Here at Consumer Reports, we’re on record complaining about some of the less well-conceived features of push-button start buttons. Sometimes trying to turn off a car has begun to look like a Three Stooges routine. The same can be said for getting into a car and starting it, thanks to “convenient” new technologies. After driving three cars recently with different combinations of keyless entry and push-button start, it became clear to me that they are not all created equally.
Keyless-entry systems that unlock a car as you walk up to it are especially handy when you’ve got a heavy briefcase under your arm, plus a cup of coffee in one hand and a lunchbox in the other. As long as the keys are in your pocket or briefcase, just reach out a finger and pull the door open. It’s amazing how these systems know whether the keys are inside or outside the car, even preventing the keys from being locked inside.
Keyless ignition systems use the same radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to detect when the key is inside the car to allow you to start it (or turn it off) with a push of a button. The systems are not always intuitive, and they can make it difficult to select the car’s “accessory” ignition position without turning the car completely off.
In the past few weeks, we’ve had quite a few cars with each of these systems at our New York headquarters. The Chrysler 300C, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti M35h, Nissan Quest, Toyota Avalon, and even the Nissan Leaf all unlock the doors every time you approach with keys in your pocket. Most so-optioned cars even turn on interior and sometimes exterior lights as soon as they spot you, like an obsequious chauffeur.
So imagine my surprise when I walked up to our $56,000 Audi A6 and the doors remained resolutely locked, making me shuffle my bags around and set the coffee cup on the roof to fish for the keys. Then, once I got settled inside, keys in my hand, I had to find someplace to stash them before I could press the start button, since there’s no slot or keyhole in which to put them. (Good thing there are two cupholders!) Of course, using a key fob or even a key to manually unlock a car isn’t a major imposition, but these systems confound me when they go just half way.
Of course, the Audi makes you reverse the process when you get home. While other premium cars have a simple rubber button on the exterior door handle that locks the car with an easy bump of a knuckle, you have to add the Audi’s keys to the pile of stuff in your hands and free up a couple fingers to lock the car. If you’ve been so obsessive as to stow them in your briefcase or purse, you now have to fish them out again to lock the car. There is an upgrade package for the A6 that adds this one-touch lock feature, but at $56,000, shouldn’t this increasingly common feature have been included?
It seems like this reversal of common sense may be a German trend, as I found our Mini Cooper Countryman (made by BMW) and Volkswagen Passat require the same ridiculous routine. Of course, it may just seem that way given the vehicles I’ve been rotating through.
Regardless of country of origin, I ask automakers who went to the trouble of providing a push-button start to allow me to also lock and unlock the doors either by proximity or by touch. Let me keep the key in my pocket, because I don’t like it when it rattles in the cupholder.
Better yet, there are a couple of automakers, such as Cadillac and Mazda, who actually give you keyless entry without push-button start. Instead, there’s an intelligent tab on the steering column that you twist to start or stop the car—without ever taking your keys out of your pocket or bag. This approach works quite well, with familiar motions just like turning a key.
Hey, Moe! Either require the driver to hold the key fob, or not. Going halfway is like a poke in the eye.