Volvo (almost) nixes knobs to give its XC90 a minimalist vibe inside

One of the biggest design challenges facing automakers right now is effectively cramming umpteen million features into a clear and concise system – all within safe reach of the driver. Too often the result is buttons and controls positively machine gunned across the entire interior of the car. Not surprisingly, the Scandinavians have come up with the same sort of minimalist approach in the new Volvo XC90 as they have with their furniture. There will be no knobs!

The center of the new XC90’s approach to technological integration is the massive tablet-style screen embedded in the dash. Don’t bother looking for the normal spray of buttons surrounding it; you won’t find any. If you want to access the cars systems, look to the steering wheel controls, voice activation, or the touchscreen.

The touchscreen OS mirrors that of successful mobile devices. A simple stack of “tiles” divides up in car functions into navigation, media, phone and notifications. Climate controls are anchored to the bottom of the screen. The thought process behind this was explained by Volvos R&D guru Dr. Peter Mertens: “Using the screen is so logical that it will become part of your muscle memory very quickly.  nformation, navigation and media are high up and easy to check. The phone controls, application icons and climate controls are located low and are comfortable to reach and touch. All of this logic is based on extensive usability and user experience research and the latest technology.”

An example of this thought process is the fact that when accessing one ’tile’ or menu the others don’t disappear. They are merely compressed and still readily accessible. This means no getting lost in menu trees, something all too familiar in many infotainment systems.

To help drivers keep their eyes on the road Volvo has also gone with a heads-up display, that will keep the most critical information just a glance away.

As with any such system it is difficult to tell if Volvo’s latest Sensus Connect system will be any good, or just sound nice in theory. However, there are a couple of important factors at work. For one, we can already tell from photos that the system looks very nice. That is actually crucial, given that a bad looking system would ruin the gorgeous minimalist design aesthetic present throughout the car.

The other big news is that the new XC90 will be among the early recipients of Apple CarPlay. A system co-developed between automakers and Apple, which allows an onboard infotainment system to mirror Apple’s OS straight from a mobile device. This allows drivers to use a system that they are already familiar with, not to mention make full and safe use of their phones or tablets in the car. Heck, Siri will even read you your texts.

If nothing else, it is a pleasure to see that at least some automakers are attempting a minimalist approach to in car tech. Not only will this have the potential to make infotainment more usable, but also save us all from drowning in a sea of buttons, touch pads and click wheels. 

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