By on January 5, 2013

Fellow TTAC scribe Alex Dykes put a somewhat innocent enough post on our Facebook Wall, suggesting the BMW 3-series has a reputation for homogenous design, while the new Cadillac ATS suffers from…well, what so many modern GM products suffer from: a new release that’s only “almost” there. The ATS gauge cluster was his proof.

This cluster spurred a commotion from our FB readers that merited a chat window popping up from the Esteemed Mr. Dykes, suggesting this is a good Vellum Venom. Agreed.

The ATS’ cluster, much like a 94-96 Impala SS’ body in midnight black, is fine at night. The two half circles at each side with the speedo resting atop a multifunction display like a side view of eggs sunny-side up is different: and that’s not a bad idea in a sea of straightforward circles from BMW and Mercedes. A previous foray into this territory by Detroit, the Lincoln LS, was horribly boring and bland.

So let’s wait ’till dawn, shall we?

Oh dear. This is just far too much like the charcoal Tupperware designed Pontiacs of yesteryear. While the Cadillac SRX’s jeweled signal lights are cool and ballsy like tail fins on a DeVille, the ATS has…beveled black plastic accented lights. And that’s the nicest part of the whole cluster.

The flat plane gauge housing, draped in a dull wall of flat black, with cheap needles (again, see the SRX cluster) is so decidedly downmarket that the Kia Optima wouldn’t have it. The multifunction screen’s shape, size and location makes it poorly integrated into the circular theme. And heck, even my Ford Ranger doesn’t have those bizarre indentations for the idiot lights. Where did it all go wrong?

Honestly I don’t know…but the last Buick LeSabre (2005) was probably a low point for GM gauge design. The lumpy gauge receptacles made of cold/brittle looking (yet surprisingly color keyed!) plastic look more like the cute mushroom-thingies from Super Mario Brothers. It’s purely unrefined, and a lack of refinement is the main problem with the ATS’ cluster.

Compare it to what we saw a few decades ago.

Here’s a 1983 LeSabre dash. Note how the warm and inviting looking (if fake) wood trim surrounds the round gauges in a non-mushroom like fashion. There’s also a nice chrome ring frenched in for a decidely upscale look, even with the famous Malaise-era plastic quality. The last rear wheel drive LeSabre, Electra, Park Avenues from the early 1980s had a very upscale quality about them.

It was like a traditional Cadillac, but cleaner and far less ostentatious. It, chassis dynamics aside, was a proto ATS in this regard. I can’t believe I just said that. But here we are.

Perhaps the next photo is better ATS historical reference fodder.

I wish I grew up with the first-gen Pontiac Grand Prix. Reading the history and seeing them at car shows leads a youngblood to think these GM products were the high point of entry level luxury for Detroit.

No, for the world.

A fantastic car? Probably. A fantastic gauge cluster with real walnut trim and timeless mid-century design in the chrome gauge bezels? Wow, that’s the stuff right there, son.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

117 Comments on “Vellum Venom Vignette: ATS Cluster Commotion?...”


  • avatar
    LeadHead

    Those “flat plane” clusters with nothing breaking up the space between the gauges are awful. They’re awful in a cheap Pontiac, and just down right embarrassing in a Cadillac.

    If you’re buying a high end car, the cluster should seem like it’s an actual assembly of various gauges and displays all beautifully integrated together. It should not look like you just took a flat piece of plastic, stuck some dials/needles in it and called it good.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      See, I totally disagree. I hate the look of individual gauge “pods”. Especially when the pods have to little extension hoods jutting out from the dashboard.

      I vastly prefer the IP on the Genesis sedan to the one on the Genesis coupe.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not a fan of gauge pods, but what I really hate is underpowered cars. The ATS has powerful engine options – and thanks to it being RWD there’s no torque steer even with he 3.6L – but the XTS with the 3.6L plain sucks.

      Have any of you actually used Cadillac CUE with the virtual dash? I prefer the simplicity of Chrysler’s new LCD gauge on the 300/Charger and the upgraded version on the 2012 SRT8.

  • avatar
    SV

    I really like the ATS; it’s one of the nicest cars GM makes, in my opinion. It helps that the consensus thus far is that it’s actually more fun to drive than the 3-series!

    But those gauges are baffling. Making the speedometer a full circle and adding tasteful chrome or silver surrounds would work wonders. But looking at the SRX’s gauges, with the neat circular screen in the center of the speedometer and the jeweled signals, and it really boggles the mind how they dropped the ball in the same area on a newer car.

    • 0 avatar

      They shoulda just lifted the SRX cluster for the ATS.

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        You’d just bitch about it if they did.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        I agree with the analysis, at least this is an easy thing to fix in a MCE unlike the trunk space issue.
        The ATS has in some respects beaten the 3 series, it all depends on what you deem important (steering feel, ride/handling, luxury etc.)
        Being almost there, if that is where they are, is hardly a bad thing when you consider the G, IS, TSX, A4, C class amongst others have not beaten the 3 series.

      • 0 avatar

        No, I’d have much less to bitch about if they did.

      • 0 avatar
        Slowtege

        I agree. Or tweak it a little so that it’s “unique” for the ATS. I really like the car. Beautiful surfacing (those fenders!), great proportion, and an astonishingly low front hood point (especially in this safety era). Thankfully an issue like this is a pretty simple change. They should borrow from Acura circa 2004 and mark that as their absolute baseline for gauge design. Having a dimensional cluster and bright trim rings/accents can really up the look. We don’t need “cannon” gauge pods, just something that looks like they cared about a car that is competing with a 3-Series, because the rest of it seems to care.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        “They shoulda just lifted the SRX cluster for the ATS.”

        Glitzy, Great-White-Way / Aurora Borealis instrument clusters are just fine for showy SUVs, or loping AARP retirement-mobiles like Buick LaCrosses, Chrysler 300Cs, or Lincoln MKSs whose hardest driving is usually done in a Nordstrom’s parking lot. Your gauges don’t have to be fighter-plane readable for that duty.

        But when you’re talking a high-performance sports sedan like an ATS, what you need is a clearly legible set of instruments, and these fit the bill, even if they’re not as pretty as they could be. Check out any of the ATS’ competitors – all of their gauge clusters are pretty much no-nonsense affairs too.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    The first thing that told me as kid that American cars had nothing to do with driving and were just slapped together by guys who knew nothing about actually driving the car?

    The gauges.

    Nothing says “this is just stuff we have to put here” like that vomitous Pontiac wood grained nightmare above. All of GM’s interior failings, encrapsulated right there. It shoulda come with a velvet Elvis in the trunk and a complimentary Jerry Springer ticket.

    The first time I got into a Euro car, before you even turned the key, I knew they wanted you the driver to be involved. Even the Smiths in the Brit cars were there for a reason, and they let you know it. They were big, they were not gimmicky, they actually *did* something.

    Not floating on your mobile couch to another Tupperware party in your garish display of poor taste. Where what the car is doing is so much of an afterthought that they don’t even see fit to tell you semi-accurately how fast you’re going. Seriously, how could anyone buy a car that had a dash that was series of cheap clock shapes and designs?

    Just another one of the million validators that GM will be in BK again. Really soon.

    • 0 avatar

      In all fairness those Pontiac/Buick dashes look like they were taken straight out from British cars with only difference that in British cars wood was most likely real. German cars, yeah they may be tight, well built, driver oriented but British ones are designed to be driven by chauffeur.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        Which Brit cars you are talking about? Other than some older Rollers, Bents, and very odd Daimler limo, pretty much everybody’s everything from Bristols to Jags and Astons on down were designed for an owner-driver.

        I think perhaps you’re missing the detail aspect of this, which is the important part. That round dial Pontiac dash made even a BL-era MG dash seem purposeful.

        It is just simple things. The chrome surrounds, the simple look, the fonts, white needles on B&W faces, stuff like that. It’s an ethos driven by function. I get that some folks care not one whit about all this, and hey, that’s their right.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      I’ll tell you what Smiths gauges did: They bounced between a high an low value making the extraction of information therefrom a constant exercise in interpolation. Pretty to look at, yes. But (at least in the case of my Triumph GT6) , laughable from a functional standpoint.

      I do agree that the ATS cluster lacks elegance. That is an issue. But, for crying out loud, what the hell does GM have to do to get out from under the constant nit-picking? It’s nice to see GM rapidly heading in the direction of driver experience while, on the other hand, BMW backs away. I’ve driven both the prior and current 328s and the new one is a definite step backward. The turbo four lacks the immediacy of the six and the car is softer and number than the one it replaced.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        “I do agree that the ATS cluster lacks elegance. That is an issue. But, for crying out loud, what the hell does GM have to do to get out from under the constant nit-picking?”

        Well, put those gauges in a GMC or a cheap Chevy and people will complain a lot less.

        The ATS is a Cadillac.

        Cadillacs are supposed to be elegant, aren’t they? They’re the *point* of the damned brand (or at least one of them).

  • avatar
    thesparrow

    Reminds me of the gauge cluster in my 1993 Toyota Tercel. Is that the look Cadillac was shooting for…?

  • avatar
    jco

    i like the car’s lines. and i like the turbo/RWD combo. but the interior is what you look at when you’re driving. so.. no. it looks like the interior gets outdone by the Buick Regal, which should be a big no-no for GM. the cadillac is supposed to be better, right? my infiniti/BMW/benz – purchasing (i guess they trade in cars alot?) neighbors have a Regal now, so maybe there’s hope GM can win import buyers.

    but yeah, the comparison to old GM is right on. my family grew up on GM. my dad had a particular thing for the Grand Am, and that gauge cluster would have looked the same in those cars. especially that font. guh.

    GM should hear every ounce of criticism about this. even the $20k segment sedans.. like.. all of them, the Japanese, Korean, even Chrysler(!!) can boast better dash setups than this.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    The car is too good if the only thing you can complain about is that the gauge cluster is -surprise- a single unit.

    No one puts separate gauges in mass-market vehicles. Why pretend the gauges are anything but a single flat panel, ordered/grouped in some logical fashion– just as these are presented?

    It ain’t pretty, sure; but there’s no reason to focus on them. Shouldn’t you be driving the shit out of the car rather than critiquing the gauge panel? Criticizing a car as fantastic as the ATS for its gauges is none different than me pretending your fanciful little, facebook advertisement(HEY TTAC HAVE A FACEBOOK!!) was ruined by the poor hyphenation.

    They both function. Well.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      You’re right that the ATS is a good car if the biggest complaint is the gauge cluster. But it is still a valid complaint. It’s a very ugly and cheap looking setup during the day, and in a world where a Hyundai Elantra has a cluster that looks nearly as sharp as Lexus Optitron gauges, the current pride & joy of the Cadillac fleet shouldn’t remind people of a 1998 Malibu or 2005 LeSabre every time they glance at their speed.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem is that the gauge cluster is the part of the car you’re going to be looking at more than anything else if you drive it. Like more than once a minute while you’re being the wheel. Given that, it should be pleasing to look at, or at least not offensively ugly.

      And I think the multi-function display looks like a banner ad at night. It doesn’t look like it belongs with the rest of the gauges.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        Precisely. What do you see when you drive? What do you feel when you drive? Throw in the pedal cluster and the seat and there’s the driver interface. You spend 100% of your time behind the wheel using those items.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      It’s surly a step in the right direction to actually argue about premium stuff – let’s face it, premium means the same thing but 5 bucks nicer and 25 bucks more out of pocket for the consumer – when it comes to a caddy. The companies other attempts has been shot down long before that point for the last 30 years. If they stopped being yaw-dropping ugly* they might be on to something.

      *A car shouldn’t have headlights that goes over the hood up to the a-pillar. When I’m on the subject, caddy should have a high feature V8 with its own name as a range topper.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “The car is too good if the only thing you can complain about is that the gauge cluster is -surprise- a single unit.”

      That isn’t really the issue.

      It’s ugly, it’s awkward, and it looks cheap. Cheap never looks good, but it looks especially bad when it is in what is purportedly a luxury car, which is being sold at luxury prices.

      I buy cars in this class. The gauges alone would be a reason for me not to buy it. That may seem trivial to you, but there’s no reason to buy this vehicle when I can give my money to some other automaker that doesn’t make me feel as if I have lousy taste and even worse judgment every time that I get behind the wheel.

      Since you have a thing for Neons, I don’t expect you to get this. You’re a fan of what was a blandtastic rental car. That’s the sort of vehicle that helped to kill off the domestic auto industry; consumers can do better, and they spend their money accordingly, i.e. elsewhere.

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        Though I’m not sure why my username(from 2001) or High School car need be mentioned– I’ll go. Acknowledging the first-generation neon as a stand-out among its contemporaries has no bearing on my ability to judge aesthetic nor functional merit in 2013. Save your potshots for the Escorts, Paseos, Cavaliers and the early KIAs, fancypants.

        It is obvious GM planned a full-size LCD cluster for this car but could not get there. Whether they reached this product by cost-constraint(likely) or by incompetence(unlikely– see Volt) needn’t matter– what they’ve produced is satisfactory.

        FYI: NEONs are different than neons. Tard.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Thanks for proving my point that rental car fanboys just aren’t going to get this.

        Here’s the difference: Your opinions and those of others like you result in GM scoring a minor internet victory of dubious value, since you never were going to buy one, anyway. In contrast, if those of us who buy cars like these end up buying something else, then GM not only lost an opportunity at a sale, but it also loses because our money helped to strengthen GM’s competition.

        GM can’t just rely on a shrinking base of fanboys to pay its bills. GM also needs to take customers away from Lexus, Infiniti, Mercedes, BMW and Audi. Stuff like this just isn’t going to cut it.

      • 0 avatar
        bikephil

        Hey PCH101-don’t be making fun of Neons or their owners. My first new car was a 1995 Neon, and it served my family well for 5 years and 85000 miles. My 18 year old son now owns a 2005 SRT4 “Neon” that can probably blow the doors of your BMW or whatever other ricboy car you drive. Now get back to your manicure you stuck up dick.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I have to agree with Pch’s basic point of if you want to play in the luxury big leagues, details count. The margin for error is much less than say an entry level lesser brand, a Chevy/Ford/Honda buyer may overlook details a Mercedes or Lexus buyer is more apt to notice. I do however disagree with veiled attacks on others, simply state your point without condensation.

      • 0 avatar
        glwillia

        The Neon wasn’t a blandtastic rental car, the first generation was a blast to drive with the manual gearbox. What killed it was the horrendous reliability the first couple of years.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “…simply state your point without condensation.”

        I think you mean condescension.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        @hubcap

        Ah correct you are sir, of course its rude to have water vapor in your posts as well.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Bikephil said: “My 18 year old son now owns a 2005 SRT4 “Neon” that can probably blow the doors of your BMW or whatever other ricboy car you drive. Now get back to your manicure you stuck up dick.”

        You also miss his point.

        Yep, you can make a Neon go real fast (without doing anything to it, if it’s an SRT4). Faster than some “rickboy car”, unless it’s really “rick”.

        But that won’t save Cadillac from irrelevancy, or make Chrysler profitable, because the people that buy an SRT4 are rounding error, and aren’t going to make a company much money.

        (A WRX STi sells pretty well, in that “stock small car that goes like the dickens” realm, but still has the “not competing in the same market” issue.

        I mean, the best bang:buck in the world today is probably the Corvette, but it ain’t exactly eating sales from Lexus or Mercedes.

        Because the market in question is NOT ABOUT “how fast can I go for how cheap?”)

        The ATS is not competing with a (notional) Neon SRT4 for buyers. It’s competing with BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Acura, Infiniti. Maybe Hyundai, these days.

        And cheap gauges – indeed, cheap anything – matters when you’re spending that kind of scratch – and when your Korean competition makes farkin’ *jewels*.

        Why wouldn’t I get a Genesis instead of an ATS? That’s the question GM is not answering.

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      I think it’s precisely because the rest of the car is so good that the cheap looking gauge cluster stands out so much, like wearing old tennis shoes with an Armani suit, the high quality execution of the rest of the car draws disproportionate attention to the one part that isn’t done so well. It’s certainly a forgivable sin, nothing can be absolutely perfect, but this is the thing you see the most when you’re actually driving the car and can make a bad impression on potential conquest customers used to the more upscale look of BMWs or Audis.

    • 0 avatar
      toxicroach

      It’s like being all dressed up and looking great with a giant booger hanging on you nose.

      It’s a shame they did all that work and spent all that money to beat the 3-series and then they couldn’t get a decent dashboard.

      It’s like they had some kind of fear of success that makes them create problems.

  • avatar
    felix

    Could it be that the ATS designers actually intended to go the Optitron route with an all-black panel and high intensity illumination, but were stymied at the last minute by GM higher-ups doing what they do best, forcing designers to go with cheaper illumination and a clear panel when it was already too late to alter the graphics? How else to explain why it looks great at night unless it was intended to look that way even in daylight?

  • avatar
    roadscholar

    I love the cluster on my 2003 VW Jetta, elegant, simple, and very easy to read both during the day and at night. My cluster pet peeve is caused by designers who believe that more tick marks make gauges better. There’s a serious tick addiction in some studios.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      I wish I could praise my ’09 GTI, but the speedometer is just horrible. Speeds up to 180 mph are labeled in dim, low-contrast blue. Two full sets of numerals and tick marks display miles and kilometers. They’re printed on a dished surface, so the low-speed numerals actually tilt away from the driver. This provides slightly better visibility to the all-important range above 140 mph, however. The needle is dark red, and the background black, of course.

      It’s very difficult to read speeds in daylight, and impossible once you put on sunglasses. Perhaps they never do that in cloudy Germany? Even at night, illuminated, the twin dials aren’t nearly as eye-catching as the red MFD computer between them. It’s always easy to check my elapsed miles, or average mpg. I’m going to put a little square of window tint over the MFD soon, to try to balance the light levels. And perhaps I’ll tape a mini-LED light on the steering column, aimed at the speedo. That’ll look classy, eh?

      Everything else about the Mk V GTI is ergonomically superb. But how could they devise a high-performance car with no usable speedometer?

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        That’s an interesting perspective. I have a MKV GTI as well (my wife’s, actually) but I don’t find it difficult to read at all. Different seating position, maybe?

        My main complaint is at night when the high beams are on, the little blue indicator light is FAR too bright and shines right in my eyes. This is exactly the time I want to preserve what’s left of my night vision but that thing keeps drawing my attention. I would certainly put tint over that if it were my daily driver.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Back in the day any VW/Audi had a nice clean readable set of VDO gauges. I never liked the blue thing VW went with messes with my eyes.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Funny… the same Phil Collins song on the radio as last night — HEY… whaddya tryin’ ta pull!?!

    Well, I could say that many of our looks suffer in the full light of day.

    But – you’re right, it does look “economy-car” cheap that way; but the ATS is a lot of car (dynamics-wise) for the money, so GM had probably hit the wall on cost.

    Maybe if we ask nicely, they’ll give us something prettier next year (for an extra $500).

  • avatar
    MidtownMazda

    I believe the ATS to be a solid offering, but the instrument binnacle is what drivers look at daily and the final product (at least in daylight) does not seem worthy of a car that can be optioned in excess of $50K. Most of the car’s competitors have brightwork, faux chrome, something shiny to dress this area of the car up. Just looks cheap (maybe more befitting of a higher-end Cruze or Malibu perhaps?) and I’ve always disliked GM’s choice of font for letters and numerals.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    I can’t envision establishing an educated comment on a instrument panel cluster I hadn’t lived with for a while. What is this post for?

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      It’s a post about automobile design just like the rest of the Vellum Venom series.

      So why did you post?

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      Really?? because I can. A friend of mine had a Grand Am. I’m sure you remember the cheap, hollow plastic that made up the dash and most of the switch gear. All it took for me was sitting in that car once and I knew it wasn’t something I’d spend my money on.

  • avatar
    carguy

    The “charcoal Tupperware designed Pontiacs” dashboard actually looks better than the ATS. It’s a clean design and doesn’t have the indentations of the ATS that make it look “thrown together”.

  • avatar
    stephenjmcn

    This stuff IS important in any car, let alone a premium product, and Caddy have let themselves down here. My first reaction when seeing this was how it reminded me of 86-on Vauxhalls with the clear but unattractive half-moon speedo.

    Dials, like watches, really ought to be round.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    A lot of cars these days suffer the same fate. Our ’08 MKZ cluster looks awesome at night, but in daylight, it looks much cheaper, and the information screen at the bottom often washes out in sunlight. Spoils a bit the otherwise very nice interior. We still love the car though.

    Briefly owned a 1996 Lexus LS, and that cluster looked rich, day or night.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    I remember my first ride in a Gran Prix of that vintage….I couldn’t get my eyes off that dashboard!!!!
    Thanks for reawakening that memory of my youth and Pontiac at its best!!!

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      Specifically, the dashboard shown is that of a 1966, the final year for real wood veneer on the dash and steering wheel of the GP and Bonneville. (Although the new-for-’73 colonnade Grand Prix and Grand Am did feature “African crossfire mahogany” dash and door trim for two model years, it was nonetheless fake-looking.)

      I think the ’65 GP/Bonneville dash was even classier, with the three cylindrical (rather than squarish) gauges and clock slanted toward the driver, among other differences. What’s nice is that there is a clear evolution from the 1961-64 dash designs, although I realize that today few people care about such things.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    Something as simple as rounding the corners on the screen would have really helped. I’m hoping that the inch of empty space at top disappears from the driver’s perspective.
    Curses to the slushbox for making the tach become a smaller, secondary gauge.

  • avatar
    CadiDrvr

    The 2013 SRX uses the same IP:

    http://www.cadillac.com/content/dam/Cadillac/Global/master/nscwebsite/en/home/Vehicles/2013_Vehicles/2013_SRX/Photo_Gallery/Interior/01_images/2013_SRX_0_13CASR22022_int_960x400.jpg

  • avatar
    hubcap

    It’s been said before and I’ll say it again. Everything counts…. especially in this segment. Is it really a surprise that GM gets the engineering and dynamics right but stumbles on what most would consider a relatively easy task?

    Just look at the Corvette. World class performance with an interior that just is not up to par. Hopefully GM fixes the ATS IP and the C7 will address the complaints which have swirled around the Corvette nameplate since the C4.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    Maybe I’m missing something and seeing it in person would clarify things, but that looks like a clean, uncluttered white-on-black layout perfectly appropriate for a driver’s car. It doesn’t look materially different from the IP in my Mercedes C240. Or older BMWs or VW GTIs, for that matter.

    I thought Cadillac was trying to make a clean break from GM’s 1970s rolling monuments to gaudy bad taste. It certainly looks fine to me, but maybe it looks different in person.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      I hear you with the break from the garish 1970′s, but replacing it with something that looks like it was yanked from a 2005 Cobalt is just not appropriate for a car costing over $15K.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Two problems I have with it: the various recessions and terraces on the IP make it appear cheap. This is not an issue at night. But what is an issue even at night is the font on the gauges; it looks far too similar to the font used on prior GM vehicles with cheapo interiors, like that 2005 LeSabre pictured below, or even a 2004 Cavalier.

      Yes, it works, and yes, it is clear, but it immediately reminds me of cars that GM is rightfully trying to run away from.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        Maybe what I’m missing is the familiarity with those other GM cars that they ought to be distancing themselves from. When I look at this by itself it looks like not too bad of an imitation of a W203 Mercedes. But I haven’t spent any time in those other GM cars.

        I agree a Cadillac is cheapened if they’ve just reached into the parts bin of a lower end GM model.

  • avatar
    W.

    Oh, please!

    The dashboards of all of the B-body GM products from ’77 through ’90 were all awful, paragons of uniformity and misinformation. And I say this from having been behind the wheel extensively of a ’77 Catalina, a ’81 Catalina, a ’81 Caprice and a ’85 Caprice. There wasn’t a damn thing upscale about those dashboards.

    I grant you, that ATS dashboard looks horrific, but let’s not try to compare a turd to a turd and make the second turd look polished.

    • 0 avatar

      Not the dash!!! Just the gauges. I couldn’t find a good photo of the gauges up close.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Actually there were options on which gauge package you could order back in those days and for the first few years of production round gauges were quite common on the Buick, Olds, and Pontiac offerings. But after the Caprice & the B-body wagons were the last men standing post 1985 everything kind of gravitated toward the big ribbon speedo and idiot lights… ugg…

      Although since Sajeev brought up the last gen Buick Lesabre, the fact that the Lesabre and Park Avenue had tachometers always made me laugh a little. Tach in a Buick? Maybe if it has a stick shift and a turbo. (Which ironically you can now get in a brand new Buick.)

      I would be OK with automakers eliminating the tach in auto equiped models if they gave us real gauges for everything else. Engine temp, oil pressure, battery amp-meter, heck I’d rather have a trans temp gauge on an automatic than a tach.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    With all of this discussion about issues of cosmetics, does anyone else care that on an alleged sports machine, where are the oil pressure gauge and voltmeter?

    If that info can be accessed on the electronic screen, then how are we deciding what info gets displayed that way rather than via an analog gauge? Why not temp and fuel as well?

    Or is it that we now believe cars are so reliable we don’t need gauges to monitor what is going on under the hood? If so, why is the temp gauge still there? I could argue for giving the voltmeter priority over the temp gauge, because there’s a good chance you can drive the car for its entire useful life without it overheating, but batteries still have a 4-5 year shelf life AFAIK. And you could put electronics in that would go into limp-home mode or even shut down the engine automatically before it damages itself in an overheat (don’t we have that in some cars already?).

  • avatar
    NotFast

    I guess I don’t see what’s wrong with the dash. Is the 3 series, the ATS target, look much better? I thought Bimmers were all blacks whites.

    • 0 avatar
      joeveto3

      The 3 Series has a nice set, simple and clean, with primary speedo on left, tach on right, subset fuel and oil temp as secondary gauges (I think only the 335 gets the oil temp).

      The ergos fall flat, however, when you mix in the controls for the info screen and then the i-drive.

      But the gauges themselves are really nice.

  • avatar
    mypoint02

    Because GM wants the ATS to be compared to the 3 series, lets have a look at the instrument panel in an F30…

    http://images.thecarconnection.com/lrg/2013-bmw-3-series-4-door-sedan-335i-rwd-instrument-cluster_100399234_l.jpg

    Which one would you rather look at every day?

    • 0 avatar
      BigMeats

      Well, hell’s bells, they put the speedo on the *left* so a righty driving with one hand doesn’t obscure it!
      That’s my pet peeve with the usual tach/speedo setup. And it’s just the kind of little thing that’ll make me curiouser and curiouser about a brand.

      Thanks for the link.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I can’t say I’m particularly enthralled by either. The cluster in my Charger is much nicer to look at, in a car that costs equal to or less than both the 3 and ATS.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, if I were buying an instrument cluster, I’d pick the BMW, but then again, people also judge cars by the whole interior, and if that were the case, I’d think lots of them would prefer the Caddy’s interior, and for good reason.

  • avatar
    86SN2001

    Wow. The new Fords(talk about being “almost there…and by almost I mean not even close) burst into flames among many other recalls and there is hardly a mention of it.

    Someone doesn’t like the way the gauge cluster LOOKS in certain lighting conditions on a GM vehicle and the sky is falling.

  • avatar
    ScottE5

    God is in the details. Unfortunately for GM, they loused this detail up. This stuff makes a difference to me since I’m constantly checking my gauges. And I really like the ATS, too. There’s just no excuse for bad design, even at lower price points. The Targets and IKEAs of the world get it and apply it down to the smallest elements.

    The least Cadillac could have done was hire and trust a graphic designer who knew how to use the corporate font and set the tach, speedo numbers and hash marks in a way that didn’t look so clumsy.

    C’mon guys, that’s a gimme.

  • avatar
    JohnE

    I just had an ATS for a couple of days as a loaner while my Caddy was getting a ($700) magnetic shock replaced. I have to say, I was impressed. Handling was very good, power was sufficient, being a loaner I’m sure it was the base engine. The interior was several notches above the last few years of Cadillacs offerings.

    I liked the CUE setup even though I’m sure I only got to try a small percentage of the features in the short time that I had it. I did not notice any particular downscale qualities in the gauge cluster in sunlight that you noted.

    I think they have a winner…the market will tell.

  • avatar
    CRConrad

    Nope, that’s not “far too much like the charcoal Tupperware designed Pontiacs of yesteryear” at all: The (presumably Pontiac) design in the linked-to picture is faaar better-looking than the subject of this page.

  • avatar
    needsdecaf

    Reminds me of this during the day:

    http://users.rcn.com/tmintz/Dashboard%20Lit.jpg

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    This was a really bad move on GM’s part. They pulled some pieces off the shelf and phoned it in, once again assuming that they can BS their way past American consumers. I think they’ll lose sales when customers look at car that says upscale on the outside, but screams ‘FLEET’ on the inside.

  • avatar

    I don’t think this implementation is cheap looking; rather it is simply poor design. But seriously, this really is Cadillac’s first attempt at creating a true sports-sedan. One cannot expect that they’ll get everything right…

  • avatar
    hifi

    Any gauge cluster looks bad when seen with badly lit amateur photography. Though it does seem like GM could have incorporated the LCD display into the design better.

  • avatar

    When I drove the car last summer, I didn’t think the instrument cluster looked cheap. But I did find the layout unattractive and the tach difficult to view. The optional HUD fixes this, as you don’t then use the conventional instruments anyway. I thought I’d mentioned this in my review of the car, but apparently not.

    There’s also a second instrument cluster oddity: the clear plastic cover bulges outward from its surround. From some angles this looks quite odd.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “I didn’t think the instrument cluster looked cheap. But I did find the layout unattractive and the tach difficult to view.”

      The cheapness comes from using a speedometer as its centerpiece that looks as if it was pulled out of a Chevy Lumina. The 180 degree sweep of the needle is typical of old GM rental car fodder, as is the font.

      It wouldn’t have cost them an extra penny to have just cribbed the layout from Audi. This is one of those cases when the appearance of cheapness didn’t provide any savings.

  • avatar

    Also, Sajeev, weren’t there some faux digital GM pickup and van clusters from the late 1980s with a similar layout?

    • 0 avatar

      http://images.gtcarlot.com/pictures/52054672.jpg

      These are the only ones I know of…considering the progressive minimalist styling of the 1988-94 C/K pickups, they were pretty cool for both the design and the asking price.

  • avatar
    monomille

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the benefits of a digital speedometer. Unambiguous precision in big numbers! Yes, I know precision doesn’t necessarily equal accuracy but a check with a set of mileposts allows for easy and consistent calibration. I drove my father’s SRX a few years ago and was immediately struck by how approximate the use of a dial type speedo is compared to the digital display in the Prius I was daily driving. “form follows function” should have some part to play in the design scheme.

    • 0 avatar
      Trend-Shifter

      I think that digital speedometers are not usually utilized because the numbers are always changing. It only works well when you have attained cruising speed. This is the same reason why you don’t see digital tachometers.

      Of course driving a Prius acceleration this may not be a factor 8^)

      I would like to see a tachometer and speedometer with the needles working off the same center-line but on different radi. It could work with different color needles and matching index marks. Has this been done before? It could save space and possibly be lower cost.

      About the ATS cluster, I would like to see the gauges match the exterior shape in some way that makes it all blend together. The rectangular digital readout makes it even worse. So a visual design fail in my book but I will judge the car after driving one some day.
      I kinda want an ATS but cannot justify a new car at this time.

      I love car design and this Vellom Venom series! Keep up the good work.

      • 0 avatar
        monomille

        The changing numbers thing certainly applies to a tachometer but I have not found it to be a problem with the speedometer. Most of the time accurate speedometer results are important you are at speed and are trying to judge how far over the limit you can get away with when setting the cruise control

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “I’m surprised no one has mentioned the benefits of a digital speedometer.”

      I can’t think of any.

      A gauge in a vehicle should communicate approximate information quickly. One should be able to glance at a gauge in a fraction of a second and obtain and process the relative information that one needs.

      For the most part, precision is just an unnecessary distraction. Digits require more attention, and that attention is better devoted to other activities, i.e. looking ahead at the road.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Agree. I see people in their Civics on the highway, and the number is always changing and skipping around. Whenever I see one, I think “Oh hey, the 94 Fleetwood had a similar set up.”

        Digital speedos are completely outdated. Sorta like the horizontal rev bar on the S2000, or the inclined solid-line speedo on a 92 GMC Safari.

  • avatar
    amca

    Just a note on the origin of the SRX’s instrument panel lights: they’re right out of the ’57 Eldorado Brougham, which had two little pointy lights much like the tail fins out back.

    And that’s the one thing I love about the SRX: it’s got tail fins out back!

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    Cimmaron II, guys.

    That’s up there in cheapness factor with the last Buick Century or mid 90s Ford Ranger. Unbecoming of a ‘luxury’ car.

    To rip the one from Cruze and thinly veil it with Caddy emblems and gauge faces would have looked better than…that.

    Fail.

    • 0 avatar
      jjster6

      Really. Come on. This is no Cimmaron II. You are just hating!!!

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Acura ILX is the modern Cimmaron. ATS isn’t a lower brand re-badge.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        “Acura ILX is the modern Cimmaron. ATS isn’t a lower brand re-badge.”

        The good news, then, is that even Cimmarons are better today…progress marches on!

      • 0 avatar
        acuraandy

        ‘ILX is the modern Cimmaron’…

        Ugh. No, in the respect that the IP looks WAY better than the Civic, and certainly the ATS/SRX.

        And the ILX isn’t based off an 80s Cavalier…FWIW.

        That said, I’d like to drive an ATS just to see what it’s all aboot before forming a determined opinion. Don’t knock it til ya try it I guess….

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        It may not happen often but I’m going to have to disagree with you Andy. Both Civic and ILX were beat with the ugly stick, if Acura wanted to impress they should have gone with last gen RSX styling for their Civic clone, but there’s only so much you can do to differentiate from your source design.

        I’ve been against the whole Cadillac “Art & Stupid, err Science” styling since they started maligning the brand in 2003, but ATS from a styling standpoint is far more attractive than CTS, and TL and ILX for that matter. But really ILX and ATS are two different kinds of cars aimed at different buyers, I think its difficult to compare them.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The Cadillac ATS is hardly a Cimarron for the 21st century. The original Cimarron was a Cavalier with a different grille, taillights and leather seats. It took badge-engineering to new heights (depths?) and signaled that the Cadillac brand was in serious trouble.

      It also helps to remember that the Cimarron, by itself, did not sink the Cadillac brand (which had been slipping since the late 1960s). Things only got worse with the lousy variable-displacement engine, crappy 4100 V-8 and drastically downsized DeVille, Seville and Eldorado.

      The ATS boasts a unique platform and body designed specifically to take on the BMW 3-Series. Cadillac needs to be in this market. The car itself is a credible entry, which is why details such as this are ultimately frustrating. GM keeps shooting itself in the foot by not sweating the details.

      The Acura ILX isn’t a modern-day Cimarron, either. It’s essentially a replacement for the old Acura Integra, which was based on a Civic platform and was not particularly luxurious. The ILX is hardly a rebadged Civic, and is actually pretty close to the spirit of the old Integra. The problem is that Honda apparently has failed to realize how much this market segment has changed since 1986.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “The Acura ILX isn’t a modern-day Cimarron, either. It’s essentially a replacement for the old Acura Integra, which was based on a Civic platform and was not particularly luxurious.”

        It’s also a direct successor to the Acura CSX (and its predecessor, the Acura EL), which were Canada-only models. The EL was a blatantly badge-engineered Civic; the CSX was a bit more differentiated, but not enough to conceal its origins.

        From the start, Honda used a Civic-derived entry-level model for the Acura brand, and it has done so almost continuously since then. With the ILX, Honda is providing the US market with a more sedate version of the Integra, while simultaneously consolidating its Canadian entry-level model with its US lineup. That doesn’t necessarily make it a great car, but a Cimarron it most definitely is not. The Cimarron comparisons smack of Detroit fanboyism, and reflect a lack of knowledge of both GM and Honda.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        I still don’t think that Honda knows what to do with Acura.

        I’m worried about the upcoming Acura RLX, which looks like a supersized Accord (although the Accord appears to have a more coherent design), and is thus not what that market segment wants.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    What I don’t understand is why haven’t IP’s moved on to a complete MFD panel that is a shared unit across everyone’s full lineup?

    It would probably be cheaper in the long run, lighter, more durable, and the bean-counters wouldn’t be forcing the cockpit designers to create an abomination like this. You could even give the driver a choice in the layout with different presets. With a press of a button make it look “old-timey” clock font, digital, or 80′s mars base Mitsubishi (I can dream right?).

    I bet there is a really bad ass looking CUE screen right next to this crap. Brilliant!

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    The speedometer/tachometer cluster is NOT the ATS best feature, IMO.

    BUT, the rest of the interior looks good and richer than a 3-series, also IMO.

    In any case, while the Detroit three have, sadly, produced millions of execrable cars, SO HAVE THE IMPORTS.

    The double standard is amazing–when Honda redid the Prelude in 1992, Road and Track found the new IP–which would be tacky in an era OLDSOMOBILE, “interesting”. It was crap.

    Consumer Reports bashed the Saturn (abort)ION speedo for ‘being out of line of sight’ in the middle of the dash–but nary a peep about the Toyota PRIUS, which manages to be even worse than the Saturn by being tackier.

    And now, the vaunted 3-Series Nav option give us a “pop-up” that..doesn’t pop up. It’s just artless there, in the middle of the dashboard. If GM or Ford or Chry did that, they would be skewered for a “cheap design” or “not neatly integrated” or (correctly), disrupting the view for shorter people.

    Now I feel better, lol.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    It’s interesting that I have read numerous articles rating or previewing this car and no mention of this save TTAC of course. The things that I noticed that made this car seem below par or cheap were the silly single off set rear exhaust outlet, the lack of fog lights on all but the two top tier models, the poor rear seat legroom due to the odd floor pan that extends further out than the seat cushion effectively killing foot space, the poor packaging that makes you pay extra for front seat only seat heaters, even on a loaded 50k plus model and lack of a CD/MP3 player on lower end models forcing you to use the one USB port. The other USB port is only good for Apple devices.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    Did you really take the first close up picture at night and the second at dawn? Or did you take a picture at night and then take the same photograph with a flash? A flash can make anything look hash and for an IP the lighting comes in at an unnatural angle, one you won’t see when driving the car in natural day light. The very first picture above, obviously naturally lit, doesn’t look as bad as the third.

    If you really did the IP close up picture at night and then in the day, Phil collins must get really tired from singing “In The Air Tonight” for hours on end!!!

    I too think the IP could be better, but that would increase the price of the car. For less than the BMW 3 series you get a car that many say drives better (some people’s opinion, I haven’t driven the ATS). Sounds like a good tradeoff.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      “I too think the IP could be better, but that would increase the price of the car. ”

      On the contrary, I think this cost more than grabbing a better looking one out of the parts bin instead of making this Fisher Price one from scratch. Others have brought up other examples of what they could have used.

      • 0 avatar
        jjster6

        I don’t think you can really just pick one out of the parts bin. I don’t think it’s that easy to make them fit between vehicles. Maybe I’m wrong, but nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Honestly, the Buick Terraza had much nicer gauges than this ATS.

    http://images.thecarconnection.com/med/2007-buick-terraza-4-door-cxl-ltd-avail-instrument-cluster_100287577_m.jpg

    It kills me how GM doesn’t learn from itself. This was 6 years ago, in a lower-brands VAN!

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    Just give me this: http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSSIG6chHvK2s7LHdoupzHyF7jtO6aDvu3cShIEXzYj2Z95xLrwBt97I-PHjg

    :)

  • avatar
    D in the D

    Well… Anti-GM bias much???

    COME ON!

    I can shine light on ANYONE’S gauges and make them look poor in a photo. This must truly be an incredible car for you to have to complain about this. Really…

  • avatar
    vanwestcoaster

    There are already .5 billion comments on this article and others have moved on… but I like the look of the Lincoln LS instrument cluster you linked to near the top of the article – simple and easy to read. And the LS still looks good – saw one the other day – great C pillar…

  • avatar
    jayzwhiterabbit

    Ugh, seeing that pic of the gauges from the last LeSabre dredges up bad memories. I worked at a Buick dealer during those years. The Buick interiors of the 90′s were so cheap as to be shameful. You know that the actual gauge was just a hole cut in the blue plastic with a piece of cardboard behind it, printed with the numbers? And they also had radios with the LCD numbers about an inch high, so old geezers could see them better. Buick was absolute garbage until about 2009.

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    We’re all car guys here, so I suppose some of us fixate on certain nit-picks. I’ve owned a number of new cars over the last few years. Each one has revealed an engineering or design feature that struck a negative chord. Having taken delivery of a new ATS 3.6L, just four days ago…I think the gauges (as well as all interior design / detailing) is superb. But, the ATS can’t be everybody’s everything.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India