BMW Tops Least Distraction Infotainment Study

Independent test results suggest BMW’s iDrive infotainment is the least distracting for drivers in use while budget brand MG’s is the worst.

More worryingly for vehicle safety is that the premium 12.3-inch multimedia display offering from Lexus was found to have the most fiddly sat-nav system among the vehicle’s tested. Research for UK consumer magazine What Car? points out that distracted driving accounted for 15% of all road accidents in 2018, compared to 13% in 2016 and 14% in 2017, according to Department for Transport data. In fatal collisions, distracted driving was a contributory factor in 25% of incidents. Every second spent looking away can be dangerous, as a vehicle moving at 30mph will travel 44-feet every second.

Twenty different in-car systems were tested that encompass the majority of the different types of infotainment systems and dashboard layouts on offer in the latest new cars. Testers performed six tasks that drivers frequently do while on the move, including changing the temperature, zooming out on a set sat-nav route and changing from one radio station to another, with each action timed.

The research suggests that systems with physical buttons are much less distracting to use on the move than those that can only be altered using a touchscreen. Investigators found it took twice as long to adjust heating controls on some cars with touchscreen controls rather than physical dials.

Further, it took up to four times longer to zoom out of the sat-nav map to view a pre-programmed route using a touchscreen than it did using a rotary dial controller. The easiest systems for adjusting the sat-nav map were Audi’s Virtual Cockpit Plus and BMW’s iDrive, while the most fiddly was the Lexus 12.3-inch multimedia display.

The study cites the benefits of having a range of different ways of a driver completing a task, so the person can choose the most convenient for each situation. The best systems provide a choice of physical buttons, the touchscreen or voice control to do a wide range of commands.

A sophisticated voice control system was found to be the least distracting way of doing many tasks. The systems in the Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all recognize natural speech, so you can activate them by talking and then ask them to carry out your desired task and hardly take your eyes off the road at all. However, not all voice control systems are as intuitive or fast to respond. What Car?’s testers were looking away from the road for more than twice as long in cars with the worst systems.

Steve Huntingford, editor of What Car?, said: “Distracted drivers are a factor in a growing number of road accidents, so it’s important to choose a car with controls that are responsive and easy to use while you drive. The best systems provide physical buttons and voice control, while those that are most distracting have sluggish touchscreens and require too many steps to carry out commands.”

While prestige brands dominate the top four rankings, the best mass market vehicle was the Mazda 3 with 8.8-inch color display and Mazda Connect system.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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