The most creative ways automakers present information to the driver.
When an automaker wants to present their car as high-tech, the gauge cluster is invariably given a makeover. For the longest time, analog gauges brought us ubiquity and presented the four basic pieces of information drivers needed - the speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, and engine temperature. Beyond that would be space for warning lights and visual confirmation of equipment being used. As digital technology advances, that’s giving designers a lot of room to play and now there are all kinds of options for presenting the information to the driver. The cluster has become an increasingly integral part of the identity and experience of the car.
The lack of digital screens didn’t stop designers getting creative back in the day though, and the newer technology doesn’t automatically mean better clusters if the designers overdo it and overwhelm the driver with poorly presented information. For that reason, the gauge cluster can make or break the experience of driving a car.
Because supercars tend to be less about luxury than speed, the clusters tend to be on the minimalist side. When it comes to dashboards and gauges on a supercar, the driver only needs the necessary information presented in a non-distracting manner. With the 720S, McLaren provides the driver with a digital screen that can show just about any information the driver might want. However, drop the 720S into race mode and the screen folds down and slides into the dash leaving them just the tachometer reading in the driver's eye line.
Back in the 1990s, Lancia didn't take the minimalist approach with its homologation version of the rally car, but one that was appropriate for the time. The aeronautically inspired gauge cluster kept the driver in touch with the state of the engine, which didn’t have all the modern sensors that can trigger the computer to make adjustments or send the car into limp mode when things went horribly wrong under the hood.
While the DB9’s cluster is a beautifully engineered piece and has a wonderful symmetry on how the tachometer and speedometer are mirrored, it’s not the easiest to glance at and see what’s going on. Both needles on the dials start in a weird position away from bottom dead center and the tachometer moves around anti-clockwise. However, despite being an example of aesthetic over function, it is a beautiful cluster that evokes the idea of a high-end watch face.
LED gauges were still in their infancy in the 1980s, but Nissan managed to intelligently use the technology to show the RPM predominantly in an easy to read fashion for 300ZX owners. Splitting the engine readout and selected gear gauges on each side was a show of restraint and how to use digital gauges properly.
The LFA is an excellent example of an automaker using the gauge cluster as an integral part of the identity of the car. The cluster mixes modern digital technology with a nod to the old-school by enclosing the digital tachometer in a physical ring. The ring then moves around depending on the driving mode and the information that needs to be displayed in that mode. The moving gauge also features on the new UX, but it's truly at home in the LFA.
Minimalism isn’t a word that can often be used when it comes to Pagani, and it certainly can’t be used in regards to the Huayra. In fact, there’s so much going on in there it’s hard to unpack. It’s bold, it’s beautiful, but it’ll give you a headache if you stare at it for too long.
The Reventon was directly inspired by the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor tactical stealth fighter, and Lamborghini didn’t hold back for the gauge cluster. There is a more traditional mode than the vector graphics, but if you feel the need for speed…
In the 1980s, digital dashboards helped cars look futuristic, and the C4 Corvette was among the first to have one as standard equipment. It looks dated now, but the C4's tachometer is still one of the coolest looking gauges on a car to date.
The eighth generation also had the split-level gauge layout, but the ninth refined it by making it look less tacky. While those two generations of Civic won’t go down in history as the best, the gauge clusters were both unusual and well thought out. The speedometer and information screen sits on top of the dashboard deep under a hood so the driver doesn’t need to move their eyes much to check their speed. While the speed is displayed in digital digits, the large digital tachometer dial sits in the center of the lower gauge cluster spot so you can glance at it through the wheel.
Ferrari isn’t known for going crazy with its gauges, but the GTC4Lusso has one very cool and oddball feature. The passenger gets their own little cluster that shows system information as well as the car’s speed, tachometer, or G-force gauge. Why? Because showing off is what Ferrari ownership is all about.
A while ago, Rolls-Royce decided that a tachometer is an unsophisticated tool associated with sports cars. The way it altered that information in the name of refinement is to use what the company calls a power reserve gauge to let the driver know how much of the engine’s power is available at any given time. It’s both cool and pompous, which just about sums up Rolls-Royce perfectly.
While we are used to a mixture of digital screens and traditional dials, Audi has gone full-bore on replacing everything with an adaptive TFT screen. That means the gauge cluster in optioned or top-trim Audis are fully configurable and able to show everything from system information and settings to music playlists and sat-nav directions using just a drop of the eyes. The question now is: How long before this becomes the standard across all cars?