Andrew Frankel: The scale of in-car screen distractions is staggering

“Almost every driver I’ve spoken to about screens in cars say they find them frustrating and distracting”

It’s a rarity so we should call it out when we see it: a small sliver of common sense has broken out in one of the key organisations that determines the way cars are built and operated. Euro NCAP has announced that from 2026 it’s going to start docking points from manufacturers who don’t provide cars with physical controls for important features like wipers, warning lights and indicators. Fewer points lead to lower star ratings and a great deal more difficulty in selling cars. No more mining your way down through submenus on touchscreens, no more hopelessly prodding at haptic pads – if you run into a bank of fog there should just be a big, well-lit button just waiting to be pressed.

But the measures need to go further. The reasons for the screens’ existence have little to do with ergonomic efficiency and a lot to do with the fact they’re cheaper to engineer and homologate than physical controls and can be updated over the air. But almost every driver I’ve spoken to about screens say they find them frustrating, distracting and lead to far more time with their eyes off the road.

So the way their information is presented needs to change too: drive a Tesla Model 3, an Ineos Grenadier or a new Volvo EX30 and you’ll need to take your eyes off the road simply to see how fast you’re going because their speedometers are in the centre console, not in front of your face. Want to see how much fuel or charge you have remaining? You’ll have to look over there to find it.

I find this staggering. I’d like to see Euro NCAP docking a stack more points from cars that fail to put even the most basic and vital information in front of the driver. Manufacturers wouldn’t even need to redesign their interiors to do it, just fit a head-up display and project the information onto the windscreen like so many others already do. Not much to ask, surely?

I can’t say why without breaking trusts and losing friendships, but I am increasingly encouraged by what I am hearing about the relaunch of Jaguar next year. I’ve already voiced my concerns about what appears to be a strategy to turn it into a true luxury brand, capable of rivalling even the likes of Bentley. If you’re going to do that, you need to do it over time, slowly building image and credibility with rock-solid design and engineering, as has Land Rover, whose new Range Rover is proving an ever bigger thorn in the side of the Bentayga. But if you take a brand known for making elderly mid-market saloons and presume people will accept paying twice the money for the same badge instead of buying anything from the long-standing players at that level, you may be asking for trouble.

But so too have I always said that Jaguar succeeds when it leads, and fails when it follows, and you can see it all the way from the XK120 to the I-Pace. And I understand this is what it is going to try again with cars that make full use of the design freedoms brought by EV architecture to knock your socks off when you see them. Or at least that’s the plan.

I imagine the sound of jaws dropping all around the 1948 British International Motor Show when the wraps came off the first XK for the first time, and how they did all over again when the E-type was revealed at Geneva in 1961. If Jaguar is to be reborn on that higher level, nothing less will do.

“I have long coveted the E46 BMW M3. Then I got chatting to a friend…”

I have long coveted the E46 version of the BMW M3, this being the third-generation car, made over a six-year period from the start of the century, featuring a snarling 3.2-litre naturally aspirated straight-six engine producing over 100bhp per litre, fitted into a pretty, practical car with one of the sweetest, best-balanced chassis you can imagine.

Indeed if I didn’t have a job that almost perpetually required me to be in other cars, I’d think hard about buying one as my daily driver. But then I got chatting to a friend who has one who, after it had had a bit of time off the road for a light cosmetic restoration, took it in for an MOT. The list of things needed doing to it ran to two pages of closely typed A4 and a bill running to many thousands. And it’s not like she’s bought a duff car. It’s a decent example showing what can happen after nearly a quarter of a century of continual use. For now, my acquisition plans are on hold.

A few weeks ago I spent a couple of days blasting around Snowdonia in a pair of quite exceptionally fast cars, one from Woking, the other one from Maranello. But after breakfast on day two as we were deciding who was going to drive what to the next location, I found myself volunteering to take one of the support vehicles, a five-year-old Volkswagen Up! GTI, weaker to the tune of well over 600bhp to even the less powerful of the two supercars.

I’m so glad I did. I found myself hooning around lanes at speeds likely to attract no attention at all from the law enforcement community, loving every second of it. It can’t be restated too often: so long as your car is light, well-engineered and has good balance of grip and go, you can have almost as much fun for a four-figure sum as you can for six.

A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel