Home » Did Journalists And The 2010 Porsche Cayenne Doom Us To A Touchscreen Future? Of Course Not

Did Journalists And The 2010 Porsche Cayenne Doom Us To A Touchscreen Future? Of Course Not

Cayenne Buttons
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Touchscreens seemed cutting-edge when they started popping up in luxury cars way back when. They became a sign of a premium vehicle, and so moderately nice cars had to have them, too. Then they became a necessity, and it seemed like every car on the market was turfing buttons to just use touch controls. Now our cars suck and have unusable interiors unless you pull over to see what you’re doing. But whose fault is this?

One commenter on The Autopian’s Instagram put forth a bold theory. On a post where our own Matt Hardigree pontificated on the Range Rover, Gray McCraw suggested a prime cause for touchscreens taking over the car world. “I blame our present touch screen hellscape on the auto journalists who mocked the 958 Cayenne’s abundance of buttons,” said McCraw. Whoa.

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Maybe this was it all along. Maybe automakers didn’t just lose the plot and start wiping buttons off dashboards to piss us all off. Maybe there really was some root, core force that set all this in motion. We had to investigate. Or, I did, anyway.
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So, the 958 generation did have a fair few buttons. So did the 957, if we’re honest. But did that really push automakers to abandon them entirely? 

But whoa, sidebar—what’s the problem! Touchscreens… they’re great, right? You see a thing, you touch it, it responds! And yet. Here’s the thing about touchscreens. They’re intuitive! That’s a lovely feature for something you use once that you’ve never seen before. They’re perfect for zoo kiosks or checking in at the airport. In contrast, they’re horrible for controlling something you need to use without looking at it. When we’re driving our cars, we’re supposed to be keeping our eyes on the road. Properly-engineered controls for things like air conditioning or the stereo allow us to use them by touch. You can feel your way to the right button, and feel it respond as you press it in. You can do all this without looking, making it a safer interface for the driver to use. Yes, there’s a learning curve, but beyond rental cars, that… really doesn’t matter in the slightest. It takes like a week to build the muscle memory at most, then  you’re golden.

Okay, so back to Gary’s thing. He suggests that we all dissed the Porsche Cayenne, the 958 model specifically, for having too many buttons. This then pushed a number of automakers to dump buttons for touch controls with no physical feedback, and we all got mad. Oh, and I’m using the royal we here, to refer to automotive journalists. Because we’re very important indeed.

So, was that a thing…? Well, I did the research, best I could. I checked out a ton of reviews, all for the 958 Porsche Cayenne, which dropped for the 2010 model year. The Guardian, Car & Driver, Edmunds, Car & Driver again, CarsGuide, US News, RAC, Business Insider, Top Gear… nope. Not a one complains about the buttons. Heck, most of them don’t even mention them at all. For a generous read, I looked for commentary on switches as well, in case someone was speaking arcanely, but no. Not a thing.

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Did the honorable Matt Hardigree demand I pen a lengthy article just to say “Hey, Gary. Don’t reckon that’s the case mate, yeah?” Was this a wild goose chase? Did he not realise that managing the Instagram account was somebody else’s job? No matter, I dug deeper. One mustn’t upset the Hardigree.

[Ed Note: The best thing about having a really smart writer in Australia is that I can just send him a screenshot at 1 am when I find it and wake up a few hours later and there’s a whole damn article. Honestly, a little disappointed that touchscreen weren’t the fault of 2010s automotive journalists. – MH]

There are some comments out there against buttons in the Cayenne, but few about the 958. Indeed, misdirected quotes on some websites quote Edmunds or Consumer Reports as disliking the number of small buttons, particularly around the infotainment system. Specifically:

Sadly, this means that the climate and audio controls are comprised of many small, look-alike buttons that take some getting used to.

However, they’re actually referencing the 957 Cayenne—a 2008 model, at that. Even then, it’s a pretty rare opinion and by no means universal. Maybe Gary just read this review and it struck a chord, way back when.

It’s easy to read a review or two back in the day and extrapolate to a greater or lesser degree. If you only listened to one review from Jeremy Clarkson, you’d think of the McLaren F1 as twitchy and difficult to drive. If you only listened to one review of the Camry Hybrid, you’d think it’s a petrol-powered puke machine.

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Ultimately, I think it’s hard to say that automakers rushed away from buttons because of a Porsche released in 2010. Maybe if there was a huge furor in a bunch of reviews, followed by automakers and their designers coming out against buttons a few months or years later? But the supporting evidence just isn’t there. Some cars do go button crazy; I hate how modern cars have 30 buttons on the steering wheel alone. But really, I think automakers rushed to touchscreens primarily because they were high-tech and in vogue. They wanted the shiniest, newest thing to get an edge over their rivals. In many cases, they didn’t stop to think whether it was actually an improvement or not.

Overall, though, Gary has a point about one thing. The 958 models, particularly later in the run, do have an absolute boatload of buttons. Owners on Reddit have noticed, particularly in contrast to cars like Teslas which eschew them almost entirely. It’s not solely limited to the Cayenne, either. In recent years, Porsche started pulling out physical buttons and putting flat touch pads with many controls in their place. Ultimately, they still had just as many “buttons” but looked much cleaner and tidier. The only problem is you’d really struggle to hit the right one at 60 mph on the highway.

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This 2017 Cayenne has a fair few buttons, but it’s hardly that outside the ordinary.
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Porsche’s modern flat touch controls don’t give your fingers any grooves or bumps to latch on to, and provide zero feedback, so you have to look to find the right control.

Porsche has promised that it’s returning to more physical controls in the future. The 2024 Cayenne has more physical controls, something which many drivers and auto journalists alike will appreciate.

Indeed, you’ll find a million articles of journalists decrying touch controls. Including me! But you won’t find so many demanding more touchscreens and the like, even if you go back a decade or more in history. Ultimately, Gary, we’ll have to agree to disagree, but I really loved digging into this. Let’s talk cars again sometime, y’all!

Image credits: Porsche

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Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
30 days ago

Well, there is a ridge, as you can see in the last photo, by the flat-panel buttons, and there is some feed back – not as much as with real buttons, but you can tell if it’s been pushed. The Temp and fan controls are still physical switches. It’s not quite as good as all buttons but better than touch-screens.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
30 days ago

Can we at least blame journalists for cars having ridiculously firm suspensions, rock hard bolstered seats, and giant stagecoach wheels with rubber bands for tires? Because someone had to have been responsible for telling automakers not to make their cars comfortable anymore

Vanagons4Eva
Vanagons4Eva
30 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Agreed. I am so happy whenever I leave my wife’s newer BMW SUV or even an Escalade (SUVs are just the worst) with all the bouncing and jiggling and return to my 20 and 30 year old Mercedes S Class and Cadillac Fleetwood. I know those are EXTREME comfort machines, but it used to be that any normal sedan had a pretty comfortable ride.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
30 days ago
Reply to  Vanagons4Eva

A 1996 Fleetwood is the absolute most comfortable car I’ve ever owned, and that includes 4 Ford Panther cars and 1 Chrysler LX model. GM really got it right with that one, can drive for 6 hours on the Interstate and arrive feeling rested and relaxed. You assume potholes must exist down on the road somewhere, but whether they do or not is of no consequence to you and none of your business

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
30 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

YES. Not so much in the last 10 years or so with the death of print media, but from the early 70’s through the 2000’s the car magazine journalists definitely had an outsized influence on the zeitgeist of the car buying public, and by extension the auto manufacturers.
I reckon it started with David E. Davis and his love affair with all things German (specifically the BMW 2002) – and since the last two or three generations of autojournos were all very strongly inspired by his writing style, that sort of thing persisted for ages. Especially in Car and Driver, if a car wasn’t German or a Honda, it wasn’t worthy of being spit on.
More generally, it hasn’t been until recently that due consideration has been given in car reviews for the intended function/market/buyer for a particular vehicle. No one buying a minivan gives a damn about seat bolstering or steering feedback at the limit of adhesion and other string-backed-driving-glove-wearing weenie stuff like that, but all cars were pilloried if they didn’t drive like a new Porsche 911 or some such. Silliness. But here we are…

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
29 days ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

Omg your last paragraph. Yes. No one cares about the Toyota Sienna’s 0-60 time. Just tell us if it has a kick-sensor liftgate so we can put the groceries in the back while holding the baby.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
30 days ago

Some others have said it, but it all comes down to cost (BOM cost). If a design is definitely going to include a large touchscreen, then it’s a matter of software/controls to have that touchscreen do as many things as possible, making it cheaper vs. a lot of buttons.

However… I absolutely remember auto journalists (well before The Autopian) bitching about their being too many buttons. I specifically remember that being said about some late 2000s German cars.

So, it’s mainly costs, but there also were complaints.

Let’s just all agree on a happy medium
-Hard buttons/knobs/stalks/stitches for things that are safety related
-A fucking volume knob that you can smash (without needing to take your eyes off the road) to mute/turn off whatever annoying noise is coming through the speakers
-Touchscreen all the other stuff, I guess.

Random Shots
Random Shots
30 days ago

Never understood the volume knob issue if you have non-haptic volume controls on the steering wheel.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
30 days ago
Reply to  Random Shots

As long as the wheel has a mute/power/pause-type button, then yeah, a physical volume knob is more of a nice to have vs must have. But if you don’t have a quick and easy way to mute the speakers when you pull up to a drive-thru, then a knob is the easiest way to quickly turn the volume way up/way down. The wheel buttons are good for fine tuning the volume, but kinda suck for making big changes.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
30 days ago

Captain Pedantic here!

This interior debuted in the 970 Panamera, not the 958 Cayenne.

It wasn’t just auto journos, but it was a very common refrain about these cars, the amount of buttons they had. I know a lot of the reviews I saw made comments about it.

To the point when my boyfriend got a 970 Panamera, the first thing THREE of my car friends said when they found out was “BUTTONS!”

I will also say they were the best buttons. The 957 Cayenne had a great and very well laid out interior, but got damn, the layout in the 970 and 958 was pretty much flawless. Definitely better than the 991/981s. All of the controls for the climate were directly beside the seat that used it (even in the rear- at least our 4 seater), the radio stuff was, shock, with the radio, and all the vehicle dynamics stuff below the shifter. It just makes damn sense, and you knew every single time exactly which button you were pushing without even thinking about it. It’s kind of hilarious, but every time my boyfriend would go for an aggressive pass, he would instinctively press the “Sport Plus” button and then press it again once he was done, never once looked down. Absolutely couldn’t do that in a 971, 9Y0 or 992 with the clicky pad if you tried.

Last edited 30 days ago by Glutton for Piëch
Gray McCraw
Gray McCraw
30 days ago

Counterpoint: nuh uh. You’re wrong.

From Motortrend (2012 Cayenne Hybrid S Review)
“The only thing that mars the interior is the fact that there are simply too many buttons and switches. I counted: there are 24 buttons and 5 toggle switches on the center console, 15 buttons on the stereo, and 11 on the overhead console.”

From Edmonds (2012 Cayenne Review)
The center console, adorned in upwards of 50 buttons, rises to meet the dash and large touchscreen display, creating an enveloping driver’s environment. With so many buttons, it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for quickly, though once you discover the logic behind each set of controls, you might argue that this Porsche system is more efficient than the few-buttons-many-menu systems found in its competitors. Or you could argue that it’s hopelessly busy.”

Ben Siegel
Ben Siegel
30 days ago

It’s not journalists, it’s not Tesla doing it by choice or being futuristic… it’s dollars. Every physical button costs money. Hardware and software money. Hardware design & manufacturing money. Each feature on a touch screen only costs software money (screen is paid for, you know what I’m trying to say).

Putting PRNDL on the touch screen for a Tesla is dumb and dangerous. But it’s cheaper than an electromechanical toggle switch.

Vanagons4Eva
Vanagons4Eva
30 days ago
Reply to  Ben Siegel

Having been a software designer – I agree and disagree to the cost thing. It IS cheaper to add lines of code than modify an instrument cluster and produce a button, but is the overall cost to software when you have all that design, testing, integration from the screen software to the physical thing it is trying to control (glovebox door, really?) actually cheaper from a total cost perspective?

Ben Siegel
Ben Siegel
30 days ago
Reply to  Vanagons4Eva

I think you have to do all that integration anyway, basically, for most things. Is the software integration for a glove box door cheaper than a button? Probably not. But for something like driving mode (sport, comfort, etc), you’re just making a button to make a button. Looking at that cayenne interior you’ve got physical buttons/toggles for: 4WD mode, PRNDL, temp, fan speed, & air position for both passenger & driver, heated seat, suspension height, and more that I can’t quite make out. Some of those are good! PRNDL for example. But the HVAC could be on the screen. Especially if each of these buttons has to be Porsche (R) quality and tactility, those are NOT cheap.

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
30 days ago
Reply to  Vanagons4Eva

You still have to do testing an integration with a new button. You have already make the code, adding one more function to it isn’t that big a deal. Injection molds for a button are really expensive.
Besides, that’s all in the design stage. With a software button, the cost per car is 0

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
30 days ago

A lot of vehicles were button-heavy in the late 2000s. I remember Honda for example getting knocked for some products with clusters of buttons like the 2008 Accord, even without nav – here’s a 2008 comparison of the standard stack where the complexity of the center stack and a count of 34 buttons. Or some GM interiors at the turn of the decade like the LaCrosse. And dashboards were more cluttered looking for it because they held space for screens in some way for optional nav. Almost seems like the touch sensitive buttons that followed as in the Cadillac CUE and MyFord Touch systems made some of the button-heaviness get forgotten.

But screens and connected cars have been flirted with for years. The Ford 24.7 concept was far from the first, but it was the first one I really remember when I was young as pushing screens and connectivity and voice activation thing, the whole dash was a configurable screen basically.

Last edited 30 days ago by GreatFallsGreen
The Dude
The Dude
30 days ago

I blame everyone for thinking they have to copy the Germans for why infotainment screens are seemingly forgotten about then haphazardly tacked on at the end. I feel like that trend was in full swing before Tesla decided a clunky looking tablet was the answer.

Jmfecon
Jmfecon
30 days ago

Touchscreens are not the problem. The amount of functions/features a car has nowadays are.

It is easier to create a mind map when you have one device doing one thing. Having segregated radio and HVAC controls, for example, helps to create muscle memory because you don’t need to bother about anything else when setting something, specially when you have distinct shapes and size for controls.

Now, a lot of cars have a single screen that will control not only that, but also navigation, driving modes, light settings, dashboard appearance, car’ status, entretainment and so on. You can’t really have a messy screen with a shortcut for everything, so you need to bury them under a menu, with submenus…

It is hard to balance user experience in cars with more and more things to customize with physical buttons, so screens do help with that, but implementations have not been really good.

I really think because designers try to mimic the mobile experience present in smartphones/tablets, at least in my experience. I really think that we are getting into a whole new world and we need to create a new way of thinking user experience for modern cars.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
30 days ago
Reply to  Jmfecon

What is missing on touchscreens is a handle. Or whatever the name is for the location one places a part of one’s hand so that one’s fingers can reach the touch-button of choice. I find myself placing my hand above the touch screen to get a feel for the location of the touchscreen so my wavering fingers can touch the intended button rather than some random nearby button. But the top of the dashboard isn’t really a reliable location side-to-side, so some randomness does result. UI folks need to expand their repertoire to include the physical -location- of the handle relative to the controls. And of course, for the giant screens, there should be several handles because of course the screens are larger than all the widest piano-player hands.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
30 days ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

Sounds like the “finger rest” Honda has made it a point to say in recent press releases they have included, by recessing the screen slightly from the dash.

Long_Time_Reader_First_Time_Poster
Long_Time_Reader_First_Time_Poster
30 days ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

There’s an entire engineering discipline for this – Human Factors. UI/UX Design plays at it but certainly does not go to the same depths – or maybe UI/UX designers aren’t quite allowed to go to the same depths.

Ben
Ben
30 days ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

Ironically, this is a big issue I had with the button placement for the transmission selector in Lincolns. They put it next to the screen where I tend to anchor my thumb while using the touchscreen, and I could easily see myself accidentally changing gears when all I wanted to do was skip to the next track or something.

Ben Chia
Ben Chia
30 days ago
Reply to  Jmfecon

My feeling is that the movement is towards voice controls. It’s a pretty huge deal in China, and let’s face it, they’re gonna influence the rest of the automotive world in due time.

Jmfecon
Jmfecon
30 days ago
Reply to  Ben Chia

Well, voice commands have been around for a while now, but I understand that today there more tech that would enable a far better implementation.

Ben Chia
Ben Chia
30 days ago
Reply to  Jmfecon

Yup. With improvements in AI, voice controls will be more intuitive, able to recognise more speech patterns etc.

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
29 days ago
Reply to  Ben Chia

As a parent, I cannot understand how voice commands can work in the car when I am not alone. The last thing I want is my car responding to my fucking children.

Ben Chia
Ben Chia
29 days ago
Reply to  Pupmeow

That’s a fair point. I think that’s a blind spot probably, in the sense that many of these systems are developed with the assumption that cars are occupied by one or max two people.

Jmfecon
Jmfecon
29 days ago
Reply to  Pupmeow

Any parent that have a connected device can relate. At least you don’t need to run across the house due an unsupervised “Alexa..”

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
29 days ago
Reply to  Jmfecon

Lol, I can relate. My mom got us an Echo at one point and I got rid of it. A 4-year-old does not need the ability to blast Katy Perry or buy Cocomelon toys.

Vanagons4Eva
Vanagons4Eva
30 days ago
Reply to  Jmfecon

I agree with the “amount of functions” being too many. I get tired driving the new car with screens for gauges plus the screen plus the buttons. There are literally 2-4 ways to do everything (button, menu, voice, app!), there is this constant tension between using CarPlay or the manufacturers interface (I like to have Google Maps on the CarPlay screen vs. BMW map on the dashboard and heads up display and see who wins for best time and most accurate ETA). It is all too much. Seriously – every car designer should study the 1999 Honda CR-V center console and ask themselves, “can my car fade from front to rear speakers as easily?”. This car had one of the best safety features of all – you could see out of it and there was NOTHING to distract you on the dashboard.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
30 days ago
Reply to  Vanagons4Eva

Chrysler radios for the longest time were maybe even easier for fade and balance – they had a little joystick. IIRC it didn’t have much resistance to it either so it wasn’t hard to sweep it around the car if you wanted for fun.

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
29 days ago
Reply to  Vanagons4Eva

I drove a Kia Stonic as a rental in Europe lately. It was the most bare bones center console I’d seen in years. And yet. HVAC, seat heaters, and media were all right there as physical controls. It was eye-opening.

Citrus
Citrus
30 days ago

It was Tesla’s fault. A clever trick – they could use a cheap, off the shelf component without it being obvious – but then everyone else jumped on the shiny screen wagon.

Paul B
Paul B
30 days ago

Channelling Crocodile Dundee.

Pontiac gesturing at Porsche: “You call that a lot of buttons? This is a lot of buttons.”.

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
30 days ago

GM beat Porsche to the Touchscreen Game. Don’t remember all the culprits, but had a Buick Reatta tester in 1988 that had a touchscreen. A nice green CRT touchscreen.

It was Fingerprint Heaven, by the way. I can only imagine what one would look like today. If it still worked….

I have hated touchscreens in cars since 1988. I guess that makes me an Early Rejecter©.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
30 days ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

I’ll never get over how well that CRT touchscreen worked, at least on MotorWeek reviews. More responsive than half of the modern touchscreens out there.

Ecsta C3PO
Ecsta C3PO
30 days ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

Speaking of GM, the 2nd gen CTS had the worst of both!

  • Outdated motorized pop-up touch screen
  • Lots of buttons that are mostly redundant (or non-functional) depending on what menu you’re in.
  • The climate temperature control buttons are in an all-time worst location, right behind the driver’s knee
  • Just too many buttons… for those who want the same controls as a Discman there’s dedicated buttons for Record, Delete, FWD, REW, RPT. There are 18 buttons just for infotainment.

https://www.auto123.com/en/multimedia/picture/2010-cadillac-cts-wagon-36l-pictures/6591/

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