I know, appreciate and welcome progress. My first used car was an air-cooled beige VW Beetle with two lap belts, an AM radio and speaker, bad brakes and an incurable drinking problem. Five years later, my first new car was a black water-cooled VW Golf with five seat belts, an FM / AM / LW cassette player plus four speakers, anti-lock brakes and a tendency to drink half as much. fuel.
How’s that for progress? The Golf – as well as the underrated Polo – were not just spiritual / actual successors to the original Beetle; they were in a whole different league in terms of improving the daily lives of car occupants, while reducing traffic accidents, injuries and deaths.
Go forward three or four decades and products bearing the VW badge – like the vast majority of new cars – have continued to progress at a very impressive rate. Even the low-cost vehicles of the recent past have gone from basic, often dangerous and unreliable padded skateboards, to sophisticated motor cars offering amazing levels of comfort and reliability. In almost every way, they are better, safer, and of higher quality. Advances in car design, engineering and production have far exceeded public hopes and expectations, and VW has helped lead the charge.
But lately, I’m concerned that progress has, in some ways, stalled – and maybe even reversed. Absurdly complicated and unfriendly infotainment systems are the main reason for this – and the VW Group is a big part of this preventable relapse. I rate most of its cars as good to excellent, but the latest infotainment systems in some of them are not fit for purpose. They are worse and less intuitive than those of some previous generations.
Try locating the “controls” for the radio and heater, or satellite navigation when you’re on the move in the current Golf Mk8, then go back and do the same in the Mk7 or Mk6 – and you’ll find that the newest and most advanced does not mean the best or the most secure.
These issues are software and hardware related, and to be fair, the group is supposed to be working on software improvements. But what about user-hostile material? It is an integral part of the car. The ridiculous positioning of the heating / ventilation sliders and radio controls cannot be improved. These are inherent design flaws, and they’re not just an annoying pain: they’re potentially dangerous, as they dictate that the time that should be spent with your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road be diverted. Focusing on driving turns into focusing on how to work on the damn infotainment; it’s a lose-lose situation. There are other losses when potential buyers like me walk away on the grounds that we love cars, but couldn’t live with the technology.
This is not just a problem for the VW group. It is a scourge that affects many car manufacturers, large and small. But just as it is fair that I distinguish Volkswagen in particular, and the VW Group in general, for making colossal positive changes and welcome advancements for real-world motorists over the past half century, it is just as fair that I acknowledge and warn you about this unwanted and unnecessary mess of the infotainment system.
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