Nonsensical Electronics Controls - 2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo Long-Term Road Test

2011 Buick Regal Long Term Road Test

2011 Buick Regal: Nonsensical Electronics Controls

February 25, 2011

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The Regal's electronics interface is just wrong, period. This isn't a matter of preference. If someone would like to tell me that they prefer the Regal's absolutely nonsensical array of buttons, knobs and screen, they've apparently never used anything else.

Let's see if I can properly described its ridiculousness.

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That screen looks like a touchscreen, it's within reach like a touchscreen and it uses the EXACT SAME graphics and button-like icons as the touchscreens found in newer GM products. But no, it is not a touchscreen. Instead, you control it with all those buttons, the central dash-mounted knob and/or an iDrive-like console-mounted knob.

Now, knobs versus touchscreen can be a preference thing if both are done well. This isn't a case of that. Here are the problems.

Not entirely redundant knobs: The two knobs both rotate, meaning they can both operate functions that require rotation -- say scanning through menus. You can also "click" things using both. You click the center of the iDrive knob (1) and click the outer ring of the other, dash-mounted knob (2). However, only #2 has a multi-directional pad that is useful when scanning around a map or in other instances (see next entry). Audi's navigation-equipped MMI and iDrive both have the functionality of the multi-directional pad on the center console.

(I will say that non-navigation-equipped Audi's have MMI mounted on the dash and that's irritating as well)

Non touchscreen touchscreen: The GM navigation system and the graphics for it are designed with a touchscreen in mind -- when entering in a destination, there is a recreation of a keyboard that allows you to punch in your letters and numbers. But, you can't do that in the Regal.

So, Option 1: Use the clickable iDrive knob that falls more readily at hand. You can click the individual letter icons, but going through them takes FOREVER because you're scanning one letter at a time across a keyboard icon. Audi and BMW both display the alphabet around a circle, which makes it quicker to program and easier to decipher.

Or, Option 2: Use the dash knob: This allows you to either rotate through the keyboard or move around it up, down and laterally using the multi-directional pad. Better than option 1, but the knob's placement is less convenient.

Or, Option 3: Forget the knobs altogether and use the voice controls. This works, though it takes a very long time (the playback prompts don't help) and for some reason, when I tried to use them, it didn't ask me for an address number. Instead, I only had the option of going to some indiscriminate point on Flamingo Road.

Can't Click on Things: Once you've finally managed to enter in your address, you'll be presented with the usual "Fastest Route," "Easiest Route," and "Start Route" options. In other cars, you'd highlight and click one of those options using one of the knobs, but you can't. Instead, they are numbered 1-6 and you need to press the radio preset button (3) that corresponds since you can't just touch the screen as the software intended.

Radio Presets: If the screen is showing the navigation system map, the radio preset buttons do not work. You first have to press the audio button on the center console (4) or the Radio/Band button on the dash (5). This is probably the most irritating item on a regular basis, since no other car I can think of (other than our similarly challenged Chevy Cruze) has this problem. Another issue is that those presets are closer to the passenger, while the corresponding Favorites button (a great GM feature that allows you to mix and match radio presets on pages amongst AM, FM and XM) is even further and buried amongst a bunch of infrequently used buttons like the oh-so-useful REC, DEL and AS 1/2.

Much of this absolutely mind-numbing electronics interface is the unfortunate result of American GM software combining with European GM hardware. So there's a reason -- it's just not a good reason, and frankly, if someone wants their car to have a navigation system (which is in fact quite a few people), the Regal's set-up would be a major detractor. It is confusing to figure out and annoying once you finally do -- the system sans navigation isn't exactly fantastic, either.

Compared to our Acura TSX Wagon or departed Cadillac CTS, the Regal's electronics interface seems like someone just didn't try. When a brand is trying to convince people it deserves to be considered amongst luxury brands, it's details like these that make a car stand above. The Genesis and Equus seem like (and are) luxury cars because Hyundai went all in.

I like oh-so-much about the Regal, but this electronics interface kills me. With a few changes, it could be perfectly usable and even quite good, but for now, wrong wrong wrong.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 1,564 miles

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