GRR

15 cars with weird mechanised interior features

22nd May 2023
Ethan Jupp

With the war on buttons, it seems there are fewer moving and motorised parts on car interiors than ever these days. Indeed, over the years, there have been many examples of moving cabin parts that, more often than not, have proven to be a gimmick that tempts unreliability once the car gets old. We thought we’d put together a list of some of the coolest (or weirdest) motorised/moving cabin bits on cars – the kind of stuff that goes beyond electric/massage seats and an adjustable steering wheel.

1. Infotainment screen – BYD Atto

We begin, of all places, in China and with BYD, the electric car company that’s making a beeline for the European market. Its new crossover EV, the Atto, looks great, performs well and is looking like a properly relevant option. It does, however, also have a weird gimmick on the inside. Its infotainment screen is adjustable, to either Landscape or Portrait modes. Truthfully, in terms of the software possibilities, this is a great idea. Will most of them get stuck in a diagonal position in years to come? Probably. Still cool, though.

2. Rotisserie air vents – Jaguar XF

Weird moving bits seem to track with market entrants trying to make an impression, be seen and be considered over the segment stalwart. Take the Jaguar XF, which was meant to be the marque’s BMW 5 Series killer. The real attention grabber, that was frankly ambitious given Jaguar’s reputation for reliability and electrics? The moving air vents that rotated into view within the dashboard. Oh-so cool at the time, such that moving vents made their way to the F-Type too. We don’t need to tell you the XF’s mission didn’t exactly go to plan, mind…

3. Flippable instrument cluster – McLaren 720S

Again, McLaren is another that wanted to shake up a segment dominated by more established names. To be fair, the 720S remains an absolute class standard-setter, dynamically and in terms of performance. It still had its gimmicks, though, including the rotating instrument display, which would use a thinner, less intrusive and more focused screen to show revs and speed when the car was in track mode. Asking for trouble when these cars get old, that one.

4. Bentley Rotating Display – Bentley Continental GT 

You wouldn’t think a car as established as the Bentley Continental GT would need a gimmick such as moving cabin bits but lo, the latest car, which debuted five years ago now, has a bit of a party piece. That screen can spin around, to reveal a blank panel, or three dials, depending on the cabin ambiance you’re going for. A nice touch for a GT car, actually, especially given the 0.5mm tolerance that makes it so clean. We just hope it’s reliable.

5. Active rev counter – Lexus LFA

The Japanese love this sort of stuff, don’t they? They’re also the ones you’d trust to do it right and not make something that’s going to be a nightmare a few years down the road. Indeed, there have been no reports that the near-on 15-year-old Lexus LFA supercar has had issues with its motorised rev counter dial, that can move across the LCD display depending on how the driver wants it formatted. Fun fact, they were forced to go virtual for the LFA, with the claim being that its 4.8-litre V10 revved too fast for a physical needle to keep up.

6. ‘Chrystal Sphere’ drive selector – Genesis GV60 

This one really is a bit of a gimmick. The so-called ‘Chrystal Sphere’ in the Genesis GV60 EV is a curvy backlit bit of laser-etched glass, that rotates to reveal the drive selector once the car is on. Cool to make a video with, but it’s just a bit silly, isn’t it? Or are we just boring?

7. Vent radiator – VW Phaeton

Especially given how cool we think this motorised feature is. While the Jaguar XF reveals its vents, the Volkswagen Phaeton can actually cover its vents up and use the covers as radiators of sorts. Ah the Piech era, god we miss it.

8. B&O speaker tweeters – Aston Martin 

More moving bits on the interior than is strictly necessary is a bit of a gamble when it comes to Aston Martin, given the relative likelihood that it’ll probably break. Happily, these tweeters were likely engineered by Bang & Olufsen themselves, so are probably fine.

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9. Deployable sat-nav – Volvo XC90

We’re not quite sure if Volvo were the first to do it. The BMW Z4 was close behind it, as was, believe it or not, the Mazda RX-8. But we’re going with the Volvo for now, with its pop-out screen. Was this feature brought about by a moment of prescience, knowing these screens would age the car terribly and it would be best if they can be hidden? Probably not. A safety thing, to make sure a constant screen wasn’t distracting? Knowing Volvo, that’s more likely…

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10. Drive select rotisserie – Range Rover Evoque

This one is probably the most problematic of any of these motorised interior oddities. Why? Because firstly it’s Jaguar Land Rover and secondly it’s mission critical for motion. We of course refer to the pop-up rotisserie drive selector, which first appeared on the XF and Range Rover Evoque. Failures were common enough to be reported on, which resulted in drivers not being able to select drive or reverse and actually move. They were also common enough for our search for a video of it in action to only bring up repair videos…

11. Active seat bolsters – BMW M5 

This was a weird one, especially given BMW’s recent penchant for ultra-extreme fixed carbon seats to rival those of a McLaren Senna. Back in 2005, in the E60 M5, you could have it both ways, with your luxurious couch packing active bolsters that would squeeze you for support during vigorous cornering. How these have held up over the years, we’re not sure.

12. Automatic seat belts – Honda

You’d best be glad it was the Japanese that had a go at this one. Honda’s automatic seat belts didn’t stay the course and were novel at the time, requiring the driver only to plug in, before the buckle ran around the frame of the door aperture, into position behind your shoulder, thus securing you in place. Excessively complicated, for something you really don’t want to malfunction.

13. Seat belt butler – Mercedes S-Class Coupe

This one became a bit more commonplace, following Mercedes pioneering it. With two-door versions of saloons putting the driver such a way forward of the B-pillar, reaching the seatbelt can be a stretch. An electrified prong to ‘pass the belt to you’ debuted on the original S-Class Coupe and is a relatively common feature on many coupes today.

Sunblind – E31 BMW 8 Series 

It’s funny how some features some would think are commonplace, are actually pretty weird. In the 1990s, you could have an electric rear privacy blind in any BMW from the 3 Series to the 8 Series, yet here in the 2020s I watch this demonstration video with fascination. I suppose many provide this facility, albeit via electrochromic glass rather than a fabric membrane, a few stilts and some electric motors.

15. Electric pedals – Dodge Viper

Of all the cars in the world, the Dodge Viper isn’t near the top of the list of cars with slightly strange electrified motorised features on the cabin. Yet here we are, with one that’s somewhat rare but not too mad – electrified pedals. A masterstroke given that electrifying seats can ruin driving positions and the Viper is all about driving. 

So what weird motorised features are your favourites? Are there any we’ve missed? Let us know…

  • Mercedes-Benz

  • BMW

  • Land Rover

  • Jaguar

  • Lexus

  • Honda

  • Volvo

  • Aston Martin

  • Genesis

  • Bentley

  • McLaren

  • BYD

  • list

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