UPDATE: GMC reached out with more information about its electronic shifter, in response to our questions, as well as our commenters. The updates follow the original story text, below.
GMC unveiled its second-generation Terrain crossover at the Detroit Auto Show this week. In and of itself, it’s fine – maybe a little homely, but I’m sure it’ll continue to be a strong seller. Problem is, I’m immediately turned off by the absolutely inane gear selection buttons. It’s a solution to a nonexistent problem and a glaring fault in an otherwise alright product.
Arranged on its own panel below the climate controls, the gear selector panel has you push buttons for Park, Neutral, and Low, and pull toggles (leftover window switches?) for Reverse and Drive. Above and below the Low button, there are also plus and minus buttons to manually change through the gears – conveniently located as far away from the driver as possible. Who the hell is changing their own gears in a GMC Terrain anyway?
GMC and other automakers (Fiat-Chrysler, Ford/Lincoln) are moving to electronic and pushbutton shifters because it frees up more space on and below the center console. I drove a new Lincoln MKZ this past week, and because its gear-selector buttons are arranged along the left side of the touchscreen, there are cubbies underneath the middle console… that I forgot about and didn’t use.
What happens if you’re driving and a younger child pushes a button on accident? How bad are these things going to look in a few years when the letters start to rub off? But beyond these questions, the larger one I have is just, why? Why fix what isn’t broken? Why unnecessarily complicate the simple act of shifting into gear? Because it’s not like that ever causes its own problems or anything.
UPDATE: GMC offers the following explanations for various concerns addressed here.
What if the battery dies and you need to put the car in Neutral?
Vehicles equipped with the 1.6L turbo-diesel can be moved to Neutral by supplying 12V power to vehicle. For vehicles with gas engines and nine-speed transmissions that need to be moved and power cannot be restored, a lever is provided to temporarily place the transmission in Neutral.
What about accidentally pushing one of the buttons while the car is in motion?
The vehicle will not permit a shift to park unless the vehicle is traveling at less than 5 km/h (3.1 mph). Additionally, it will not permit a shift to Reverse unless the vehicle is traveling less than 10 km/h (6.2 mph). If you’re on the highway or driving in excess of the aforementioned lockout speeds and push the P or R buttons, there will be an alert on the driver DIC screen that states, “Conditions not correct for shift.” The only shift mode accessible to change while driving at any speed is N. Of note, the “R” and “D” buttons are designed with a pull motion to avoid confusion with any other conventional button and/or accidental use.
Will the lettering wear off after years of use?
The letters won’t rub off – they are etched onto the buttons and are backlit when ambient lighting is on in the cabin.
What did GM do to ensure the vehicle isn't inadvertently left in gear?
General Motors has worked hard to make a safe and intuitive EPS system. There are several built-in safeguards designed to ensure the vehicle isn’t inadvertently left in gear, even when the engine is still running. In most cases, if the driver unbuckles his or her safety belt, releases the brake pedal and opens the door, EPS automatically shifts to park. If the driver attempts to turn off the vehicle while the vehicle is in Reverse or Drive, EPS automatically shifts to park.
Photos: Chris Amos / Jake Holmes / Motor1.com