From the June 2023 issue of Car and Driver.
It’s time for another episode of They Can, but Should They? Today we’re pointing our questions at the entry point to the automobile, the door handle. That is, if we can ﬁnd it.
These days drivers might use buttons, levers, pull tabs, touch-activated pads, proximity sensors, or even facial recognition to open a door. Aerodynamic and drag-reducing requirements have brought the automotive world to a point where the door handle—the ﬁrst place we interact with a car—has become high-tech and, occasionally, highly confusing.
Sure, there are wind-cheating and weight considerations in handle design; ﬂush handles reduce drag compared to your old-fashioned grab bar. But much of the driving force behind the new looks is just that—looks. Designers believe consumers want sleeker, techy ingress, particularly for EVs, with their focus on being new and different.
Here are some of the stranger implementations on the market today.
Bump in the Dark
Exotic cars have used tricky door handles as a sort of secret handshake for decades. If you can’t find the button hidden in the window slats on a Lamborghini Miura, you can’t go for a ride. Older McLarens buried their treasure deeper, but the Artura (above) adds a molded handle to the door. Grope around beneath the ridges and vents of the bodywork until you hit the release and you’re granted access. Keep up a conversation while you do it so nobody realizes you don’t know how hard it is to get into your own car.
Mercedes once touted its door handles as a safety feature that allowed rescuers to pull open doors more easily. Apparently, it has decided first responders can manage with the modern version found on the S-class. The new handle tucks itself inside the door when locked and pops out for access. The G-class, on the other hand, uses essentially the same button-handle combo it’s had for more than three decades.
Ford’s Mustang Mach-E places the capacitive door-release button on the black B-pillar above a tiny pull. It’s the Where’s Waldo? of ingress. The Chevy Corvette goes one step further, tucking a release button beneath the sharply sculpted bodywork at the edge of the door.
Touch-sensitive door handles sound futuristic, but if you’ve ever stood in a public bathroom pathetically waving your wet hands under a paper-towel dispenser, you know that touch and motion sensors often fail at recognition. Perhaps because of complaints about frozen or unresponsive sensors on the Tesla Model S, the Model Y gets flush-lever releases (below).
Push Me, Pull You
To keep a smooth side, many designers have turned to a single lever that pops out with a push (or remotely). The ’90s Fiat Barchetta featured this design, and Aston Martin, Lexus, Nissan, Tesla, Kia, and Hyundai use variations. It looks elegant while locked but can be hard to operate with one hand, especially if you’re a lefty.