Top Gear’s Top 9: the best engine start buttons
A starter button on the ceiling. If you had dreams of being an airline pilot, flicking switchgear above your head, but failed the exams, then try saving up for McLaren’s downforce-hungry track weapon instead.
A clever idea to keep the Mini’s toggle switch traditions: turn the engine start-stop button into the biggest toggle switch of all. Somehow this red tongue protruding from the dash is just more inviting than a standard starter button.
Aston Martin DB11
Some cars have starter buttons made from plastic. A few of them use cool-to-the-touch metal. But Aston Martin uses glass, and it looks and feels darn expensive. Until you cover it with fingerprints. This replaced the irritating old ‘emotional control unit’ pop-out key, so extra points for that.
The button that ignites one of the world’s all-time greatest engines isn’t even marked. It’s just a plain red button that lives under a safety catch. The idea was inspired by the supercar designer’s greatest friend: fighter jets. In an aircraft, covers over buttons stop the pilot accidentally firing off missiles. In the F1, it prevents unintended V12 start-up. Which would be much more expensive.
More fighter jet stuff here, from the not-at-all-stealthy Lamborghini Aventador. The smaller Huracán and even the Urus SUV also have glossy red covers for their starter buttons, but Lamborghini (or perhaps its Audi overlords) appreciates that lifting the little hat out of the way every time might get ever so tiresome. So, there’s a hole in the cover that you can press the button through…
Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
The McMerc’s supercharged 5.5-litre V8 was awoken by a starter button mounted on top of the five-speed automatic (yep, really) gearbox’s selector. It was hidden beneath a surprisingly flimsy cover, but cupping the lever in hand while pressing thumb-down on the power button always had the feel of detonating a building demolition, and the noise wasn’t too far off either.
Not even a button – it’s a sort of twisty-turned knurled lozenge. And none of the engines it starts, in Volvo’s big family bus or any of its cheaper siblings, are particularly interesting. Or even class-leadingly smooth or frugal. But this is a piece of design Volvo didn’t have to bother with, and yet it did anyway, because it feels nice.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
A starter button on the dashboard? Zzzz. Somehow, it’s more interesting – more Italian – to locate it on the steering wheel. Audi does that in the R8 V10. Lots of Ferraris do the same. But the Alfa Romeo Giulia brings a slice of that exotic action to a regular family sedan, whether it’s the 510hp Quadrifoglio, or just a regular 2.0-litre turbodiesel.
2007 Honda Civic Type R
This isn’t a particularly remarkable button – it’s red, and it’s mounted on the dashboard, big wow. But this was always a great one to use. Something about the glossy feel of the button, the size of it, and how heavily it was sprung – it gave starting the ‘spaceship’-gen Civic a real sense of occasion, as if the button had been stolen from a nuclear missile silo where it was once used to launch armageddon. Better that it’s used for rousing a screaming VTEC, all things considered.
STORY Ollie Kew