I wish every automaker would follow Kia's lead with infotainment, climate, and other vehicle controls

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I wish every automaker would follow Kia's lead with infotainment, climate, and other vehicle controls

Kia Infotainment

Matthew DeBord/BI

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As much as I admire Tesla's Model 3 and its radical elimination of most buttons, knobs, switches, and gauges - placing them instead in a central touchscreen interface - I've also dealt with enough similar system to know that they're a mixed bag.

A very mixed bag. In Chevys, Cadillacs, and Fords, the touchscreen-heavy controls work well. But in Lexuses, not so much. Mazda is behind the times. And in Jaguars, Land Rovers, and Range Rovers, while the system looks up-to-date, its performance is woeful. Several automakers also use a combination of screen and touchpad interface, like a laptop. These are often quite tricky to use.

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Luckily, I'll always have Kia.

The automaker's setup reminds me of the former standard-setter, Honda, whose vehicles for many years featured controls that were always where they should be and that were intuitive to use.

Let's take a closer look at the arrangement on a Kia Telluride that I recently test drove:

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Behold! The 2020 Kia Telluride SX, a $47,310 (as-tested) three-row SUV that's among the best I've ever sampled.

Behold! The 2020 Kia Telluride SX, a $47,310 (as-tested) three-row SUV that's among the best I've ever sampled.

The center console. TAKE NOTICE AUTOMAKERS! This is how is should be done.

The center console. TAKE NOTICE AUTOMAKERS! This is how is should be done.
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The 10-inch touchscreen is the perfect size. It's also crisply responsive, with functions that are well-organized.

The 10-inch touchscreen is the perfect size. It's also crisply responsive, with functions that are well-organized.

The renderings are quite sharp.

The renderings are quite sharp.
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However, it's what we find below the touchscreen that truly makes the difference. Yes, other automakers mimic this set-up. But Kia's designers have thought everything through.

However, it's what we find below the touchscreen that truly makes the difference. Yes, other automakers mimic this set-up. But Kia's designers have thought everything through.

You might say this is old-school. But buttons and knobs never get old!

You might say this is old-school. But buttons and knobs never get old!

I've tested literally hundreds of vehicles and have evaluated every single center console in the industry.

Overwhelmingly, I prefer throwback arrangements of buttons, switches, and knobs. These are the safest and easiest to use, even if they offer "hard" redundancy to some of the virtual stuff that's accessible via the touchscreen.

What about steering-wheel controls? Well, I think they're OK, but they can be fiddly. And I usually end up favoring the console buttons and knobs.

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Note the easy-to-locate heated steering wheel control button. I can't tell you how many times I've hunted for this feature — in some cases discovering that there is no button but that the control is located in the infotainment interface!

Note the easy-to-locate heated steering wheel control button. I can't tell you how many times I've hunted for this feature — in some cases discovering that there is no button but that the control is located in the infotainment interface!

Likewise the heated and cooled seat control. These buttons, switches, and knobs are blissfully simply to operate.

Likewise the heated and cooled seat control. These buttons, switches, and knobs are blissfully simply to operate.
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Here's the Tesla Model 3's central touchscreen. The shape of things to come? Probably. But although it looks cool, it's far from easy to use.

Here's the Tesla Model 3's central touchscreen. The shape of things to come? Probably. But although it looks cool, it's far from easy to use.

Am I advocating for a total throwback, to the era of three gauges, à la this vintage Siata roadster? Well, not entirely. Although when it comes to driving, less is more.

Am I advocating for a total throwback, to the era of three gauges, à la this vintage Siata roadster? Well, not entirely. Although when it comes to driving, less is more.
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