We recently upgraded our Toyota Sienna minivan from a 2005 to a 2013, and we are not too thrilled about the user interface for the HVAC. Luckily, the radio still has knobs, but the HVAC controls are not very intuitive.
With the old van, there were four knobs on the dash, along with buttons for A/C and recirculate. One knob controlled the fan speed. One knob controlled the temperature. One knob controlled the function (floor, dash, defrost, etc.), and the last knob controlled the rear HVAC function. The A/C button and rear defrost button had LEDs which let you know if they were on. The temperature setting was easy to see by looking at the knob, and everything worked well. While driving, I could reach down and make most adjustments by feel without taking my eyes off of the road.
The new minivan has one knob-like control, a bunch of buttons, and a small color display (non-touchscreen) located high up, close to the windshield. The knob isn't really a knob but a left/right switch (to adjust the temperature) with two buttons on the front. The button for the A/C does not have an LED on it, so you now have to look up at the color display to see if the A/C is on. (There are still LEDs for recirculate and front and rear defrosters, but not for the A/C.) There is a +/- rocker-type switch to regulate the fan speed, but the response from the switch is very delayed, so when you press it, you have to wait for a second or so to feel if it's blowing fast or slow enough. Since the temperature is regulated by a left/right switch on the fake knob, you have to look up to the color display to see the temperature shown in degrees.
To make any changes to the system, I usually have to take my eyes off the road, not once, but twice. I have to first look at the controls to make sure that I'm pushing the correct button, and then after the delay of the system, I have to look at the color display to see what it is showing. What is particularly annoying is when you want to change the air from blowing on your feet to coming from the dash. In my opinion, a single mode button is a poor implementation of this feature, as you have to cycle through all of the other options to get the one that you want. I guess that I need to read over the owner's manual again to see if I missed anything that would help make this operation easier.
When we purchased the van, the color display was so bright that, driving home from the dealership, I had to cover it up, because my wife was bothered by it. While she was driving, I quickly read the owner's manual and tried to adjust it through the three-button setup, but I couldn't access it. It turns out that Toyota doesn't let you access certain setup features if the vehicle is in motion. Once the vehicle was stopped, I was able to adjust the brightness and contrast to suit us. I sure hope Toyota used a display with LED backlighting instead of CCFL tubes, as I don't want to be ripping out the dash to replace it in three years.
This entry was submitted by Jim Evans and edited by Rob Spiegel.
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