The Importance of Touch PointsS

About two or three weekends ago, I was in the middle of writing a paper and felt like going for a drive. The local Audi dealership had CPO 2010 S5 (with Tiptronic) that had come in that I wanted to test drive. If there’s one thing that’s still stuck in my mind from that test drive, it’s that I couldn’t comfortably rest my hand on the gear lever.

The Offender

The Importance of Touch PointsS

First off, forget the fact that I was driving the Tiptronic and not a manual S5. I know I would have enjoyed the manual much more. The Tiptronic was not bad, but I was never able to kick it down a gear swiftly like I would in the manual for added fun. It was seriously fast thanks to all the torque in with that V8. Also, it is a seriously good looking car, if not a little dated by 2013. I managed to take it up to an unreasonably high speed on the local highways. All in all, a good blast (as long as I didn’t touch the gear stick).

The Better Example

The Importance of Touch PointsS

To address the importance of this pressing issue, the Zeta platform Camaro SS w/ manual (at launch) is the poster child of cars with bad touch points. One of the biggest complaints with the Camaro SS with the manual when it first came out was that it had the worst steering wheel and gearshift combination in the business. It’s gotten a lot better now, but the gearshift in the manual was such a rubbery touchpoint that no one would have enjoyed shifting a manual, even though that’s the only reason why anyone bought a Camaro SS. The steering wheel, (which wasn’t a problem for me in the S5), also was not good to touch. It was too big and little effort went into the grip. But one has to touch the steering wheel over 99 percent of the time (for obvious reasons). Needless to say, GM knew they had to change the steering and gear knob design and eventually it was done, to the point that we think the ZL1 is a good car. However, Audi’s learning curve was not as good as GM's (unfortunately).

Back to the Audi

The Importance of Touch PointsS

In the S5, I ended up hitting traffic. During that time, I wanted to rest my hand on the gear lever and it felt seriously uncomfortable. It guess it had to do with the materials that the gear knob was made from as well as its shape, but I could not properly rest my hand on the knob. It was also the reason why I would never consider a Tiptronic S5. When I rest my hand on that gear knob, it was like touching something that was intended to be just functional, not for someone to enjoy the car. But that’s what the S5 is built for. It is a car for enjoyment. In the end, I feel like I should blame the VW group, because that mistake could be ascribed to the fact that the gear knob is probably from the VW group parts bin. But, even my Jetta (2009 Wolfsburg w/ DSG) has a different gear knob which feels comfortable to the touch.

The Importance of Touch PointsS

In the end, I could only consider an S5 manual (which I’ve sat in and the gear shifter feels awesome). My experience shows why that S5 has been on the lot for at least two months. Comparatively, a used S4 usually goes in 2-3 weeks. Such a thing emphasizes the importance of touch points in a car and the need for a manufacturer to get them completely right. The reason the Zeta Camaro still sold was because many of its buyers got the automatic compared to the manual or changed the shift knob by aftermarket means because of its atrocious feel.

All in all, touch points can either make or break a car, and somehow can make me obsess about them enough to make me write a post about them.

So which car do you think has the worst touch points?

Satish Kondapavulur runs Clunkerture, named because "Clunker.com" was $82 at auction and would've taken 30% out of the balance of his Eagle Vision for LeMons fund. In between contemplating cross-country runs, he spends much of his time attempting to convince others that his MkV Jetta 2.0T Wolfsburg is indeed a sports sedan.

All photos courtesy of the respective manufacturers.