Gauge Clusters 11.4.06Anyone who knows me knows that I pay a lot of attention to car interiors. However, most of you probably don’t know that I’m particularly obsessed with gauge clusters (the tach, speedo, oil, and whatever else). You can instantly tell whether a car is good or a piece of crap just by looking at its gauge cluster, and you can tell what the designers want from the car: sportiness, truckiness, old-people appeal, etc. Let’s take a look at a few gauge clusters (thanks in advance to Edmunds.com, where I swiped all the images from).
Let’s start off with one of the most interesting designs in recent years, the Honda S2000. If you’ve ever seen the instrument panel of an F1 car, this is obviously patterned after that, but let’s ignore that fact for a minute and dissect the individual details. Notice first that while the tach looks somewhat similar to an analog tach, the speedo is a numerical display. Numerical displays are inherently difficult to use – you don’t get any sense of speed with a bunch of switching numbers, while you definitely get a good feeling of relative speed when you see a needle sweeping across a curve. But that’s why the S2000’s cluster is set up this way: you’re supposed to be concentrating on the tach and keeping the engine in its sweet range, rather than making sure you’re obeying speed limits. Measure of speed is unimportant, because you’re supposed to be going as fast as you can (just as auto racers probably don’t care too much about how fast they’re going, but more so about whether or not they’re going as fast as possible).
Also, notice one other intriguing detail: the tach is evenly spaced until about 6000 rpm, at which point the spacing becomes increasingly wider. Why is that? I’m not sure, but my guess is this: variable valve timing kicks in in the S2000’s engine at exactly 6000 rpm, which on a normal tach would make the needle move at a fairly consistent speed across 0–6000, then suddenly surge forward at 6000–9000. Because of this, the increased spacing might cause the needle to move at a consistent speed throughout the entire 0–9000 range, giving the illusion of smooth power delivery. Maybe – I dunno.
Now let’s look at the previous-gen Lexus IS300. The obvious thing that sticks out is the chronograph-style speedo, which I have to say looks like a pain in the ass to read – it’s hard enough to find 70 mph, let alone 75 (uh, officer, I couldn’t read my own speedometer). I must say that the use of dots to mark off the odd-numbered 20 mph increments is interesting and rather aesthetically pleasing. Oh, and, did you notice the Miles Per Gallon dial set near the top? I’ll eat my computer if anybody reaches that 80.
One more note about this particular gauge cluster – notice how the numbers are set facing in the circle, instead of standing upright like most dials. Makes you want to tilt your head sideways to read some of the numbers.
Now let’s look at the Scion xB. This thing is about the size of a big fist, and set in the middle of the dash, so it must be damn near impossible to read. Anyway, look at the tach – reminds one of a VW Beetle’s tach, no? (Which is ironic, since the xB’s boxy shape is the antithesis of the Beetle’s happy round shape.) Good luck trying to correctly match your shifting points with a tach that puny. By the way, this would be a good time to point out how ubiquitous the 20 mph markings are on speedos these days – you almost never see 10 mph labels anymore, just little unlabeled marks. It makes for less clutter on the dials, but I know from first-hand experience that it’s a bit of a pain on occasion.
Here’s the gauge cluster from the Chrysler 300C. Notice how elegant it is, with the thin, black numbers on white faces, the black pointers, and the two thin lines sweeping parallel to the chrome bezels. However, look at how cheap the black plastic surround looks – a good indicator of the rest of the interior, which also tries to look elegant but suffers from some really cheap plastics.
This garish gauge cluster is from the Ford Escape Sport. Can you say “stupid”? The green outlined in black looks positively childish, and the super-long odd-numbered marks (10 mph, 30 mph, etc.) look like out of control weeds. This might be a bit cute on the hybrid version, but the Sport? Puh-leeze.
Let’s end this first installment with the Lotus Elise. It seems like a fairly unremarkable double-binnacle design, but look carefully at the tach. What’s up with 0–3000? Maybe it’s similar to what I said about the Honda S2000, but this is way farther down in the rev range – this’ll make the needle race through that first section, then seem to crawl through the rest of the range. Very interesting. And is that red light at 6000 supposed to indicate the redline? Or is it just an annoying red light?
Well, that’s all for now. I’ll post more about gauge clusters sometime later – I have plenty more I want to talk about!
About the unequal spacing on the tachs in the Stew and Elise: I'm pretty sure the needle would move slower in the closely spaced parts. In the Stew, the VTEC comes online at about 6000, so the engine will start revving quicker. The wider spacing between numbers on the tach would give a driver more time to react to this sudden surge of acceleration. Or maybe it's just hightening the sense of acceleration when you see the needle blasting through the range. As for the Elise, I'm not sure when the VVTL of the Toyota engine kicks in, but It makes sense that the odd spacng is present for the same reason(s). But how could a sane person possible trudge around in an elise at below 3, or even 6000 rpm? Unless you were on the highway, but I'd either not drive that car in the highway or I'd be blasting it up at 100+.
D’oh, you’re right – I got that all mixed up. Bigger spacing = faster needle. For some reason I was thinking that there was an inverse relationship going on.