Do Digital Dashboards Affect Our Perception of Performance?

1y ago

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The Lexus LFA debuted in 2012 with a screaming V10 engine and radically new styling to compliment it. No expenses spared, the LFA was packed to the panels with cutting edge technology, some which transformed the performance and other bits that transformed the interior. I’ll be focusing on the latter, specifically the dashboard, a digital display fairly foreign at the time but one that is becoming more and more commonplace.

Lexus used a digital dashboard because an analog tachometer and speedometer couldn’t keep up with the engine. Yet, many of the cars sold today with digital dashboards have less than half the performance figures of the LFA and could easily be accompanied by the more traditional analog dashboard. They aren’t though, and I have some ideas as to why.

The visual design of a digital dashboard may affect our perception of the car’s performance.

Before we dive into screens and computers, let’s take a look at one of the decisions that go into designing an analog speedometer. One has to decide what the largest values for RPM and speed will be, and that sets the stage for how the car might be driven. Sports cars with an arbitrary 200 MPH on the dashboard were king amongst friends as kids because we thought that the car could really hit 200 MPH if given enough straight road. The needle moved slowly, but steadily…or at least that’s what we thought.

On the other hand, some cars can exceed the highest speed on their speedometers and feature a tachometer in which the red line is at the very edge with little space beyond. The driver is greeted by needles chaotically bouncing around the dashboard, enforcing the idea that the driver is really pushing the limits of what the car is capable of.

In reality, both cars described could have the same 0 to 60 time and a very similar top speed, but the instrument cluster would never lead one to believe that. Digital speedometers can take that concept to 11.

An LCD screen can adjust to the brightness of its environment, asserting its dramatized information upon the driver in all conditions. One may be greeted by a tachometer that transforms entirely into a glowing red when the driver’s foot is hard down, confirming the passion and thrill felt in the driver’s heart. A chromatic shift light is no longer an entire piece of hardware away. Instead, it’s a few dozen lines of code, and the result might make you feel a bit like Kimi Räikkönen. Suddenly, all the vast amounts of information collected by the car that was never deemed necessary to the driver before can be conveyed in a user friendly format, not necessarily to inform the driver, but to make him or her feel like a genuine professional test driver.

Some may push back against this idea for the sake of purity and perhaps objectivity, but I rather like it. Sports cars are supposed to be about engineering sensations. We grin when we hear their aggressive exhaust notes and laugh when we experience their pep. We look smug when we beat a friend in a drag race at the track, and we look frightened when a supercar threatens to throw us off a twisting road. I think digital dashboards can provide visual cues to enhance those timeless sensations that car enthusiasts have come to love.

In my humble opinion the future looks bright, and your speedometer will too.

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