It’s auto show season, which no longer means anything because these events seem to crowd a different city’s convention centre every week. To be honest, they’re not all that exciting anymore either. It’s become more difficult to pay attention to any news that comes out from them. A model refresh. A new engine option. Lane assist now standard. Yippee. Even industry stalwarts such as the Detroit Auto Show are looking a bit empty this year.
But wait! Could it be… something interesting? Something new, and different? And it’s from Subaru? If you think I’m referring to the hopped up 341 HP STI S209, read on and you’ll be surprised.
What’s Subaru Been Up To?
Not all that much, frankly. I don’t mean to hate on Subaru, in fact I’m a big proponent of the brand. One of my first ever car posters was Colin McRae’s 555 Impreza in World Rally Blue with gold rims. Although Subaru’s a household name they remain one of the smallest independent automotive manufacturers, producing a paltry 1 million vehicles in 2017 compared to nearly 11 million from the top dog Volkswagen Group. So they don’t exactly have the ability to throw heaps of money at all kinds of concepts and projects but they’re also in a unique position where their following is very much cult-like.
These factors have stifled innovation to some degree. Subaru has no electric or even hybrid vehicles in their global lineup. Their first SUV was released just last year. The BRZ is unchanged since 2012. The engine in the current STi is the same one from the 2004 model!
The Legacy’s New Dashboard
So when I was scrolling through the day’s car news this picture quickly grabbed my attention.
Nothing revolutionary as far an interiors go… but let’s take a closer look at the console in the middle of the dash.
Well, hello there. That’s an 11.6″ touchscreen moulded into the centre of the car, and it’s surrounded by some physical buttons! Actual, real buttons and knobs that you can touch and feel! This layout is more tantalizing than it may appear at first glance.
The War On Buttons
Buttons, knobs, and sliders are an endangered species. The reason for this is the proliferation of touchscreens. Once a manufacturer has placed a screen into a car they can, in theory, program it to display and do almost anything. It doesn’t cost extra to add another menu option or show a gauge. You don’t have to worry about designing complex moulds, producing extra components, and additional wiring or circuitry. In the automotive world these are all big wins and one of the reasons the Tesla Model S does away with those pesky, plasticky parts.
While the Tesla’s dashboard-of-the-future looks sleek it fails to address the simple functions we’ve grown accustomed to performing, often without even glancing down from the road. Increasing the volume, lowering the temperature, turning on the heated seats. Many of these commands become second nature – not unlike typing on a keyboard – and should be easy to find in a car.
That’s the reason the Legacy’s dashboard deserves any attention at all. It provides a smooth balance between quick tasks and advanced touchscreen functionality. The only physical controls include: hazard lights, volume, tune, front and rear defrosters, and driver/passenger climate control. These are supplemented by more easy-to-reach buttons on the steering wheel.
Is This Even News?
Well… yea! Kinda. It’s news because it’s not. The latest dashboard advancements have always been cool but gimmicky. Cadillac’s CUE uses a touch-sensitive strip for volume adjustment but it’s been plagued with software and hardware issues. BMW’s gesture control was doomed from the start because Bimmer drivers typically gesture for… other reasons. The list goes on. So it’s refreshing to see something simple emerge from this misguided landscape of technology for the sake of technology.
And if you think I’m being facetious or (trying to be) witty, let’s glance at the Chevy Bolt’s centre console. There is still an entire person permanently printed onto the middle of the car. Combined with the blank buttons just beneath that, this dashboard is in serious need of work.
One day this will all be irrelevant. Humans will be shuttled from A to B in robotic pods that will themselves to your preferences. The heat will turn on before you even know you’re cold; a fresh cup of StarMc’s liquid energy serum will reveal itself the moment you sit down. Until then, however, society needs a way to continue piloting vehicles with smart conveniences and fewer distractions. I think Subaru has done a good job here. Shame though, that it’s for something so boring.