correctly touched the interface. Porsche has done a similar thing with the electric Taycan and we can assume all VAG group brands will eventually follow suit. But the new Golf will be the first car to popularize this approach to the masses and I am not sure this is a good thing.

TESLA, as I have said before, is a technology company, not a car maker. The huge screen in the Model 3 for example looks great and very futuristic but does it work in real driving situations? I would argue it does not. It is dangerous as you have to constantly look away from the road and even if cars are self-driving, this is still a distraction people don't need to contend with. Safety aside, I would argue people will tire quickly when formerly simple tasks when interacting with your car become annoying and time consuming. In the Golf, you have to tap a little bar to higher or lower the temperature in the vehicle. Why not use a simple knob? Well that is too 20th century folks. It is a similar story with the headlight controls; a touchpad rather than a simple knob that you could manipulate without having to look away from the road. What about the radio?  Same again, you have to go into the media menu and find the settings. Admittedly, there are volume buttons on the steering wheel for the radio, so I suppose that is something. And we still have physical buttons on the door trim to operate the electric windows too.

Am I getting all worked up about nothing here? I don't think so. My gut feeling is that Volkswagen is trying to dazzle people with wonderful looking technology, to the detriment of practicality and quality. Both of which are hallmarks of the Golf brand. Obviously, they have a split focus between the traditional Golf and the ID.3 electric car and building their range of electric vehicles is now their priority. The Golf is a dinosaur and we are in a time of transition from internal combustion engines to electric locomotion. For Volkswagen, this haptic technology and connectivity is the selling point. It is a clever ploy and will no doubt ease consumers into the electric age as what they see in front of their noses will be reassuringly familiar. But what will happen ten or fifteen years down the line? Could the Mk 8 be the first disposable Golf? People could be forced to scrap the car when the haptic pads and dashboard prove uneconomical to repair? It is like piano black car trim. It was all the range a few years ago. Every car had it, hell, even the Playstation 4 came with it. This looked amazing in photos but marked and scratched almost as soon as someone breathed near it. Many auto makers are quietly moving away from this trim option after everyone realized that perhaps it wasn't worth the inconvenience.

I am hoping and praying we can see a step back from this all-out haptic trend. Let's keep the vital car functions button-based; the lights, the radio, the ventilation controls (along with the vents themselves), and the drive settings. In real driving situations, owners can "learn" where the buttons are and turn or press them easily without the need to look away from the road. There is no need for haptic feedback as we have ears and skin to tell us when we have correctly pressed a button or turned a knob. Like in nature, the simplest solutions are often the best and physical buttons and knobs haven't been replaced in over 100 years because they are fit for purpose just the they are.

 

 

All photos sourced from www.autocar.co.uk

Autogefuhl VW Golf review https://youtu.be/vc8KbxKl8DY