How important are vehicle interiors and the User Experience to vehicle branding? Honda’s Acura brand answered that at the recent Los Angeles Auto Show by introducing its next-generation interior design language and user interface with all the fanfare of a new-car unveiling.

Acura revealed its future exterior design direction in January at the North American International Auto Show with the Acura Precision Concept car, but it waited until the L.A. show to showcase an almost production-ready interior styling and technology concept it calls the Acura Precision Cockpit. The two concepts are the main building blocks for Acura’s future vehicle design, which draws from the brand’s NSX sports car flagship, company officials say.

“To us, interiors are critical for communicating performance,” says Dave Marek, executive creative director-Acura.

The new cockpit design borrows the seats, steering wheel and drive-mode dial from the NSX, which indicates a sporty future for the Acura brand, Marek says. The prototype also uses natural wood, leather and Alcantara finishes to create a premium look and feel.

The most interesting element is Acura’s rethinking of how drivers interact with the main vehicle display.

Basically, two user interface choices are in auto vehicle designs today: A traditional touchscreen that is close to the driver but out of the natural line of sight, or a higher-mounted screen controlled with a remote knob-like interface on the center console that can be imprecise and seem disconnected from the display.

Acura’s new choice uses a remote, curved touchpad that is positioned in the center stack and   ergonomically designed to eliminate the need to visually locate a button or switch. It operates a center display placed high on the instrument panel, close to the driver’s natural line-of-sight.

The touchpad uses something called “absolute position mapping” that combines the benefits of a touchscreen with the reduced driver distraction of a remote.

Every spot on the touchpad is mapped to a specific function on the display. Favorites are positioned along the bottom, scrolling along the outer edges, and a tap on the left corner of the touchpad engages content on the top left corner of the center display. Your fingers are supposed to feel directly connected to the screen even though they are far away and not leaving messy fingerprints.

“The interaction with the touchpad aligns precisely with the actions on the main display, eliminating the clumsy remote experience you’re used to,” Marek tells a crowd of media gathered for the unveiling.

“Absolute positioning transforms the touchpad experience, making it personal, intuitive and particularly well-suited for premium, driver-centric, performance machines,” he says.

You just know that line is going to show up in ads everywhere as Acura models start adopting the new HMI. And we can’t wait to give it a test drive. 

dwinter@wardsauto.com