’n’ Things

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Gauge Clusters pt. II 5.5.06

In this second installment of Gauge Clusters, I’ll, uh, cover more gauge clusters (duh?).

First off, I’d like to point out the Volkswagon GTI’s cluster:

2006 Volkswagen GTI

I know, bad angle, but it’s what I could find. Anyway, that doesn’t matter, because the main reason I wanted to talk about this one is the tach – I’ve noticed that German automakers are very fond of using two digits in the tach, with the multiplier being 100 (versus most other tachs, which are single-digit and multiplied by 1000). Why do they like this? Beats me – the only thing I can think of is that it’s more “balanced” in relation to the speedo, since the speedo is primarily made up of two-digit numbers. I don’t like it though, because the single digits are easy for the brain to map (three-thousand, four-thousand), while the double digits are more difficult (thirty-hundred?).

2005 BMW 5-series

Here is the gauge cluster from the 2005 BMW 5-series. Notice that BMW is so obsessed with the double-binnacle design that they’ve snuck the gas and oil clusters at the bottom of the speedo and tach, respectively. It’s probably not as confusing as it initially looks though, since those secondary dials will stay practically still while driving.

2006 Porsche Cayman S

Here in the Porsche Cayman S, we see several interesting things. For one, the speedo is divided into increments of 10, but only labeled every 50 km/h. Maybe that’s more in line with common speed limits in countries that use the metric system, but somehow I doubt it – can you imagine what a pain in the ass it would be to try and figure out if you were going 70 km/h or 80 km/h?

Also, notice how all the numbers are italicized, a common method automakers use to portray speed, since italics evoke forward motion (imagine someone’s face being pulled back when they slam on the accelerator).

In addition, what’s up with the secondary clusters? Look at the temperature gauge – marked off at 40°C, 80°C, and 120°C. What’s wrong with “H” and “C”? The gas gauge is particularly bad – 0, 2/4, and 4/4? What the hell is up with that – did somebody at Porsche forget how to reduce fractions? That gauge is just silly.

By the way, didja notice that the tach is centered? That’s another “go-fast” deal with automakers, since they want the emphasis to be on engine speed rather than staying under the speed limit. (Who needs a speedo when you’re going all-out on a mountain road?)

Speaking of that, here we have the Mazda RX-8:

2006 Mazda RX-8

The design is strikingly similar to the Cayman’s, with a triple-binnacle design, middle speedo, and temperature and gas gauges to the right. However, the RX-8’s left binnacle is occupied by an oil gauge (oddly missing in the Porsche), while the speedo has been made digital and set to the side of the tach. As I mentioned in the Honda S2000 description in the first installment, there’s a reason the speedo is digital and the tach is analog: digital is much more difficult in terms of figuring out relative speed changes, and in a sports car, you want to put the emphasis on the tach, so in this case, the tach wins out. Try matching shift points with a digital tach – yeah, right. Look at that beautiful 9000 rpm cutoff – must be fun watching the needle sweep that entire dial each time.

2006 Toyota RAV4

Here we have a car that’s not so concentrated on spirited driving (2006 Toyota RAV4), so the speedo takes center stage (for urban driving), and the tach cowers behind it over to the left. The large metallic rings are rather interesting, as are the orange halos. Notice the temperature gauge, which lacks any intermediate markings whatsoever - the needle looks kinda lost, don’t you think?

2006 Ford Mustang GT Premium

Ford Mustang. Wholly hell that speedo is impossible to read – quick, somebody find 65 mph! Oh, right, it’s that little dot smooched between the large 60 and the unmarked 70. And what happened to the metal bevels – they’re only three-fourths complete, as if they got tired at the bottom and stopped.

2005 Chevy TrailBlazer EXT

Hey, nobody claimed they’d all be good gauge clusters. This is the epitome of what’s wrong with GM – cluttered, ugly, cheap-looking, and clever details that aren’t very clever. Yank those four secondary dials out before someone’s brain gets overloaded. That black plastic might’ve been special in the 80s, but it’s just tacky today. Who thought the unfilled-bars (look at the markings next to every 10 mph on the speedo) would be a good idea? It looks like somebody made the outlines, then forgot to color them in, or maybe his crayon was taken away to go make a Saturn. Stupid. By the way, it’s from a Trailblazer.

2006 Cadillac DTS

Here’s a better job done by GM (2006 Cadillac DTS). The blue-purple is really nice, the numbers legible, and everything fairly simple, which is good for the kind of clientele the DTS attracts. Somebody should’ve checked the gas gauge though, because the filled and unfilled bubbles are too cute for their own good – E/F is more universal, and that bottom bubble seriously looks like a magnifying glass, since it’s almost touching the line marking. I really like what they’ve done with the tach though – see how they’ve just faded away the markings at the redline, instead of making the markings red? That accomplishes two things at once – it says “don’t go here” instead of “warm engine here”, and the red would’ve clashed very badly with the blueish stuff.

2003 Honda Civic Hybrid

Lastly, I leave you with the previous-generation Honda Civic Hybrid. Talk about electroluminescence! The numerals are kinda big, but the big problem is in that right-hand dial. First off, four thingies in one dial isn’t such a good idea, even if they all “fit in” quite nicely. Second, notice how difficult it is to figure out exactly what each thing is reading – it took me a while to realize that blue is “empty” and white is “filled in” – why not just use black and white? Come on Honda, seriously…


Anonymous skip0110 5.5.06  

TrailBlazer - those extra gauges are very useful, if you are towing stuff you want to keep an eye on oil temps, and an idiot light is virtually worthless. I wish MORE cars did the extra gauge thing, because by the time an idiot light goes off, youre already screwed.

And with respect to the legibility of markings: if you own the car, how often do you really read the numbers? I mean, once you have had it for a few days, you don't even look at the numbers and just judge off the needle position. Especially the tachometer: when you grab a gear, do you try and translate exactly what rpm you are at? Of course not, you do it by feel. Heck, I learned stick on a car without a tach and it wasn't an issue at all.

Anonymous keef 7.5.06  

I like the double digits of Deutchland. It's quirky and foreign-looking, which means it isn't boring or crappy. Ahh, but the B-dub doesn't have the doubles. Maybe it's just a V-dub thang. The Porsche is set up like a proper sports car, possibly because it is a proper sports car. And the actual numbers on the temperature guage are very useful, for us car guys anyway. If I see the needle nearing the "H", the first thing I think is "How hot?".But if there's a number there, say 280 or so, I'd say "Holy crap, I better stop!". And the speedo is cluttered and hard to decipher because the metric sytem requires so many numbers. I think our Cayman has markings at every 20 mph, though I'm not positive. Another quirk: the gas guage fractions. The new M roadster has 'em, 0, 1/2, and 1/1, actually. I think I'm in love. And good point about the missing oil temperature guage, because that has the same importance as the coolant temp. But, though the RX-8 has that, it doesn't give you that "connected" feeling like you get with an analog speedo. And yes, 9000 rpm is fun--I've driven one (a buddy works at a Nissan/Mazda/Honda dealership, but I haven't gotten my Stew, Miata, or Z test drive yet. Damn.). Hey, I like the Stang. It has a nearly endless choice of guage colors--you gotsta love it! I'll skip over the Trailblazer and DTS for sanity reasons. The Honda's cluster is retarded bright, but I like the assymetrical look created by the "crazy guage" on the right.
Keep up this guage stuff! It's interesting, whereas commenting on pictures got boring.

Anonymous Christiaan 14.5.06  

Great stuff Sage.

Anonymous Blake 28.6.06  

Not posting anymore, Sage?

Anonymous Giles Guthrie 3.7.06  

With regard to the Mustang: I agree the speedo scale is hard to read, but what stupid-ass moron sets speed limits at x5 mph anyway??

I disagree with your comment that the second GM panel is better than the first. More information is better, but the human eye filters out what they don't need to see. Thus the needle going into the wrong place piques the eye. It's much better than the second dash, which is just a morass of black with a couple of scales dropped in. They should have made the whole panel smaller.

I'll send you a pick of the Espace dash when it arrives, and you can pass comments...

Anonymous Duke 10.7.06  

I have to say, the guages on my 325 are clear enough, if not exciting. They get the job done, but don't really seem like they should be for a driver's car - instantly legible, providing all required info in decimal seconds with a quick glance.

The TSX, on the other hand, has a great dash layout, at least for the tach and speedo. They are big, clear numbers, and electroluminescent - yet not overly so, unlike the similar Hondas. The Acura's read as mostly black, with just the important parts ticked out in bright EL white/blue. On a nice touch, the binnacle lights up as soon as you open the door, but the needles don't appear (in bright red-orange) until you start it up.

Yes, keep these up!

PS - the Mustang's dash panel is way too self-conciously 1965. We get it already, Ford. You don't need to beat us in the head with it. The nuGTO, on the other hand, has a nice modern dash/cockpit, particularly by GM standards.

Anonymous Duke 10.7.06  

PPS - I also have to say, I've never been convinced by the white-background gauges. For doing word processing on a computer screen all day (for anyone old enough to remember the retina-destroying white text on blue BG of the ancient WordPerfect), yes, dark text on white BG may mean less eyestrain.

But for quick, get-it-at-a-glance dials and such, the white on black scheme works mo' betta.

Anonymous Duke 10.7.06  

Lousy blogger - cna't edit comments or post images!


Anonymous Andrew 28.7.06  

Interesting stuff, Sage - though for the Hybrid's gauges, I would think that if you owned the car and drove it on a regular basis, you'd probably quickly learn and remember which of the far-left gauges do which.

Anonymous Josh 11.8.06  

I think the Honda Hybrid instrument cluster is meant to be over complex (at least to the right-side) because that's the clientele that buy it. Someone's who's obsessive about saving a few pennies at the pump probably has the personality of wanting everything in it's carefully planned little spot.

People can rail Lexus all they want for cars that aren't exciting, but nobody in the auto journalism industry nor the owners ever complain about illegible gauges! Easy to read, simple designs, no nonsence layout all up and down the model line and through the years.

I've never understood the point of the 100x/RPM tach...Keep it simple! But those who made speedometers that are impossible to easily discern 50 from 70 mph (the prime real estate of a speedometer in which speeders can get tickets if not watching carefully) ought to be drug out the street and hold up speed limit signs above their head.

By the way, most limits in the USA are x5 mph for some reason or another, probably because many police officers go by the +5 mph rule for deciding when to give a ticket.

Anonymous Josh 11.8.06  

...well, except the IS 300. Looks great on a wristwatch, too busy, although interesting, in that little mid-1980s F1-like clutster shape.