The instrument cluster used to be just a few needles and numbers that you had to have to keep aware of your speed and RPMs. Usually nothing too special, sometimes the speedometers were spread across the whole cluster, with a lazy needle slowly making its way to 55, like an old AM radio dial looking for a clear signal. Cadillac kept the big lazy dials up until the early 90's when the face of gauges began to change.
These changes within Cadillac were created with the cooperation of fine watch maker Bvlgari, whose help was enlisted to craft the IP cluster for the 2004 XLR, melding jewelry and style into what drivers look at most inside their cars. While Bvlgari is no longer working with GM, the evolution of the gauge cluster continues within the company.
While sitting in so many cars last week at the New York International Auto Show, the attention to detail on gauge clusters was astounding; colors, chrome, interesting and retro fonts, even Hyundai has gussied up the gauges for the entry level 2006 Accent, immediately giving the occupant a richer emotion when staring through the steering wheel.
We see most of the more daring colors on high-performance cars. The Volvo S60 R gets deep blue gauges, the Mustang Shebly Cobra GT500 uses the MyColor? system that allows the driver to choose up to 125 colors for the gauge display. The Pontiac GTO matches the gauge color to the color of the car and the interior leather accents.
White-faced gauges have also become synonymous with performance cars. Ford’s SVT group and Chrysler group’s PVO (Performance Vehicle Operations) marketed them successfully to spawn a huge aftermarket business for replacement gauge packages that feature white faces with black lettering. The 2006 Dodge Charger SRT-8 uses white dials on all gauges, while the 2006 Chevy Trailblazer SS just uses the look for the tachometer.
The needs of hybrids have also changed the looks of the gauge cluster. Battery charge and kilowatts have added to the infromation needed to be relayed to the driver. The 2007 Lexus GS 450h still looks like a traditional gauge package with a KW dial and a digital battery charge display, while the 2005 Toyota Prius goes digital all the way with a more “center mounted” approach.
The center mounted displays have been highly contested between automotive press, buyers and automakers. The Scion line-up decided to go center mounted like in the 2005 Scion xB and Nissan tried to shake up the minivan market by going that route in the 2005 Nissan Quest.
All this brings us full circle to the new “standard” look in gauges; easy to read, chrome ringed and classy. These span the whole model spectrum from the 2006 Mazda MX-5, 2006 BMW 3-Series, 2006 Mercedes Benz R-Class and the 2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport. Much better than many of the gauges of yore.