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BBC Autos

The Roundabout Blog

Corvette’s hidden delight

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

To the left of the nav screen, a simple but sensational switch. (General Motors)

To the left of the nav screen, a simple but sensational switch. (General Motors)

A good button is hard to find.

As automakers transfer controls to touch-operated multimedia screens, the dials, toggles and hard buttons that once facilitated cabin cooling and stomach-churning bass frequencies grow ever rarer. However, a little-trumpeted feature on the seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette, by any measure the definitive vehicle of the 2013 Detroit auto show, suggests General Motors (GM) might recognise the limits of this touch-screen trend.

Familiarising himself with the Corvette during the recently concluded winter collector-car auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona, inveterate car aficionado Jay Leno is shown in the latest episode of his web series pressing the lower portion of a toggle-style switch. The multimedia screen in the Corvette consequently lowers to reveal a neat cubby space. To close it, Leno presses the button’s upper portion.

Such a moment should be as unremarkable as a turn-key ignition sequence. Instead, it is a moment of unalloyed genius, precisely because of the problems GM has experienced integrating such gee-whiz features into its cars.

Driving the ATS 3.6 sports sedan, from Chevrolet’s sister brand, Cadillac, through a relentless December rainstorm, I pressed the rear-defroster button on the console faceplate. Sensors below the plate’s edge sensed my finger, or perhaps an adjacent finger, and sent the plate swinging skyward to reveal a cubby space similar to that in the Corvette. Had there been a hard button for the defroster, or a toggle switch to trigger the faceplate calisthenics, the sensor schizophrenia would have never occurred, and I may have come away from the ATS believing it was a much safer vehicle.

At least for Corvette customers, the only unforeseen surprise may be the sheer delight they take in the cabin’s layout. After years of indifferent interior design, the Corvette appears to offer ergonomic thinking on par with Audi. And it all begins at the touch of a button.