I was reading a first drive review of the new Maserati Quattroporte the other day on the website of something called Car and Driver. It's safe to say the new QP isn't as seductive-looking as the outgoing model, mostly because it's noticeably bigger and wider.
But the review took about a paragraph to take it to task for its Chrysler switchgear – the corporate window switches and touchscreen in particular.
We (mostly auto scribes, but I assume all car buyers) don't like our expensive, exotic machines being closely associated with lesser vehicles. It's viewed as cost-cutting, cheap and a sign that cars aren't as special as they once were thanks to giant corporate synergies. I remember pundits taking my Saab 900 to task because of its Opel switchgear, which basically boiled down to the "Sport" and "Winter" mode buttons on the automatic, the power mirror control, some trip computer graphics and the latch on the hatchback. Oh yeah, really noticeable stuff. The last 9-5 had a bunch of buttons from the Buick LaCrosse, and those actually felt nicer than the stuff in the 9-3. Sure it's less distinctive, but it worked a lot better.
Slightly peeved by how much C&D was digging into this issue of the Maser, I went down to my neighborhood Chrysler dealer and sat in a 300. I've been consistently impressed by the second-gen 300's interior, particularly the Luxury Series which is good for any car, not just a Chrysler or a $45,000 sedan. I examined the window switches closely and I'm sure sales staff thought I was on something. And you know, they're fairly nice pieces. They're chunky, solid, and feel rather German. That's more appropriate of something that costs as much as a Quattroporte, rather than pulling the switches from a Fiat 500, which they probably have done before.
As far as the touchscreen goes, I think it doesn't matter where they come from as long as they're easy to use. The UConnect system in the Dart is big and usable, unlike stuff that comes in BMWs, Fords, the old Quattroporte, etc. Does anyone bother to notice what Ferrari uses? It's the same nav system that comes in a Dodge Grand Caravan.
Mercedes-Benz makes a lot of cars, ranging from a $35,000 C-Class to big coupes and sports cars costing north of $200,000. As far as the switches go? Well, I checked out a brand new, $155,000 SL550 and it has the same audio buttons as a $40,000 GLK shopping cart. The seat and window controls may get a bit of silver paint, but they work and feel just the same as the ones in the GLK.
You'd think that Mercedes might consider changing up the switches in things like their SUVs versus their luxury roadsters. An SUV is more utilitarian, it befits larger, beefier switches that can be abused by fingers that might be covered in jam or glue or whatever comes attached to kids these days. By contrast, a luxury car should have switches that feel more special. That isn't quite the case in the Maserati, and it's not really the case in the SL.
The worst offense may come from Toyota. I haven't sat in a Toyota Venza in a long time, but I found one in a local Toyota showroom the other day. My God, what a disaster of thin plastics and "leather" appointments. This particular one had fake carbon fiber trim, too, and some of the most bizarre-feeling door panels. I took a good hard look at the window switches, though, which worked fine but weren't anything special. I had a hunch that they would show up in a Lexus model.
And sure enough, I got into a 2013 LS460 F Sport at the Lexus showroom and saw the exact same window switches as in the $30,000 Venza. They really do look out of place in an $86,000 Lexus, with no markings on the switches and a definite utilitarian feel. In fact, I'd argue they're worse than in the Chrysler. It's too bad, since the rest of the LS' interior is far removed from that crappy Venza's and it exudes some elegance and personality – odd, since I only remember LS interiors to be sterile.
So if someone's going to pick a bone with a Maserati with Chrysler switches, they need to take a look at what else is going on in car interiors and what $200,000 cars have buttons and touchscreens from much, much cheaper vehicles. Yes, it's a shame expensive exotics can't have the same special touches they once did and especially something you'd interact with on such a regular basis. But above all else, we should want switchgear that just works well.