Have you ever looked at the inside of a modern luxury vehicle and wondered why dashboards and console designs have become so busy? It’s not like we are trying to commute to the moon so, why do you need a four tiered dash, three glove boxes, two screens, and a head-up display? The twelve days of car interiors is getting to be a bit too much. If anyone is getting vehicle interiors right, it has to be Tesla with their simple dash design, minimal buttons, single console screen, and lots of open space. Comparing that with current Lexus interiors, for instance, that include no less than two screens and 60 buttons, the industry trend is actually less Tesla and more Lexus as carmakers try to determine what to do with all the entertainment, connectivity, convenience and safety options they are relentlessly cramming into their vehicles.

Reminiscing about the simpler times, before dash integrated media centers, GPS, and even cup holders, a car dashboard was expected to offer basic information about the car, feel clean and unconstructive, and offer minimal distractions. But, that was before the ever growing safety regulation and electronic distractions became part of the daily concerns of interior designers and car buyers. So, how did things look like before? Well, for one thing, you could see most of the floor in front of your feet and clean the dash in one smooth motion.  Carpet, not gaudy hard plastic, extended up the transmission tunnel and surrounded your shifter boot. Bench seat option, up front, where 3 people could enjoy riding in the front were common at least among the American cars and well designed and large analog gauges provided the basic information a driver needed to drive. And, there was just a simple radio to provide you with entertainment that only needed 6 preset channels and a volume button. It was a time that, if you were a kid, your primary front seat restraint was your dad’s forearm. In short, interior design was minimal not out of cost savings but out of a lack of need and, keeping it simple, was a choice in elegant design and simplicity of the time.

What changed?  What made the complex interiors of today happen?  A few things really.  First off, regulation ballooned and completely changed the way cars look in every aspect and all of this has been done in the name of safety.  Doors are taller, windows are smaller, and pillars are thicker, just to name a few things we have all noticed. This has changed how high dashboards sit in a car and how much interior space they consume.  In the interest of improved aerodynamics, windshields are more raked forcing dashboards to lengthen, giving more flat space on the top of the dash and extending the distance from the driver to the glass.  With more blank space on the dash, automakers could not resist the opportunity to use the real estate and add features like more complex stereos and larger in dash storage. As technology advanced, Bluetooth hands free calling took off, multimedia systems with apps and GPS systems flourished and drivers’ assistance systems started creeping in model after model.  We can surely put the blame on ourselves as we are asking for everything we love about our lives today to move into our cars – The more technology and features are added to a vehicle, the more complex and cluttered dashboards have become and there’s no going back.  Or, is there?

As complexity has been introduced to the dash and center console, so has new design language.  Some of these designs keep things focused and fixate on ease of control while other designs make it difficult to even discern the use of a button.  Most of all, the design of media systems and HVAC controls have led to modern cars being limited in how you can customize your stereo.  When cars had simple shaft radios, or single and double din radios, it was easy to take them out and upgrade them with something that offered the latest technologies.  Today, most cars are extremely limited in upgrade options. For some cars, upgrading your radio may require a special insert or a new dash bezel, but for most modern cars, swapping out your radio isn’t even possible.  Vehicles ranging from the Ford Fiesta to the BMW 7-series, come with a proprietary system integrated to the dash console, leaving you no choice but to stick with what the car left the factory with.  There are a couple hold outs though but unfortunately they are at the bottom of the price spectrum.  Both the Toyota Yaris and Mitsubishi Mirage still have a simple two din setup that you can customize, but you aren’t getting much car for the money.

Alyson Yarberry