Touch controls and buttons may be at the end of their career, at least in cars. There are many signs of a decisive return to physical buttons in the passenger compartment, both in terms of what motorists want and what Euro NCAP has indicated.

Just look at how Volkswagen has reversed its position on touch controls on the steering wheel, which were criticised by many customers and replaced by more intuitive and traditional 'buttons' on the new Golf, Tiguan and Passat.

A potential source of distraction and danger

Added to this is Euro NCAP's decision, previously anticipated by The Times, to award lower scores to cars which, from 2026, will no longer have physical buttons for certain car functions such as indicators, emergency call or windscreen wipers.

I comandi della Lucid Air

Lucid Air's controls

In short, the widespread use of touch controls is said to be a source of distraction and danger at the wheel. But let's see how car cockpits are reverting to physical controls.

The Volkswagen Golf retraces its steps

As we've already mentioned, the most striking example of a 'return to buttons' is the restyled Volkswagen Golf 8, which in 2024 reinstated physical controls on the steering wheel. A quick comparison with the previous model clearly shows the ergonomic paradigm shift.

Volkswagen Golf (2024)

Volkswagen Golf (2024)

Volkswagen Golf (2020)

Volkswagen Golf (2020)

On the old version, the touch-sensitive controls on the left-hand spoke were barely perceptible beneath an integrated plastic surface. In 2024, cruise control, lane keeping and audio volume are replaced by separate, more traditional buttons.

The same applies to the right-hand side, where the usual Volkswagen controls for infotainment, instrument cluster customisation, heated steering wheel and voice commands are found, but now with 'real' buttons.

Volkswagen Golf (2012)

Volkswagen Golf (2012)

Just out of curiosity, we also show you the steering wheel controls on the 2012 Golf 7, with physical buttons very similar to those on the 2024 Golf 8.

Volkswagen Tiguan, welcome to physical buttons

A similar return to the past can also be seen on the new Volkswagen Tiguan, whose third generation has just been launched and which sees the old capacitive touch buttons, available on the richest finishes and dating from the 2020 restyling, replaced by new physical buttons on the steering wheel.

Volkswagen Tiguan (2024)

Volkswagen Tiguan (2024)

Volkswagen Tiguan (2020)

Volkswagen Tiguan (2020)

The reduction in the number of buttons affects the entire centre console and dashboard of the new Tiguan, on which the large MIB4 touchscreen of up to 15 inches stands out, with the air conditioning controls grouped together in the lower part of the screen. Even the central tunnel now has very few physical controls, reduced in practice to the start/stop button, electronic handbrake and audio volume.

On the Passat Variant, they never disappeared

The new Volkswagen Passat, on the other hand, seems to have gone in the opposite direction, grouping all the main climate and infotainment controls inside and under the large 15-inch touchscreen.

Volkswagen Passat Variant (2024)

Volkswagen Passat Variant (2024)

Volkswagen Passat Variant (2015)

Volkswagen Passat Variant (2015)

Even the gear lever on the centre tunnel has been replaced by a manual gear lever on the right-hand side of the steering column. The steering wheel of the new Passat Variant, on the other hand, remains faithful, as always, to the physical controls on the steering wheel spokes.

Peugeot and cabin ergonomics

A fine example of the ergonomic evolution of the driving position comes from Peugeot and in particular from its historic three- and five-door compacts, starting with the 205 and going through the 206 and 207 up to the recently updated 208.

Peugeot 205

Peugeot 205

Peugeot 206

Peugeot 206

As the photos of the dashboard, steering wheel, instrumentation, console and central tunnel show, the French manufacturer's desire to simplify and make more intuitive the use of increasingly numerous and necessary controls is obvious.

Peugeot 207

Peugeot 207

Peugeot 208 (2012)

Peugeot 208 (2012)

The leap forward made with the first-generation i-cockpit of the 2012 Peugeot 208 is particularly significant, with a low steering wheel and raised dashboard, while the controls for the main functions have always remained physical.

Peugeot 208 (2019)

Peugeot 208 (2019)

Peugeot 208 (2024)

Peugeot 208 (2024)

The second-generation i-cockpit that debuted on the 2019 208 then saw the addition of the piano button panel below the touchscreen for quick access to certain functions. The steering wheel also retains the physical buttons.

Tesla has said goodbye to buttons, but what are the others doing?

To return for a moment to the brands that have made touch controls their workhorse, we can mention the pioneers Tesla and Lucid.

The new Tesla Model 3, for example, no longer has a rocker switch on the steering column, with buttons for the indicators on the left-hand spoke of the steering wheel and gear selection on the touchscreen, like all the other controls.

Nouvelle Tesla Model 3 (2023)

Tesla Model 3 (2023)

The most recent Chinese electric car manufacturers, such as BYD, are following Tesla's minimalist, buttonless path and relying almost exclusively on the dashboard screen.

Examples include the BYD Seal (which actually has several physical buttons) or the Volvo EX90, which was created within the Geely Group. Even the new Renault 5 E-Tech Electric uses touch-sensitive controls.

Renault 5 E-Tech Electric 2024

Renault 5 E-Tech Electric (2024)

BYD Seal U (2024) - Foto della Prova su Strada

BYD Seal U (2024)

Volvo EX90

Volvo EX90

Historic European brands such as BMW, Mercedes and Porsche, on the other hand, don't yet seem to have fully embraced Tesla's 'button-less' philosophy and are currently in the middle of the road when it comes to physical buttons and touch controls. Just look at the driver's seats in the BMW 5 Series, Porsche Taycan and Panamera, or the Mercedes EQS.

BMW Serie 5

BMW Serie 5

Mercedes EQS

Mercedes EQS

Porsche Panamera

Porsche Panamera

Porsche Taycan

Porsche Taycan