CES 2015

Volkswagen Golf R Touch is a concept car imitating a smart phone

But will its touch-screened, gesture-controlled infotainment system age as well as the car itself? Is there a better approach?

Published: January 06, 2015 06:30 PM

The Volkswagen Golf R Touch concept car ditches many mechanical controls for smart-phone-like touchscreens and sophisticated gesture controls that are enabled by a 3D camera. You can wave the sunroof open and beckon to the seats. The cockpit has three displays: a 12.8-inch high-resolution touch screen for the infotainment system, an 8-inch control center screen with haptic feedback beneath it, and a 12.3 inch active info display that shows digitized instruments. The entire system is cool, futuristic, and exciting. Nevertheless, this concept should probably shouldn't make it into production, because it smothers native smart phone capabilities with proprietary technology that may not keep up with the rapid changes that are a living part of the mobile ecosystem.

recent Consumer Reports survey shows that some in-car touch-screen infotainment systems can be quite frustrating. Drivers are already familiar with the interface on their phones, so buying a car with a totally different interface forces them to undertake a new learning curve. The second problem with proprietary in-car entertainment, navigation, and search tools is that they can quickly become obsolete, or at least backward. No matter how great the VW smart controls seem in 2015, it's a safe bet that they won't age as well as the car's mechanicals.  

Smart phones don’t have those problems, and neither do in-car systems that leverage smart phones. Those systems are already familiar to their users and programmed to their liking, and their apps are easier to update. And when your smart phone can no longer keep up with the many changes and services that are no doubt on the horizon, you just get a new phone.  

Learn how to choose the best phone and best plan for your family. And use our car reviews and Ratings before buying a vehicle.

Golf R Touch ditches real knobs and levers for touchscreens and gesture controls.

Now, it can be dangerous to fiddle with your phone while driving. One sensible approach is to give the phone a safe perch on the dash, and perhaps, a large, easy-to-see, sensibly placed display. Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto seem to be a step in that direction. Both systems leverage their intuitive voice-activated functionality to offer such conveniences as reading incoming messages so that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. And you can dictate a response as well. Other aftermarket systems, such as Navdi, offer similar benefits via a head’s up display.

Volkswagen probably knows all this. That's why its production e-Golf uses an App Connect interface that provides a connection to Mirror Link, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. It's less exciting than the technology shown in the Touch R, but it's more future proof. Because the smartest way to build an infotainment interface is to base it on whatever smart phone car owners have in their hands at the moment—and to make sure it has the flexibility to address  evolving needs and devices for years to come.

—Mike Gikas


Click on the image above to find all of Consumer Reports' coverage from CES 2015.

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