RIP, buttons and knobs.
Digital screens, whether touch-sensitive or not, have fundamentally changed the way that we interact with our vehicles. Not all of these interactions are a step forward - changing the climate control at 60 mph on the highway by tapping a tiny icon remains both infuriating and dangerous - but we understand the basic logic behind it. With countless settings and controls in the modern, connected vehicle, screens allow for a cleaner interior layout.
Today's in-car displays are a world apart from the antiquated nine-inch Graphic Control Center that Buick installed in the Riviera in 1986, but the debate about how distracting they are rages on. Nevertheless, automakers are forging ahead with interior screens that are progressively larger, replacing nearly all the physical knobs and buttons that used to do the same job. In a world where size clearly matters, these are the biggest screens currently available in the industry.
Tesla was one of the pioneers of the giant touchscreen that replaced the majority of physical controls when it launched the Model S sedan. Today, the smaller Model Y crossover and Model 3 sedan sport 15-inch touchscreen interfaces. These horizontal touchscreens are bright and responsive, but a task as simple as adjusting the exterior mirrors also requires the use of the screen. Even drivers with the steadiest hands will sometimes find the interface distracting on the move, although it's superb for tasks like displaying navigation maps.
Ford's two most promising EVs - the F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E - both have large 15.5-inch touchscreens. This lends the interior of each model a high-tech feel, especially the Lightning as, until quite recently, trucks weren't known for having the most advanced interior tech. That being said, the 15.5-inch screen is only standard on the Mach-E, whereas the lower F-150 Lightning trims have a smaller screen.
Both systems employ Ford's user-friendly Sync4A software. Features like wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and the portrait-style screen is generally easy to navigate. Ford has also found a clever way to integrate a large, physical volume knob within the touchscreen, making at least one of the often-used interior functions operable without needing to divert your focus from the road.
A trend you'll soon pick up on this list is that most electric vehicles have the largest digital interfaces on the market. It's no surprise since automakers have used EVs to launch the latest technologies. In the case of the Rivian R1T pickup, there is a clear 16-inch touchscreen interface in the center of the dashboard. Unfortunately, Rivian elected to use its own interface so Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't available. The rest of the user experience simply isn't as slick as you would expect in a brand-new vehicle, either. Fortunately, the pickup has many other useful features that have nothing to do with its touchscreen.
Few others can match the consistently high driver appeal of any car bearing the Porsche badge, but the German brand isn't known as a leader for in-car tech. The Taycan was a big step forward for Porsche in this area, though. This athletic EV has a beautiful 16.8-inch curved display ahead of the driver that can be configured to display various things, be it navigation maps or your music playlist. Along with a 10.9-inch touchscreen, a secondary 8.4-inch touchscreen for the climate control, and an available 10.9-inch touchscreen for the front passenger, the Taycan's overall screen real estate is quite something but can be intimidating to someone coming from an older model.
Tesla makes its second entry on this list with the Model X and Model S. Both use a sizable 17-inch touchscreen interface that was recently updated. The system comes with all of Tesla's toys like the ability to watch movies and play games. Of course, whether it's adjusting climate controls, the radio, or seat settings, it all needs to be done via this screen. Even shifting into drive or reverse is a task that has been relegated to the display. It becomes more intuitive with time, but we still prefer some controls to be physical.
Although there are other displays on this list that are larger, they combine multiple screens within a single housing. Technically, the new 31-inch BMW Theater Screen is the largest single, uninterrupted display in any new car. It appeared as a new feature for rear-seat passengers in the all-new 7 Series and i7, and its specifications will make even the most hardcore tech-heads salivate.
The screen gently descends from the roof automatically and the dazzling touch display has a resolution of up to 8K and about 8000 x 2000 pixels per screen column. 5G connectivity and Amazon Fire TV integration add to the fun, and the screen can be tilted for the optimum viewing angle. Together with a high-end Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system and the ability to darken the rear of the cabin at the touch of a button, BMW's Theater Screen is the new benchmark for in-car entertainment.
The Lucid Air sedan's interior makes the Tesla Model S feel stark by comparison. There is a warmer overall ambiance here even though the Air retains a futuristic, minimalist look and feel from behind the wheel. The driver faces a stunning 34-inch floating 5K display known as the Glass Cockpit. This interface is divided into a central gauge cluster, a control panel to the left, and an infotainment screen to the right. A second lower screen called the Pilot Panel is situated lower down and controls climate settings and more. While the screens are beautiful to look at, the software on some early examples has proved to be a little laggy.
Like Lucid, Cadillac combines multiple displays into a single unit in the latest Escalade. Measuring 38 inches overall, the curved OLED display is a world apart from anything Cadillac has done previously. Like many of these massive displays, it initially appears a little overwhelming. Thankfully, Cadillac has managed to create an intuitive setup with logical menus complemented by crisp graphics and fast responses. The 16.9-inch touchscreen is sited in the center of the dashboard but there is also a physical rotary knob lower down if you prefer not to use the touchscreen.
While BMW may have the largest individual, uninterrupted screen in any car, nothing looks as spectacular as Merc's 56-inch Hyperscreen that is standard in the EQS 580 sedan. The layout consists of a 12.3-inch digital driver's display, a 17.7-inch central touchscreen, and a 12.3-inch passenger-side display.
While some see the Hyperscreen as overkill, it pushes the limits of in-car digitalization like none of the other cars on this list. The central and passenger-side displays employ OLED technology that improves clarity in a range of light conditions. When we drove the EQS, however, we walked away feeling like the Hyperscreen doesn't tangibly add more value than Merc's usual central touchscreen. It also lacks streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Fire TV integration. Still, it is the most visually impactful layout of all on the market at the moment.
While the design and integration of many of the digital interfaces here are impressive, one has to wonder where we're headed. We still believe that buttons and switches are easier, safer, and more tactile to use, specifically for often-accessed functions. We get the sense that some manufacturers have sacrificed usability in an effort to charm shoppers on the showroom floor. The combination of a fast, sensibly-sized screen and a few key physical controls still seems like the sweet spot, and some industry bosses believe the big screen fad is on its way out. Until then, we'll have to remind ourselves to keep our eyes on the road and our fingers where they should be: on the steering wheel.