Heads-up displays, once reserved for fighter jets and vehicles in sci-fi movies, are quickly proliferating in common cars. I’ve now tested BMWs, Cadillacs, Mercedes-Benzes, Mazdas and more with information projected onto their windshields—and I have yet to experience a HUD I like.
There are two and a half reasons to incorporate such tech into a car: because it ostensibly makes driving easier, and because it looks cool and futuristic.
But my opinion, which is shared by exactly none of my colleagues, is that HUDs are more harmful than helpful. The information floating in front of my face is always alight, blinking and waving for my attention, whereas a car’s normal gauges tucked ahead of the steering wheel are out of my line of sight until I need them.
My point is that there is no gauge which needs to be monitored constantly. With the exception of, maybe, the water temp gauge in a 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer on a 3,000-mile journey across America.
Most HUDs display current speed and the speed limit by default. I’ve argued before that an attentive driver should not need to be told if they’re speeding or not, and I genuinely believe that. Put me on any commonly traveled road in any car in the U.S. and I’m confident I could tell if I was moving quickly enough to get justifiably pulled over.
I’ve also seen a tachometer in an HUD–the most offensive of frivolous gauges–considering the fact that most HUD cars are automatic and the tach is literally just a dazzling light in your face that gives you information you can do exactly nothing with.
Navigation directions, I might concede, are the only instance in which an HUD can be helpful. But how often do you need to look at your map or GPS while you’re driving? Only “a lot” when you’re navigating an unfamiliar urban area, which is not a typical driving experience.
The 2018 Mazda 6 I’m currently evaluating has a follow-distance display in its HUD too, showing you a little yellow light if you’re too close to the car ahead of you. This, of course, is projected right on top of the car that’s actually ahead of you. It’s redundant at best and distracting at worst. If you can’t be bothered to pay attention to the car you’re tailgating, why let some little light tell you what to do?
And how badly do you need to know which song is playing at any given time? Focusing on the little text telling you which radio station you’re using doesn’t count “still paying attention to the road” just because that text is floating in front of said road.
The crux of my beef with HUDs is that I don’t believe in multitasking behind the wheel. Despite what anyone claims, and I’m sure people are already commenting they’re aces at it, I don’t think people are capable of effectively focusing on multiple things and once and HUDs force you to do so for every second of your drive.
I know I’m a little radical when it comes to my rejection of gauges—I’d love to see a car stripped down to one warning light for low fuel and one for impending mechanical disaster—but I think we’ve hit a point of information-saturation in cars that’s more annoying than convenient.
Thankfully you can still turn HUDs off fairly easily in everything I’ve driven. Except for the Mercedes-AMG E63, but even that could be rectified by incorrectly calibrating the display’s position out of my line of sight. (Update: The Benz also has a dedicated HUD-kill button next to the steering wheel.) Be gone, blinky lights and numbers. And good riddance.