Thomas Schäfer isn’t holding back about Volkswagen’s lack of physical buttons, but when will we see change?
If you’ve test driven nearly any Volkswagen over the past couple years, you will have encountered one of their most frustrating elements: the lack of physical controls for everything you need most in daily driving. The automaker’s steering wheels ditched buttons for capacitive touch controls, and that’s also the case for the climate controls, the drive modes, the safety systems…and the list goes on. Fortunately, there have been signs over the past several months that VW is learning from their mistake, bringing some physical controls back to their most popular models to correct what CEO Thomas Schäfer acknowledges was a mistake.
You see, former CEO Herbert Diess oversaw Volkswagen as it rolled out its current generation of vehicles with these capacitive controls. Schafer notes that decision “definitely did a lot of damage” in an interview with Autocar, and says the company is spending a lot of time working to address the frustrations. And, more importantly once they do land on a layout that works…Leave. It. Alone.
“Once you have it, don’t touch it again,” he said. “Bloody leave it. Don’t confuse our customers every time a new model comes out and something is completely different. Optimize it. Bring [it] into the future. But don’t change buttons from here to there, to there and here.” Schafer specifically mentions the next-generation Volkswagen Tiguan, which will revert back to physical buttons at least on some surfaces, like the steering wheel. VW is also fitting a rotary controller to add to the physical experience. The haptic climate controls with their sliders will remain for now, but they will at least be backlit (yes, they aren’t right now…good luck adjusting the fan speed or temperature in the dark!).
This isn’t the first time Schafer’s discussed the subject. He mentioned that the automaker would eliminate some touch controls late last year, though we are closer to seeing those words actually put into practice.
The 2025 Volkswagen ID.2 — based on the ID.2All concept shown earlier this year — also incorporates a rotary dial and knobs on the steering wheel to control important features on the car’s displays.
We’ll have to see how the brand moves forward with updates here in the U.S., and how moving back to actual buttons and switches will impact prices going forward. Nevertheless, as frustrating as the controls in the new Mk8 Golf GTI and Golf R can be, among many other VWs…this will be a welcome change.