Currently, the digital cluster panel is most obvious trend in the world of car interface. Many OEMs are shifting from a traditional gauge cluster with analogue dials and small digital displays to a fully digital driver display system.Currently, the digital cluster panel is most obvious trend in the world of car interface. Many OEMs are shifting from a traditional gauge cluster with analogue dials and small digital displays to a fully digital driver display system.

But it’s not uncommon to wonder why they’ve bothered — when all that’s rendered on the screen are a set of digital dials, which ape the physical ones the brand’s always used or that were seen in the last generation car.

One question for the future, is whether the digital dials trend is going to be a transitionary approach, as designers help customers baby-step towards the fully digital cockpit?

However, driving the second generation Volkswagen Tiguan, fitted with the optional digital gauge cluster which VW calls Active Info Display, we discovered a couple of useful additions, where VW’s taken advantage of the opportunities a fully digital cluster allows.


Perhaps the best, was the simplest. If you fail to switch the headlights on when darkness falls (even if you select side/running lights) and a message will pop up telling you to ‘switch on the dipped headlight beam’. There’s an argument to say that the car (knowing it is dark) should do this automatically, but given that there is still a physical knob for selecting the lights (the user feels in control), this is perhaps the easiest way of ensuring that Tiguan drivers are never the ones running around with no lights on, after dark (it’s amazing the amount of cars you still see doing this).

Other observations? When the view mode is navigation, and you elect not to have the map showing between the dials, there’s a virtual horizon which actually scrolls towards you. Or at least it did to our eyes — it’s very subtle, to the point that you end up fixating on it somewhat ‘is that really moving’?

Speaking of the map, perhaps it’s buried deep within the settings of the Active Info Display, but one issue a lot of night driving flagged up, was that the map displayed in the driver display, didn’t automatically transition into the inverse-colour night mode map. Instead sticking with the white background, green and brown roads. It’s brilliantly clear and high definition but also puts out far too much light for something in the cluster, for driving at night.

Another neat trick is when the low fuel light comes in — here, the fuel gauge reformats, ditching the intermediary markers of the empty gauge, and replacing them with the range-to-empty information, just the orange fuel light and the needle pointing into the red remaining of the digital gauge.

While some digital clusters prove frustrating because they only seem to allow you to replicate the analogue set up, the Active Info display goes arguably too far in the other direction. There’s no way of getting rid of the digital-dial speedo or tacho (slightly frustrating) but the numerous different ‘view’ modes you can select (navigation, off-road, classic, driver assistance) creates a sort of paradox of choice sensation — there’s so much to choose from, you’re never sure you’ve selected the perfect set up for the scenario. And while information hierarchy is relatively good, there’s still too much in the cluster in our view — time, temperature, trip data, compass orientation, forward view sensor data all remain ever presents — when realistically many of them are repeating information that can be found in the centre screen display.

Nonetheless, Active Info Display is definitely one of the better digital clusters currently on the market. It’s rich and high definition, fonts and colours are clear and well-rendered and despite having an overload of choice selection, you only ever need to push one of two rocker buttons on the steering wheel up/down or left/right to make selections, so it’s relatively user friendly.
It will be interesting to see where VW goes next, and how it moves away from the paradigm of digital dials, which it’s set to do in the T-Roc, which we’ll explore further after we’ve seen it in Frankfurt.

Posted September 2017

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