Sometimes what you are looking for is not far from the front of your face. I have often bemoaned the lack of a modern equivalent of Lancia’s Spartan but high-quality interiors. It was under my nose, so to speak.
I wasn’t paying attention, was I? While in Scotland recently I had the time to take a look at the dashboard and interior of a Range Rover Evoque. They have only been on sale for eight years now so it was maybe a bit much to expect I’d get to it before now.
The interior, to my immense surprise, conformed entirely to my standards of what a modern Lancia dashboard might look like: very well made, tending towards starkness and simplicity and demonstrating restrained good taste. I thought those values were so out of fashion that you’d need to go back to the 80s to find them.
How did I manage to overlook the Landie’s interior? Prejudice on my part, pretty much. I am not a Land Rover fan, I don’t care about off-roading and, to be frank, I simply didn’t expect this from a British brand. The Evoque concept dates to 2008, to a show-car revealed at Detroit. A lot of the action is on the outside: a dramatic and swept back vehicle made of concentrated Range Rover styling themes, boiled down and concentrated some more. It is is to Range Rover what Bovril is to a cow.
However, the interior is more than just “dramatic”. It’s dramatically simple and it’s probably not a design that looks all that much on paper. To get this design you need to make a fully-realistic prototype. The effectiveness of the form depends on the particularities of colour, material and finish and not on show-stopping geometry as with many other premium brands’ interiors.
Range Rover is not the only firm heading down the path to austerity. Tesla’s Model 3, for better or for worse, is as plain as a glass of really nice water. These cars have started appearing in my area (and Evoques have not) which is why I was able to see inside one. Another peep through a wind-screen led me to a similar surprise as with the LR.
The Tesla’s impressively simple plank of wood and the surrounding plastic trim is more or less what I have in mind when I imagine a modern Lancia interior. The huge tablet is the part I candidly must say I have difficulty with. It’s not subtle or even ergonomic. The funny thing with certain types of technology such as analogue dials is that they retain their appeal long after new technology has appeared to make the old stuff redundant. This is why we still have steering wheels. And why the tablet interface is unsettling. I feel the slab of glass is too crude.
The Landie retains enough of the analogue elements so it does not appear unfinished. The Tesla alas, is so stripped down as to look as if something is missing. That being the case, I think something (not sure what) could and should have been done to avoid that. For a premium car, the barren appearance jars.
I’d have removed that silly central console for start. We here at DTW know centre consoles are an empty trope – it’s odd the clever people at Tesla are not yet up to speed with this insight.
Caveats aside, these two interiors show what can be done in the Lancia spirit.
37 thoughts on “If So, Then Yes”
The Musa has some of the Evoque’s simplicity (although some have a reversing camera screen).
But the Fulvia is a nicer drive than most modern cars.
Tesla interiors are not suited to closer inspection because they are crudely made from materials of dubious quality.
The big screen is used for everything because it’s cheaper to have software than hardware for operating things. Having to go through two levels of menu on a touch screen to open the glovebox is not ergonomical but downright stupid.
The problem with modern cars is their permanent feature creep with associated masses of buttons to show passengers that money was spent on stuff that wasn’t necessary in the first place but came included with the lease contract package.
On the one hand I agree a screen to control basic functions is daft; on the other you talk of feature creep. Where is the middle ground, would you say? I like the basic set-up of many smaller cars – the can´t be expensive enough to support the button swarms of larger cars.
The minimalist approach is utterly ill-suited to Tesla’s interior designs, due to their utter lack of any kind of perceived or build quality:
Yikes! That steering is more Tata (Nano) than whsf one would expect from Tesla. Did they run that boss off on a 3D printer? Whatever their technology strengths, Tesla has yet to master high quality design and materials compatible with series production.
That’s a problem with Teslas everywhere you look. Open the door of a Model S and you see door seals made from cheap synthetic tubing (thin walled with circular section and light years from what you get on a car from a traditional manufacturer) cheaply glued to the door frame with large gaps at the door’s corners and only very approximately cut with a mitre.
Teslas are not cars but objects of religious reverence for the followers of Elon The Enlightened completely abdicating ordinary things like build and material quality in an expensive car. Teslaism is the subsitute religion for those not yet ready for veganism (kind of automobile equivalent to Birkenstock slippers).
Dave opening the glove box from the drivers seat via the screen is ergonomically more sound than reaching across the car to do it!
It’s odd that there is such a disparity between the quality of Land Rover and Jaguar interiors, the lattter being the subject of frequent criticism. My own experience is limited to a brief period of F-Type ownership. The overall design was fine, but the tactile quality was poor: wobbly climate control knobs, a “sticky-clicky” indicator stalk and poundshop-cheap looking and feeling window switches were simply inexcusable in a £50k car.
As for touch-screens, Dave is absolutely right: they are cheaper than physical switches, but not at all ergonomic. Moreover, they quickly look unpleasantly grubby with finger marks. I recall that, over fifty years ago, the Rover P6 2000/3500 had individually shaped switches so they could be identified by feel, negating the need to take one’s eyes of the road. Some people argue that touch screens are fine for controls unrelated to driving the vehicle, but how many drivers fumble with touch-screens, trying to find numbers in their phone book to make a call while on the move? This makes a mockery of the safety claims for supposedly “hands-free” mobile phones.
The trend towards digital primary instruments offers greater flexibility as to what is displayed, but I bemoan the loss of elegant mechanical dials. The photos of the Lancia Thema dashboard a few days ago reminds me how elegant a nicely executed traditional dashboard can be, with dials beautifully inset into a real wood panel.
That leads me to reflect on how quickly design can land on a good solution – the dashboard with buttons and dials. In truth there is no compelling reason do ditch analogue access. Most of the extra functions that “demand” digital or screen-control are extraneous. My 30 year old car has everything I need. It´s a car, for driving and not an extension of my mobile telephone.
The University of Loughborough as a leading instance of research into car ergonomics has a long history of pleading for disabling secondary functions while on the move – just like Ford sat nav systems did which made it impossible to enter an address during driving.
Following such an approach it would be possible to have primary functions like lights, wipers, HVAC and some radio on analogue buttons and switches and the rest on a touch screen that can’t be used as long as the car is in motion.
Dave: is it still possible to enter an address in a Ford while on the move? The argument against that disabling control is that is stops the passenger from doing things on behalf of the driver. I don´t buy that argument but I could imagine it might impress some decision-makers.
I don’t know how Ford’s current systems work but I presume that this safety conscious feature no longer exists because nearly every journalist complained about it.
“What happens to Tesla passengers in case of an accident when the electrically operated door handles do not pop out from the door because of a short circuit as a result of the accident?”
What happens is that TSLA occupants burn to death in a fire.
It wasn´t really the ergnomics I was interested in so much as the geometry of the dashboards. The Tesla might be a bit ropey but it is nice to look at it. It could even have gone further. The undercroft console is there only because of a horror vacui. The LR is very, very pleasing indeed. Kudos to the people responsible. I wish this kind of thing could be found a nice four-door. We were talking about the Volvo C30 recently: it too served up austere good taste and the equivalent C40 was much the same.
A podcast I listen to had an interesting tidbit about the Model 3’s interior recently. To get out of the car you apparently have to press a button. This is so the car can lower the electric windows slightly to avoid air pressure problems as the doors are frameless.
The issue is that the car also has a level that looks like a conventional door handle. It’s actually there so you can get out in an emergency if the electrical systems have failed. When you pull it to open the door as you’re bound to do after decades of ergonomic conditioning, the car tells you off!
This perfectly encapsulates the problem with Tesla for me. Over-engineering things for the sake of flashiness for which there are already perfectly good solutions.
Hi, John. I assume that the Tesla door also opens electrically after the window drops, i.e. you don’t have to perform a second operation to do this. Both our cars have frameless windows and, as soon as you start to pull the interior or exterior door handles, the windows drop by 5mm to clear the sealing rubber. The difference is that, even if there is an electrical failure, you can still open the door. All that happens is that the glass catches slightly on the seal as the door opens. This would be a far more sensible solution on the Tesla, using the same handle for manual or electrically assisted opening. As you rightly say, the button adds needless complexity to impress the gullible (and their friends).
Door windows dropping a couple of millimetres to clear the door seal are old hat since the days of the two door BMW E36.
What happens to Tesla passengers in case of an accident when the electrically operated door handles do not pop out from the door because of a short circuit as a result of the accident? Since the days of the W116 solid door handles have been campaigned as a safety feature because the door can be opened by applying massive force on those handles only to have manufacturers fit door handles that aren’t usable at all in an accident forty years later.
I find the LR’s dashboard looks ergonomic and settled enough but… something is missing. Maybe a touch of elegance found in the form of subtle ornamentation. As it is, it looks more accomplished as an industrial design rather than satisfying as a piece of art. And Lancia was both!
It´s hard for me to see where more ornamentation could be added to the LR interior and I don´t see much ornamentation in the classic Lancias. I see a lot of correspondence in the LR approach to the mid-century Lancias.
‘It is is to Range Rover what Bovril is to a cow.’ I choked on my lunch! Great line!!
I think most current Volvo models achieve the same effect; I really like what they have done with the XC40 interior, for example.
I’d nominate the BMW i3 and new Mazda 3 interiors, too (in the right colour and material combinations).
I want to reply to mr. Herriot and add that the dashboard of the midcentury Lancia has quite a bit of sculpting on it. The turn signal lamps are hollow darts, there are 2 main horizontal lines above and under, adjacent to the speedometer, as well as many more thinner, lighter, horizontal lines, all of them sculpted. Also a pattern of air vents in the middle and of course the lancia kalligraphic script! Compare it with the not beautiful at all center console from the same car, with all the switches and the ashtray. It was as if someone said: do what ever you like under my dashboard, just don’t mess with what I have designed. I try to see something similar to LR but I can’t.
My Citroen has a similar system. To get the car to defrost on a cold day all dials are turned fully clockwise. Like the Volvo its clear and easy to use.
Daniel: the Audi system would make me want to smash it with my heel. Ergonomic best practice was written decades ago and frustratingly is routinely ignored e.g having to push a button nine times to change a temperature instead of having one single, proportionate movment. Aargh.
Take a look at this volvo 850 climate control unit. One of the sweetest kinds of temperature controls I have ever come across.
Nothing beats a physical switch for speed or surety or safety, or even longevity, won’t you gentlemen agree?
That central switch confuses me. Where it is, what happens?
And what happens if you settle on any of the white dots?
Absolutely. Perfectly ergonomic, with the optimum 22°C setting in the horizontal position and the directional dial positions matching the desired settings (up for windscreen, down for feet, etc.) Even the wedge shape of the knobs allows the driver to distinguish up from down and left from right without looking. Try replicating that on a touch-screen.
As Richard said earlier, sometimes the perfect solution is found relatively quickly and then frustrates further attempts to improve upon it. The Volvo climate controls don’t look opulent or expensive, but I bet they’re pretty robust and operate smoothly. Our Mini has a similar control layout and, despite the expensive looking chromed knobs, there’s too much lateral play in operation to feel properly well engineered.
My MK1 Audi TT convertible had beautiful, large, solid aluminium climate control knobs. Annoyingly, changing the temperature did NOT involve rotating the knob, as you might expect: it only moved about 5° clockwise or anticlockwise, where you held it against the stop, clockwise to increase the temperature in 0.5°C increments, anticlockwise to reduce the temperature. Once released, the knob returned to the mid position. The temperature changed quite slowly, keeping your hand off the wheel for longer than necessary. Alternatively, you could hurry it up by repeatedly twisting the knob in the desired direction against the stop. Unnecessarily fiddly.
Here is a riddle I cannot answer, where did the overwhelmingly popular (and so obviously ergonomically superior) three circular dial climate control layout orginate? Based on my very primitive research showing that the 3 series (e21) appeared in 1975 with sliders, I will guess Saab 99 for model year 1974.
“Nothing beats a physical switch for speed or surety or safety, or even longevity, won’t you gentlemen agree?”
Yes. I especialy favour a rotating dial because it restrains your hand position so you don’t try to press one micro-sized button and a slight undulation in the road causes to miss the button you want and press the one next to it.
The Lancia Fulvia (berlina and coupé) had rotary temprature controls under the central part of the dashboard.
The first BMW with rotary controls was their E12, the E21 had sliders first and later switched to rotaries.
They even had country/language specific labeling.
Mercedes went from sliders to rotation with W123.
An absolutely infuriating solution can be found on my current Audi. There are two metal rotary controls of the endless movement type and a number of buttons for fan speed, air direction and temperature. You press the button first to select the function of the dial and than twirl the dial to select the desired whatever which is displayed on a small LCD display next to the dial or high up in the sat hav screen. It’s unergonomical, it’s slow and it distracts your attention from the road.
Dave: yes, the disagreggation of functions is perplexing. I am puzzled how best-practice was ignored and how user fared in the test trials. It´s hard to believe that users were not asked about the functions. Here we might find a weakness in the user-trial system. Conceivably users could not articuate what was wrong about the controls. Perhaps there is justification for expert trials or peer review in design instead of either no user trials or layman user trials. If you are aware of ergonomic research and principles, you´d never separate functions. What´s the alternative? I suppose it was more buttons or resisting function creep in the first place.
Someone at BMW once told me that they had many buttons (pre iDrive era) because new functions don’w make sense if there is no button to show your neighbour you payed for the function.
To my eyes, many buttons simply shouldn’t be there. Either the function they control is working properly everytime (ABS, ESP…) then there should be no button to switch it off or it doesn’t work properly then it shouldn’t be in a car. Why do we need starters operated by a button – particularly when combined with a keyless go system where you have to put the key into a storage space in the centre console and then press a button to start the engine. Why do I need a switch to control the air quality sensor for the air recirculation function – why can’t this sensor simply work reliably?
Starting the engine and driving off is getting similar to starting a helicopter because you have to press all kinds of buttons instead of simply hopping into the car, twisting the key and drive away.
For their sensible, practical and easy to modulate HVAC controls, I commend the Xsara Picasso and FIAT 500 in ‘plain’ (non-automated air-con forms. Once again, they both deploy twist-knobs with a couple of buttons for the air-con and rhw on-off. Simples!
Some newer systems, even with dials, seem to try to second-guess you – move it to the “windscreen” position, and some cars put the AC on. Fine, as far as it goes, as drier AC air should help to demist. However, some of them then require the AC switching off manually, regardless of moving the direction switch to back to another position. So it’s only automatic one way. Assuming the AC is actually on (I thought the compressors don’t work below a certain temperature?), this uses extra fuel unless you remember to turn it off. Some button-type systems have a front windscreen button, like that for the back, but which again doesn’t let you decide what it does – full fan, AC on, possibly something else. Not a major problem, particularly for me as my car has traditional dials, but seems quite unhelpful when I see such systems in action. Do touchscreen systems at least let the driver save their own quick presets?
Along with the question posed above – when did the rotary dial system originate – is the related question: which was the last car to use the slider system? (mk 107/C1/Aygo had a variant of it)
I am still most enamoured with the physical temperature selectors from the Volvo 850 unit, along with the stepless slider for the blower fan.
You know, in better modern automobiles, we’re presented with a physical dial that turns both ways, however they turn in infinite rotations – the temperature is displayed as a digital readout. Functionally it appears to do the same job as the 850 unit, but there’s no muscle memory involved. In every mental argument I try to make against such modern systems, I can’t seem to find a reason as to why I dislike them, and love that big ass physical dial so much!
And that stepless blower selector. Why are we forced to choose 4 or 5 blower settings anyway? The blower does run off of a motor which can be very linearly controlled. So why can’t we choose this?
I’m especially unhappy with BMW blower selectors being + or – buttons. And even more so with their temperature controls in previous climate control units of yore.
Vic: where it is, air is blown up into the windscreen and down to your feet. The white dots are intermediate settings. You can have both settings halfway!
Daniel, that Audi TT knob would drive me nuts! Like the BMW buttons of yore.
Well I have a question – I’ve always been puzzled by the temperature setting in W124 units. Where’s the set point? Right in the middle of the scrolling dial, I presumed? Why is it not marked? Wouldn’t it be very difficult to make a setting?
Perhaps I missed something, but I can’t figure out which car it is in the second photo?
It´s a Lancia Fulvia saloon, if memory serves.