As someone who enjoys the process of driving very much, one of the features that interact with the driver is the instrument cluster. Pointing out the obvious, instrument clusters have evolved so much that they are now more than just a collection of fonts and needles.
So why did such a change happen? Was there something wrong with the existing layout and design, or is it just change for change’s sake? As the old adage goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", right?
Dials in the instrument cluster were borne out from the need to inform the driver of various vital parameters in the car. Since its advent, the functions have remained largely the same: needles swinging clockwise round a circular dial (Peugeot and Aston Martin tried to swing counter-clockwise - terrible idea) displaying speed, engine revs, water temperature and fuel level.
To me, as a driver, it’s simple, fuss free, and it doesn’t get in the way of my driving. Neither does it cause irritation by confusing me with an array of information I don’t need. And that’s exactly how I prefer it to be, to be free from unnecessary distractions while driving.
However, if you like to customise or add things, it’s going to be difficult. You’re stuck with the cluster fonts and lighting colour, unless you yank the entire cluster out and make changes (not recommended).
Plus, the displayed parameters are also pretty much fixed (ever seen a JDM car’s 180 km/h speedo?). You have to add more gauges and dials to display extra parameters (like oil temperature or oil pressure), which is rather tedious.
Digital displays bring customisation and flexibility an analogue cluster can only dream of. Carmakers allow you endless layout options, colour schemes and menus to fiddle with. And it’s a great thing to show off to your friends when driving them around.
Want the navigation to be displayed? No problem! Wanna find out what song is playing? Press a button and voila. In addition to the usual parameters, digital instrument panels are able to display a ton of information from Spotify to service intervals.
This is a boon to the tech-savvy generation, who want information instantly and are happy to dive in and mess around with every conceivable feature in the instrument cluster.
But, therein lies the problem. The same tech-savvy generation who crave instant gratification are also driven to distraction with so many things to fiddle (look no further than the G20 330i). This results in short attention spans, which is obviously not good when driving.
It’s always been my mantra that when you drive, drive. It’s a bit ironic that cars are built so much safer nowadays, but manufacturers then give you digital dials to distract you. I mean, did anyone ever complain about good ol' analogue dials?
If anything, analogue and digital dials serve to remind us that progress in the automotive world is relentless. Is progress always a good thing? Most of the time, absolutely. However, it's hard to agree with something that distracts a driver, benefits notwithstanding.
Me? I like to keep things simple (yes, I know, purity is overrated). I just prefer to see proper physical needles sweep round a dial. Sometimes, it’s just better to simplify than complicate. After all, why do analogue watches cost so much more than their digital counterparts?
Jason's foremost passion is all things automotive, where he spent his formative working years as a Product Planner and Trainer. An Advanced Driving Instructor by training and an all-round enthusiast, Jason loves going into intricate details about driving dynamics. Will drive anything with 4 wheels and a steering.