The more there is, the more that can go wrong. This argument is typically thrown around to decry the onslaught of software and digitally-controlled features in modern vehicles, despite the good or convenience they may afford us. But sometimes, complex tech isn’t so much to blame; sometimes, automakers just lose sight of common sense.
The Golf R I just had the privilege of driving for a week was a wonderful vehicle, and I’ll tell you more about it soon in a full review. Today, though, I need to highlight the single worst thing about it. And sure — this hot hatch’s interior has received quite a lot of criticism, so you can rightly guess where my beef lies. But it has nothing to do with the plastic on the rear door cards, or even the confounding steering wheel and all its haptic controls, which must not have been intended for fleshy, warm-blooded human hands. Like every Mk. 8 Golf/GTI variant, the Golf R’s most egregious oversight lies immediately below the infotainment screen.
If you own one of these, you know what I’m talking about. If you have driven one at night, you also know. Sandwiched between the center display and climate vents is a long divot with touch-sensitive “buttons,” with which you can adjust climate zone temperatures and stereo volume. Of course, these controls also exist within Volkswagen’s infotainment system, but who wants to do in four taps what you can do in one? That’s what dash-mounted inputs are for.
To that end, the Golf R provides what I can only describe as a capacitive gutter that you slide your fingertip across to tweak driver and passenger climate-control temperatures, with another space for stereo volume in the middle. You can also press the icons on this strip to make direct changes. The driver is still afforded volume oversight via the steering wheel, like you’d hope.
The very mention of capacitive touch replacing buttons and/or dials has no doubt sent a great many of you to the comments before you’ve even had the chance to finish this sentence. I agree with that sentiment, I really do. But I’ve also given up expecting new cars to ship with real buttons, and I knew what I was getting myself into here. This, alone, isn’t the problem.
No, the problem is that this strip of trackpad, with its almost complete lack of tangible guides or markings, goes completely invisible at night. Sure — during the day it’s easy enough to glance and note where hot and cold are located, along with the middle length for volume control. But none of this iconography is backlit, even though almost everything else you’ll touch in this interior is.
I want the receipts. I want to know how much money Volkswagen — the second-biggest car manufacturer in the world, the corporate colossus that is joining Formula 1 not once but twice — saved by not putting LEDs behind this portion of dash. Maybe it adds up in scale; I’m sure it does, most things do. It doesn’t matter! They can afford it.
I searched high and low for an option in the car’s software settings to light up this strip of nothing, to no avail. My worst fears were quickly confirmed when I ventured online to find owners complaining of the exact same thing.
It’s bad enough to replace a tactile input with one that solely relies on sight to find. But then, to knowingly eliminate the visual portion, too — it’s almost like Volkswagen is trying to experiment with how little it can actually do, and we’re the guinea pigs. As much as I hate to say it, when you’re selling a car that can puts a grin on your face — and the Golf R fixed a huge grin on mine — you can get away with damn near anything.