Sometime added complexity kills luxury

This week I’m driving the 2018 Volkswagen Jetta SE – one trim up from the base model. It’s a no-frills sedan that doesn’t skimp on most modern “necessities” like power windows, keyless entry, and push-button start. There’s even a 6.3-inch touch screen with satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. But one thing it’s missing is fancy controls for its HVAC system. Rather, this single-zone system has the three old-school knobs, three buttons, and nothing more. But you know what? It just works.

To understand my amazement of these simplistic controls, you’ve got to look at the Cadillac CTS-V I was driving last week. While I love that 640-horsepower, 6.2-liter supercharged LT4 V-8, Cadillac’s CUE system spoiled my warm fuzzy feelings. Ask anyone and they’ll same the same – the CUE system is hard to use and requires taking eyes off the road and concentration in order to operate. Even the adjusting the HVAC’s temperature or fan speed settings is hard. The touch-sensitive, piano black surface of CUE sometimes didn’t respond to inputs and fingerprints were always visible.

Three minutes behind the Jetta’s leather-wrapped steering wheel, and I can operate the HVAC system without even looking. The knobs satisfyingly click as they rotate, making super simple to gauge how far you’ve turned them. What’s more, the direction and defrost knob allows for fine tuning between settings. For example, I can turn the knob one or two clicks towards the “feet” setting and still have the majority of air blowing at my face while my toes receive a slight breeze. It’s amazing.

So, here’s the thing. Automakers have a tendency to overcomplicate the little things. While this sometimes works in adding convenience, other times it only adds complexity and user frustration. I’d consider the Jetta’s HVAC controls more “luxurious” than the Cadillac’s CUE controls. Why? Simplicity wins out. Thankfully, Volkswagen’s upgraded HVAC controls with an automatic mode and dual-zone temperatures is just as simple to use, though it does lose out of the awesome adjustability between vent locations.

What do you think? Do you like simplicity over “high-tech,” yet complex controls? Do you consider simplicity a luxury? Let me know in the comments below.


Volkswagen Jetta

2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE - Driven Exterior High Resolution
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Read our driven review on the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta.

Read more about it in our 2018 Volkswagen Jetta SE: An Overview.

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