A rant about knobs

Illustration for article titled A rant about knobs

I had this post stashed in my drafts from well before I moved to our new house, and since then traded the Unsolicited Explorer for some contract work and got the XC90. The rationale for writing it still stands, though, so I figured I’d add some updates and oublish it.

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The Explorer weighs almost double as much as the Miata, has space for up to seven people and some cargo or five people and a lot of cargo versus two people and their backpacks, and can tow the Miata behind it. It is, in other words, a big boi. Yet, despite its voluminous voluminosity, sitting behind the steering wheel doesn’t support the theory that a big car offers big space for the driver.

I have a big beef with the Explorer’s ergonomics, or more specifically its lack thereof. Nearly every other car that has carried my weighty bottom has shared a detail: the use of a feature of the car’s human-machine interface is not prevented unnecessarily by another feature of said interface. It’s a seemingly small point, but when a car doesn’t follow that convention it makes the driving experience considerably less comfortable.

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Let me show you an example. The lever to open the door on the Miata lies above the arm rest and can be easily reached and pulled with the left hand (and so push the door out with the elbow), or Dutch style with the right hand (and push the door with the left hand while looking around for bikers), without anything standing in the way to do so. My wife’s Mazda3, both of the Suzukis and the Honda we had before, Mom’s KJ Liberty, Dad’s Outlander, the Rio I rented last summer, etc., follow the same convention.

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The Explorer doesn’t do this. Instead it places the door release lever below the arm rest and window/door lock controls, where it gets blocked by the driver’s left leg. If, like me, you stand on hams, that means that there’s little space between the leg and the door card. Coincidentally, there will also be little space between said leg and the steering wheel. Opening the door, thus, involves pushing the leg against the steering wheel to open up just enough space to wedge the left hand in between it and the door to reach the lever and pull it while the wrist watch bumps against the arm rest. Never mind using the right hand, unless you feel like snaking your arm under your leg.

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Why do this, when a more driver-friendly arrangement exists? The Miata, a much smaller car with comparatively minuscule seating space, doesn’t have this problem. IIRC contemporary Ford trucks have the same arrangement, but that’s not a valid excuse. I recall old Z-cars put the door pull way down low almost on the sill, but there it’s “character.” Here, it’s annoying.

Another Explorer gripe is the parking brake pedal. I’m not against parking brake pedals, they free up center console space for other things, although the Explorer’s center console seems explicitly designed for two large McDonald’s combos. BUT! The pedal’s placement means that its operation is impeded by the steering wheel, and when it’s disengaged it sits at such an awkward angle that it’s not surprising that a lot of people forgo using it and instead rely on the transmission’s parking pawl. I don’t remember other cars with parking brake pedals positioned like this, and of course hand brakes don’t have this problem, not to mention every Manuél car I’ve driven, including Dad’s company S10 on which I practiced for years.

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Ham coming through!
Ham coming through!

So, is the Explorer an annoying vehicle to drive? For the driver, maybe. As an only car, one could get used to it. Alongside other cars, its ergonomic deficiencies are much too apparent.

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