Volkswagen brings back push-button steering wheel controls

The new Mk8 Volkswagen GTI and Golf R hatchbacks – when fitted with a manual transmission – are brilliant to drive. The one caveat to give both cars full-throated approval is the new digital cockpit. Used in the ID.4 electric crossover moreover, the digital cockpit may be the most boring and unusable interior offered in a modern car. It looks like VW is planning at least one change that might help.

Volkswagen COO Thomas Schäfer (as spotted by Engine1) posted on LinkedIn about several changes that VW is making to its vehicles. He noted that he was bringing the push-button controls back to the steering wheel. Schäfer did not offer a timeline or specific vehicles for this deployment.

VW switched to haptic controls on the steering wheel to make the new interior feel more edgy and (not coincidentally) cut costs. The switch negated the simplicity and usability of the VW interior, which had been a strength even as the interior became dated post-Dieselgate.

Haptic buttons are difficult to press accurately and susceptible to inadvertent friction as your hands move around the steering wheel. The heated steering wheel button, in particular, is dangerously close to where your right palm rests on the steering wheel. It’s hard to run the cars on a lap without activating the heated steering wheel, which we unfortunately discovered on a wet 90 degree track day.

Swapping the haptic controls on the steering wheel won’t solve the wider cockpit issues. The buttons around the screen aren’t ergonomic, and VW’s new infotainment system can be bulky and unintuitive. But activating easy-to-use buttons on the steering wheel and incorporating useful software tweaks — like making touchscreen climate controls easier to access — could hide system faults better until Volkswagen can. implement a more substantial overhaul.

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