The Avensis tested here is now out of production. This appears to be a 2014-2015 model. The user-interface proved so troubling I had to make that aspect into a separate article.
The rest of the review comes later. The controls are divided into two sets, the driving controls and the auxiliaries. I will deal with the auxiliaries in this article. Overall, the Avensis is riddled with odd choices and evidence of poor decision-making. It exemplifies a number of user-interface principles, but negatively.
The problems started when I tried to
set off and could not find the parking brake at all. I looked left of the wheel and found a large drawer that could hold an iPhone (or two biscuits). There was nothing on the centre console and no obvious lever to my right. Eventually I had to ask the staff at the car rental firm.
They showed me a small lever to the right of and totally obscured by the steering wheel. Operating the control is by pulling and pushing the lever and I could never remember which. The thing operates automatically but if you want to do a hill start you’ll need to remember which way to press it. Not being able to find the parking brake control and discovering it hidden where it was pretty much set the tone for my impression of this car. Bear in mind there is a 250 ml space left of the wheel devoted to holding an iPhone (or two biscuits). It’s a flock-lined tray, though. Oooh.
The next thing you’ll experience with the Avensis is that the HVAC is fiddly and unintuitive. When you turn it on it is always set to recirculate so turning it on means always dabbing the recirc button to disengage it.
The temperature controls are marked with non-illuminated labels which I did not notice when on the move. I did not absorb the meaning of the labels until I stopped and stared at the panel for a bit. Instead, the two dials are prominently labelled “auto” and “dual”. The labels thus inform us of a secondary level of function. Usually, the user wants to first change the temperature and then select auto or dual. Usually they want to do nothing. The hierarchy of information need is not respected. The general problem with the HVAC is that the controls for heating, air flow volume and direction have been separated and scattered. Direction is controlled by a button that forces the user to scroll through the options and also look at the display at the same time. Volume is controlled by a “more/less” button which means repeated pressing of the button might be necessary. Fitts’ Law and all that: not adhered to or acknowledged. The whole thing is turned off with a single button when the volume dial could do that job. That’s an example of a function split which should be in one control. If Toyota designed a light switch it would have two buttons: one to start operation and another to vary the light level.
Above is the audio control on the steering wheel. The volume is controlled by left-right movements when intuitively the physical mapping should be up-down. I frequently changed tracks on the CD when I meant to change the volume level. To change tracks or tune the radio there is a left-right button with graphics showing up-down arrows. I would contend such a change in state is more horizontal. In this instance conceptual mapping was not respected and there is no clear reason for this. Two up-down buttons (left side for volume) would have been possible. Volume is altered more often than tracks or stations so should be easier to reach.
The display screen (above) tells you “audio off” by means of a tiny script and a pointless graphic. The volume can be controlled using the left side dial which has a wobbly, coarse action and the system responds slowly.
Notice the hazard warning light button. This does not flash or illuminate when the hazards do. It’s nearly flush to its surroundings so it is harder to feel. If it is dark and you wish to turn on or off the hazard warning lights you must peer into the dark to guess where the control is located. That’s a quite serious demerit on a basic, essential function.
When the CD is engaged you are shown another absurd graphic (above) which takes up space that would be used to show the entire (or more) of the album name: “Oscillons from the Antisun”. The album name should be listed first, not the track title. And why give the track name uppercase letters? Any idea what the crossing over graphic might mean, third symbol from the left?
When you adjust the volume the wedge-shaped blue form widens (above) to the left and the right symmetrically but there is a line going from the left side of the screen to the form. That tells you nothing. And volume is best represented (again) by vertical scales not a horizontal scale. Semantically, a widening shape is not meaningful. Does one experience or think of sound as widening in this way? Again, space is wasted with two twee images of CDs.
We’re nearly at the end. The USB port is located at the bottom of the centre console storage bin, top left in the image above. The lid of the bin gets in the way of your elbow as you struggle to insert the jack. This is quite difficult until you realise that the jack has to be inserted with the USB symbol facing down not up i.e. upside down. To the right is a movable cup holder. That was positioned to the left (i.e in the forward location) when I opened the bin, obscuring further the obscure USB port.
Actually, to find the port I had to look in the weighty user-manual.
To summarise, the ancillary user-interfaces of the Avensis are remarkably poor. It would be revealing to know exactly what sort of research backed up this design or if there was any at all. While some aspects of the Avensis are creditable, the user-interface is so inadequate that I can only conclude by saying this car is one to avoid, unless you are an ergonomist looking for examples of bad design.
I asked at the start how many ergonomic errors can a car have. I count twelve without having gone anywhere near the sat-nav or radio functions.
[The 2015 Avensis has a new interior but carries over the parking brake and HVAC panel unchanged.]