Car luxury today isn’t the same as car luxury a decade or two ago

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The leaps forward taken by technology in the past decade have brought us closer, literally, to screens. You’ve got one in your living room, one in your pocket, one on your desk, and most likely, you’ve got one inside your car, too. Almost every daily activity of the modern man - from work, to shopping, and then on to entertainment - involves a screen of sorts, be it from a smartphone, a TV, or a car’s infotainment system.

In recent years, the later has become a norm in almost every new car out there. Higher-echelon car brands in particular have been very eager to fit their cars with screens, especially of the larger, wide, or curbed variety. So we can only ask: are these big displays bleeding with top-notch graphics a mark of luxury in the automotive world?

2018 Mercedes-Benz A-Class
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It was exactly two years ago when Mercedes-Benz introduced the MBUX user interface at CES. A couple of months later, BMW would debut the newest version of its own in-car OS, the iDrive 7.0. Fast forward to 2020 and it’s these two giants that are doing battle once again.

Since When Are Big Screens a Mark of Luxury in Cars?
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On the one hand, you’ve got the MBUX Hyperscreen slated to equip Stuttgart’s upcoming all-electric sedan, the EQS. Basically a huge curved display (141-centimeter/56-inches wide) that takes over the whole dashboard, Mercedes’ MBUX Hyperscreen offers displays areas for both the driver (including the instrument cluster) and the passenger. The central and passenger screens use OLED technology. Computing power rises to 8 CPU cores and 24 GB of RAM, which is more than double what your laptop is probably carrying. All in all, users get 2,432 square centimeters (377 square inches) of touchable area. Impressive? It sure is.

Since When Are Big Screens a Mark of Luxury in Cars?
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On the other hand, BMW isn’t allowing itself to fall behind and just announced the future of its iDrive setup and the display it will be based on. iDrive has been around for 20 years after being introduced in 2001 on the BMW 7 Series in an attempt to purge buttons and knobs from the flagship’s center console. Now, BMW is coy on details for the time being and while we might get more details in the coming days, you can bet this move comes as a counter-reaction to Mercedes’ MBUX Hyperscreen, which we expect to trickle down to the rest of Stuttgart’s lineup in the coming years. That’s what BMW will eventually do with the iDrive, so we’re looking at two rivaling setups at the top of the premium/luxury food chain.

Then again, can a big screen with fancy graphics and smart AI count as luxury?

Since When Are Big Screens a Mark of Luxury in Cars?
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I mean, what happened to beautifully-crafted interiors? What happened to fine leather, exquisite materials, and mouth-watering design? Since when have these senses-stimulating factors given way to talking to your car or gesturing in front of a couple of sensors? Granted, both BMW and Mercedes-Benz throw the best they can get at their cars when it comes to materials and interiors, but that still fades in comparison to the flashiness of a screen-clad dashboard. It’s like the handcrafted goodies - if any - are there just to tick a box in a requirements list. The screen gets all the attention these days and I feel that’s wrong.

Is this what people buying a luxury car really want? And don’t get me wrong, we’re all for technology that makes life easier and more importantly, safer behind the wheel, but today it feels like it’s overdone. Back in the day, you didn’t need a big screen to enjoy a Mercedes. Or a BMW. You just had a tempting steering wheel, three pedals, plushy seats and the sound of the engine in your ears as you rumbled on an open road.

Since When Are Big Screens a Mark of Luxury in Cars?
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Nowadays, engine sound is amplified or pumped entirely via the car’s speakers, leaving a synthetic taste in the mouth. Engine sound, like fine leather and wood veneer, used to be a mark of luxury. You paid more money for a bigger engine and more power, which also brought the sound factor as well as a stout boost of ego coming from the extra dose of actual performance.

Hey Mercedes, Hey BMW, I’m not against your push for better tech or your ever-growing screens. I’m just here to ask for more of the good stuff that used to turn on the senses. It’s the only way to balance out a life that’s already webbed in touch, swipe, and pinch.


Tudor Rus
Assistant Content Manager - Automotive Expert - tudor@topspeed.com
Tudor’s first encounter with cars took place when he was only a child. Back then, his father brought home a Trabant 601 Kombi and a few years later, a Wartburg 353. At that time, he was too young to know how they worked and way too young to drive them, but he could see one thing – each of them had a different ethos and their own unique personality. As time went on, he started seeing that in other cars as well, and his love for the automobile was born.  Read More
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