Hey, Car Companies — Here's How To Get Digital Gauges Right

I know they're not to everyone's tastes, but I'm starting to like this trend towards these digital instrument panels being installed in everything from a Chevy Spark to basically the whole fleet of Jaguar and Land Rover products. Some of these are well done and are able to showcase a lot of information now that engineers give us so much control over the information we can get or the changes to our car's settings we have the freedom to make.

The analog speedometer in a Volkswagen Golf, let's say, is borderline useless. It goes up to 180 when the car won't, meaning all of the numbers are squished together. And to make room for the center-mounted trip computer screen, the dials are pushed to the edges of the instrument panel, putting them out of the obvious line of sight. The most useful feature in that center screen is the digital speedometer, which, in a GTI, is useful to know exactly how fast you're going in a residential area. I've valued the same tool in a Mini Cooper S, which has a useless center-mounted speedo, but a valuable digital one available in the tach mounted in front of you.

These new digital dashes can allow you to give the information you want in a way that can be more readable than they used to be. In a recent New York Times article, Mercedes-Benz designer Gorden Wagener said he sees physical dials going away completely in the coming years. Some are going to miss the real needle rising past the real numbers on a real dial. But, done correctly, the digital gauges are my pick for the future.

So I've assembled some of my favorite digital gauges, some current and some historic, and entertain any more suggestions on good-looking gauges. No, I will not accept the ones from your grandfather's Mercury Grand Marquis as good.

Photo: Jaguar

Hey, Car Companies — Here's How To Get Digital Gauges Right

Honda S2000
The S2000's gauge cluster was controversial when it came out because people didn't like that it ran against the simplicity that a roadster should have with white-on-black dials for everything. That and the fact it glowed bright orange at night was probably irritating under some conditions. But I love the big, obvious numbers for the speedo and the giant tach that stretches over everything. And it needed to, because of the way the VTEC revved to 9000 rpm. God, what a car.

Photo: The Car Spy

Hey, Car Companies — Here's How To Get Digital Gauges Right

Audi Coupe GT
Being German and thought of as pragmatic, a garish, red digital gauge cluster seems out of place in an Audi, especially those as upright and serious as the Coupe GT and 4000 of the '80s. I seem to recall even later versions of the Audi Quattro also had this setup, which looks state of the art for 1986. But I like that's it's garish and strange and, in a 20-valve Quattro, I'm sure you'd appreciate that big red number telling you how fast you're going in the school crossing zone.

Photo: Audiworld, 86graphitecoupeGT

Hey, Car Companies — Here's How To Get Digital Gauges Right

Lexus LFA
I'm sure a feature few will mourn over the recently deceased Lexus LFA supercar is the speedometer, but with all of these multi-function configurable TFT displays showing up in cars, I think it's rather sharp and befitting of a supercar. In typical Lexus fashion, it's not flashy, but it has good colors and is bright and bold, again, something you need when you might be going way over the speed limit.

Photo: Lexus

Hey, Car Companies — Here's How To Get Digital Gauges Right

Volvo V40
Yes, yes, we don't get the V40 here and I'm not using this as yet another opportunity to complain, partly because this is probably the gauges we're going to get in subsequent Volvos that are sold here. That's great, because it looks like a sharp, attractive unit that will add some flair to the inside of, say, an XC60. But it doesn't go all crazy with flowery graphics or branding and stays clean, simple, Swedish.

Photo: Volvo Cars