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Cadillac's CUE proves complicated controls are all about the implementation

Cadillac’s CUE proves complicated controls are all about the implementation

Every time Consumer Reports complains about an overly complicated vehicle control system, like Cadillac’s CUE or MyFord/MyLincoln Touch, we hear critics call us Luddites who hate all touch screens. But that misses a rather big point. It isn’t the technology that’s the problem, but rather how well it’s implemented.

Which brings me to my recent experience of driving two different Cadillacs. The first was our 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T, which I bought from the dealer for our test program. The media graced the ATS a handful of awards and I can see why: It’s simply a joy to drive. Then, the other night, I drove a 2013 SRX press car. Add those to my experiences with three other ATS and two XTS sedans (including our test car), plus two briefings from GM’s staff, and it’s fair to say that I’ve had a bit of experience with the system.

2013-Cadillac-XTS-CUE.jpgLike the XTS, the 2013 SRX just received the CUE dashboard system as standard equipment. Most ATS sedans will also have the system. It replaces buttons and knobs with a touch screen and flush, touch-sensitive switches. Like our other staff members, I have smart phones and tablets. Plus, I have survived engineering school classes on computer programming and finite element analysis, going on to earn a graduate degree in ergonomics, so technology, in and of itself, isn’t the problem. To paraphrase a former president’s campaign advisor, “It’s the implementation, stupid.”

During my drive to work in the SRX, I wanted to turn on the seat heater. This should be a simple tap of a flush button. But it took two or three pokes to get it to respond. Same for adjusting the temperature with the flush buttons. They only do what you expect about half the time. I remembered that my helpful salesperson told me to use the fleshy part of my finger instead of the fingertip. Funny, but I never needed training on using normal conventional buttons—but they’re uncool. (So are knobs. Oh, so very 2009.)

Then I was scrolling through a list of songs, trying to select one from a playlist on my iPhone. While the system works like the phone or tablet, it lacks the familiar sensitivity, an issue compounded by me reaching across the cabin to make the adjustment while driving, complete with jiggling road motions. Sometimes the scroll didn’t move, sometimes I hit too hard and picked the wrong song. Once you do that, you’re back to the song title screen, so you need to reenter the browse menu.

All during this time (on a two-lane wet road with on-coming traffic going 50 mph), the lane departure seat buzzer was massaging my right cheek as I kept driving over the right shoulder marker. Distracting much?

I could have (and should have) used the voice commands. They’re really good—I don’t need to remember if “fun” is the band or the song title. CUE just finds it without the hierarchy (and all of the barked disclaimers) of Sync. Or I could have used the fiddly steering wheel toggle to inch through songs.

But these other workarounds are no excuse for making the other stuff so complicated. It’s like when you make dinner for guests. If you torch the steak but make the perfect side dish, you still really shouldn’t serve the steak. Too often it seems like CUE just goes for the sizzle.

Related:
New Cadillac CUE infotainment system frustrates
Move over MyFord Touch apologists, it truly is a reliability issue
New Cadillac ATS visits track, puts European sports sedans in its sights
MyFord Touch defends itself against critics, including Consumer Reports

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