Not everyone may think about them, but an instrument cluster can make or break a car's interior. If it's nice, it can add another layer of luxury to an interior. If it isn't, a luxury interior can end up looking like something out of a 90s econobox.
Functionally, they're incredibly important too. Long gone are the days of analog gauges; now the digital screen reigns supreme. At this point, pretty much any function within the car can be controlled straight from the instrument cluster, however, some do it much MUCH better than others. So, here is a list of the ten best and worst instruments in a luxury car.
10 BEST: Audi A8
Throughout the auto industry, Audi's "Virtual Cockpit" is considered the gold standard — it isn't just because of the cool name. It is infinitely customizable and jam-packed with all of the information you could ever want. In fact, in a few Audi models, Virtual Cockpit completely replaces the need for a main screen in the interior.
Another innovation that has set the Audi apart is their integration of Google Maps right into the cluster between the two digital gauges. That makes navigation directions *that* much easier to follow. All of these factors combine to really make Audi's Virtual Cockpit the absolute best in the auto industry.
9 WORST: Cadillac ATS
It is by far one of the cheapest looking gauge clusters in all of the automotive industry, with dated looking analog gauges and a small pixelated screen. It really would look far more at home on a late model Nissan Sentra rather than a $50,000 sports sedan. All the better though, because the ATS ended its production run this year to absolutely no fanfare.
8 BEST: Mercedes Benz CLA
The instrument cluster in the CLA may be the only one that gives the Audi A8 a run for its money. In fact, even though it is nearly the cheapest model in the Mercedes Benz range it's substantially better than just about everything else they make — including the flagship S Class. You can customize the three quadrants of the cluster any way you like. Want an analog clock? You got it. Want turn by turn navigation? Not a problem. Want to see an album's whole tracklist? Of course.
This is all a very long and drawn out way to say Mercedes is on the very cutting edge of gauge cluster technology. Now we just have to wait and see as to when it will make its way into more expensive models.
7 WORST: BMW 850
On the surface, BMW's new flagship's gauge cluster isn't too bad. It's got futuristic graphics and is completely digital. But, unfortunately, that's where the positives stop. This most glaring issue is the lack of customization that the screen can provide. The digital speedometer and tachometer are fixed in place — even though they are *screens*. The only thing that is customizable is the center area, but still not to the extent of the likes of Audi and Mercedes Benz.
The second issue is a bit of a nitpick, but still relevant. The tachometer runs counter-clockwise from reasons that are completely unknown to any rational thinkers. Other than the (now defunct) Aston Martin DBS, no modern cars have gauges that run counter-clockwise — and there's a reason for that. It does not look good and is distracting to the eye. People are used to seeing their gauges sweep one way, and it will certainly be distracting, especially in a car with an automatic transmission.
6 BEST: Rolls Royce Phantom
This next one on the list may seem a bit contradictory: the gauges of the Rolls Royce Phantom. While they are digital they lack any real customization. However, what sets them apart is pure elegance and simplicity.
Rolls Royce takes a very old school approach to luxury — elegance and simplicity over crazy electronics, and the Phantom's gauges mirror this ethos. However, what really sets its gauges apart is a glaring omission — there is no tachometer. Instead, there is a "Power Reserve" gauge that shows the driver how much power is still available under their right foot.
5 WORST: Jaguar F-Type
Simply put, the instrument cluster (and the interior as a whole, but that's a different article) of the Jaguar F-Type is not good enough to warrant price tags that touch and exceed $100,000. With a small pixilated screen flanked by two analog gauges, the cluster looks like it would be more at home in a car from 2013 — which, coincidentally, is when this car first came out.
Some would say that the F-Type is a sports car, so it does not need fancy gauges, but that's just not the case. In a world where even the VW Jetta has a digital cluster, a $100,000 sports car should absolutely have one.
4 BEST: Porsche 911
The 2020 Porsche 911's instrument cluster is a perfect blend of both cutting edge technology and heritage. That heritage namely comes from an undeniably Porsche trademark: the analog tachometer right in front of the driver. The gauge itself is also a throwback based on the small details within it.
It is also flanked by two screens that can give just about any information you can ask for. Porsche always has a knack for modern advancements mixed with tradition (see: the overall shape of the 911 for the last 60 years.)
3 WORST: Alfa Romeo Giulia
In a vacuum the Alfa Romeo Giulia's gauges aren't all that bad — however, things go a bit wrong when you compare them to any late-model Audi with analog gauges. They are nearly identical. The two downward-facing analog gauges with a screen in the middle look almost like a carbon copy.
This is regardless of the fact those gauges were on comparably priced Audi's three or four years ago. In 2019, they should be more upscale. One thing that does work will on the Guilia's gauge is the check engine light though, and you better believe you'll be seeing a lot of it.
2 BEST: Lexus LC 500
The gauges in the best car currently in Lexus' lineup harken back to the best car they ever made: the LFA. The big, white, digital center tachometer perfectly invokes that of a car that costs four or five times more.
Not to mention, it is infinitely customizable as well as very pretty. The silver ring around the gauge can actually move from side to side pending on what information the driver wants to see, a very neat trick. But if the look of the instrument cluster does not do it for you, rest assured that the rest of the car certainly will.
1 WORST: Mercedes Benz GLS
The GLS suffers from the same problem as many of the cars on this list: outdated gauges. A buyer can easily drop $125,000 on an SUV with the same instrument cluster as a $30,000 CLA from 2013. It also has two analog gauges that flank a small screen with very little information and customization.
A new GLS is coming, but for the time being, buys will have to put up with looking at something that, frankly, is not good enough to compete with other SUVs in its class like the Audi Q7 and BMW X7.