Volkswagen says it's time to bring buttons back for controlling your car

VW isn't going screen-free, but it's bringing back buttons for many in-car controls

VW ID2.all concept interior
(Image credit: Volkswagen)

One of the interesting things about the current car and EV market is the battle over in-car interfaces. Apple and Google would really like cars to have CarPlay or Android Auto, but car makers aren't necessarily so keen: in the war of words between GM and tech firms over its decision to drop their in-car operating systems, GM suggested that in-car, phone-based interfaces were not necessarily the best for control or for safety.

GM has a point: safety organisations are constantly warning us not to mess around with our phones while driving, and yet many in-car interfaces are effectively giant phones that are often less intuitive to use than good old-fashioned buttons. So it's good to see that VW for one intends to bring at least some of the buttons back.

Posting on X, Auto Express's Steve Fowler shared an image of the interior of VW's ID2.all concept: "The future of Volkswagen interiors revealed. Here’s the ID.2 - on sale in 2025. Classy and not everything on the touchscreen."

So what's VW doing that others aren't?

Why VW is bringing some buttons back

Speaking to Autocar earlier this year, VW boss Thomas Schäfer admitted that there had been customer pushback on what many saw as over-use of touch controls, even saying that the touch-first approach had done some damage to customer loyalty. The new interior design, which is currently a concept but which is destined for use across the VW range, still has a touchscreen but also has buttons below it, as well as the familiar steering wheel controls.

With tech there's often a rush to go for what's new rather than what's best, and that was illustrated quite dramatically this year by Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare. They compared 11 modern cars including the Tesla Model 3, Hyundai Ionic 5 and others against a nearly 20-year-old Volvo V70 to see which controls were easier and safer to use. 

The tests involved a bunch of everyday tasks such as finding a radio station, turning on heated seats, adjusting the AC and so on; the winner, by a "large margin", was the old Volvo. A task that took 10 seconds with the Volvo's buttons took 44.6 seconds on an MG's touchscreen; the BMW iX was 30.4 seconds and the Hyundai 26.7. With a Volvo, you'd potentially take your eyes off the road for 300 metres. In some cars, you'd travel 1,400 metres.

That doesn't mean touchscreens are necessarily bad, or that we shouldn't have digital displays in our cars. But if VW is any indication, the initial enthusiasm for touch-everything is waning in favour of a more sensible approach that delivers the best of both worlds. 

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (