It’s probably true that there’s no such thing as a bad car these days… not in the way that there were bad cars in the early Eighties, certainly; just thinking about the rust and the poor reliability gives me a headache.
There are, however, still plenty of bad car interiors. Bargain-bucket plastics that scratch or fade, nasty cheap buttons that stick and seats with no lumbar support are horribly familiar. Which has always struck me as bizarre – only Ferrari can get away with spending all that money on an engine and none being left over for buttons that work.
For the rest, it’s a strange commercial move to pay such little attention to the interface between man and machine: what can be termed the “cockpit” of the car. If the bit of the car you’re constantly in contact with – the steering wheel – feels nasty to touch, your view of the entire car will become rapidly tainted.
Here we all sit, day after day, in varying degrees of ergonomic discomfort: either the gearlever isn’t quite where you can reach it from your ideal seat position, or the main instrument binnacle is half obscured, or the indicator switch is partially blocked by the cruise control stalk, or you still activate the satnav every time you reach for the radio.
Peugeot, in its inimitably French way, has moved the game on with its new i-Cockpit, which makes its appearance on the revised 3008 next year. The i-Cockpit encapsulates a small, low steering wheel with the instrument cluster clear above it, a head-up display and large colour touchscreen hosting all functions.
Such was the fanfare for this new interior design, Peugeot bussed us all to its secret facility outside Paris which used to house the French President’s cars, and where the translator for the unveiling breathed in husky tones down my earpiece: “The i-Cockpit makes you want to lightly touch and stroke the controls… You can feel it’s silky and warm… Feeling all the massage that’s available in these seats… It increases one’s sense of self-worth.” It was like a strange automotive kama sutra and I had to go outside for a breath of fresh air.
It works, however. Sitting in the demonstrator tub, I wondered why every other manufacturer of small road cars (beyond sports car brands) had not thought to shrink and lower the steering wheel and place the speedometer and rev counter housing high above it, where one’s eyes naturally go to follow the road - although I recalled that the 208 supermini, which pioneered this set-up, has been criticised for not allowing some drivers to see the instruments without compromising their driving position.
To the right is a selection of pleasing switches for radio, phone, satnav, air-con etc but you can do the whole lot via the big tablet-style touchscreen positioned just above the buttons.
What really sets the i-Cockpit apart, however, is the quality of the digital graphics, done in-house, not by an independent supplier. A press of the steering-wheel chromed toggle and the digital rev counter, for example, spins and collapses, to reveal all the functions, such as the 3D satnav, which you can set to appear in the rev counter. You can personalise the experience by changing the lighting inside, the musical note that accompanies changing modes and even the smell – three fragrances are available.
None of this is new, but Peugeot has brought it all together in a very comfortable and stylish manner which really sets the bar for digital graphics these days. Vive La France.
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