Modern Infotainment Systems Can Be Simple And Not Frustrating - 2020 Nissan Maxima
A common comment under any automotive story you see posted is "I don't want any of that complicated electronics &$#@." Pardon our language. As car testers, we at Torque News are fortunate to try new vehicles each week. The honest truth is that a minority of the vehicles we test do have frustrating electronics. However, they are the exception, not the rule.
Three brands have emerged as the leader in simple to operate infotainment technology, Kia/Hyundai and Nissan. Any of their products would have served well as an example of the great designs they incorporate. This week, we had a 2020 Nissan Maxima SL (Price as tested $39,695*). As many folks who follow cars know, the more expensive the vehicle, the more likely the manufacturer did something dumb to make the infotainment more complicated than need be. The Maxima is Nissan's highest-priced mainstream car, so we feel it is a great example to use.
Simple Infotainment Syetms - How We Know They Are Intuitive
The first gauge we use when evaluating a modern infotainment system is the intuitiveness of its operation. Can we just jump in and make it all work without a lot of self-education, or worse, using the owner's manual. The Maxima passes this test with flying colors. Everything is exactly what one should expect. If you have seen the movie Gravity with Sandra Bullock you may know just what we mean. In the movie, her character has to enter a space capsule and make it work immediately. She is faced with labels not just in a foreign language but using a foreign alphabet. She knows they are all the same as the ones in her trainer. So instead of trying to read them, she just goes on instinct. That's how the Maxima is. Everything you touch does what you expect.
Simple Infotainment - No Mouse
This author despises "remote interphases", a.k.a. "mouse" controls in any vehicle. Here's why. They require that you use both your eyes and your hands to aim a pointer. That is patently unsafe while moving. And stupid in its design since a touch screen serves the same purpose more easily when navigating menus you set when parked. You don't need a mouse to operate the Maxima's infotainment menus. They are all touch-sensitive.
We also don't like to have to touch the screen when we drive. That also means looking away from the road. Here Nissan's Maxima shines. The smart designers put the main menus along the sides of the screen as buttons you can locate by feel.
Simple Infotainment - Steering Wheel Controls
Nissan also impressed us with its simple steering wheel controls. One can do pretty much everything one should be doing while driving using just these controls and you will not have to look, since they all have a different tactile feel. They are absolutely dead simple to use after your first drive.
Simple Infotainment - Setting An Audio Station Preset
The big three American automakers, (back when there was a big 3 based in America) figured out the best way humanly possible to set an audio station preset button. You simply tine to that station, then you press and hold a button to assign that station to it. My 1969 Plymouth Fury III worked this way fifty-one years ago. The 2020 Nissan Maxima works this way. Watch the video to see what we mean.
The folks at Nissan made other good choices with the 2020 Maxima. The gear shift selector is conventional, not a goofy mess. The seat controls are all the same as any other modern vehicle. The HVAC controls are divorced from the infotainment and as simple as they get. Why can't every manufacturer do this? We scratch our heads and wonder.
Do you want a simple system, or do you prefer a design different from what Nissan chose? Your opinion is valued here. Tell us in the comments below.
In addition to covering green vehicle topics, John Goreham covers safety, technology, and new vehicle news at Torque News. You can follow John on Twitter at @johngoreham.
*Our media test vehicle was a 2019 model. Nissan did not change the infotainment for 2020. Why mess with perfection?