Pushing my buttons

8 November 2011
, CarsGuide
Pushing my buttons
In the BMW X3 there is nowhere to store the key in the dashboard.

It's great to have a remote control that gives you instant opening access at the carpark when you have an 18-kilogram two-year-old in your arms, but once Eli is settled in the back I prefer - much - the operation of an old-school key.

Why? Push-button start systems have become trendy, not better. Ask anyone who has misplaced their so-called key, or - far worse - started a car and realised that they have actually left the key behind. Yes, you can do that. I know because it's happened to me at least three times.

The first time, I fired a Benz in the driveway and headed out to the fish-and-chips shop on a Friday night emergency run, then realised halfway to the shops that the key was nowhere to be found. Urk. 

So I left the engine running, and the driver's door cracked open, as I raced inside, paid and headed home to find the key sitting happily on the hook inside the front door. There was enough range to the garage to get the car going, but if I had killed the engine there would have been another emergency run that night . . .

The second time I was in a Renault and someone else had the key in their pocket, watching and waving me goodbye. Thankfully, I realised before I had driven the first 200 metres.

The third, and most recent, time I was testing a BMW X3 in Italy. After lunch I can remember hitting the plip to open the door, and obviously the key was nearby when the car started, but by the time we got back to base.

A sprint back to the lunch spot didn’t unearth the key and so the car had to be parked - doors unlocked, windows open - until a replacement key arrived from Germany. At least BMW HQ was only five hours away. Imagine if it had been in Australia.

The X3 mishap occurred because there is nowhere to store the key in the dashboard. Renault has a slot in the Megane and if that's empty then you know to check, while Benz allows you to remove the starter button and use the old-school key instead to fire the engine.

But more and more companies think it's trendy and useful to have a key that's not, because these days so much about motoring is based on marketing instead of commonsense.

Since the key is no longer essential to lock the steering as the front line against thieves - electronics that only work when the car and 'key' have made an electronic handshake are far more efficient - it's obvious that something different can be done to make your car experience a bit different and special.

But different and special don't make something better. Don't get me started on those swipe cards that have taken over from keys in hotels, and fail more often than the quality-control checks on early Korean cars...