By on January 13, 2013

Question #1. TTAC commentator Seminole95 writes:

Sajeev, I have another question for you.

Why do auto manufacturers increasingly make cars with hard to read speedometers? I was thinking of buying a Mustang, but I could not tell easily how fast I was going. The new Accord speedometer is harder to read than previous models.

My commute speed limit is 45 mph. I set the cruise at 54, because I have been told that police don’t start ticketing until you get 10 mph over the limit. I can’t see the 54 mph tick easily when the speedometer is hard to read.

Sajeev Answers:

Why? For the same reason they give us no rearward visibility! They don’t care about style with substance. And cameras/TV screens are cheap to install, and a nice option package for you to buy. If you can’t see behind you or look at your gauges, don’t worry: THERE IS A TV SCREEN YOU CAN USE INSTEAD. Woot!

Agreed on the 2005-up Mustang gauge cluster’s horrible ergonomics. But then again, we love our retro Mustang-Clydesdale design (not me)…don’t we? The worst was definitely the first Bullitt Mustang (branded) of the SN-95 variety. It was the one that set the bad precedent. The one that told common sense to go pound sand.

OH NOES WTF IS GOING ON?!? Or conversely: I’m Steve McQueen biatch, I don’t care how fast I’m going!!!

Question #2. Anonymous writes:

In the vein of ATS cluster article, what gives with the speedo on my new-ish Golf?

Up to 80mph, it’s one metric and above 80 it’s another. Before I noticed the disparity, I thought I was cruising along at 85mph because I had the needle pegged on the unmarked tick above 80. Little did I realize I was going 90, because I normally have the display set to fuel economy, not the digital speedo. What was VW thinking?

Sajeev Answers:

Dude are you really trying to hold your phone, snap a photo while exceeding (probably) the speed limit?  I’ve seen worse, but still…COME ON SON! I gotta slap wrists, and make this one Anonymous.

I don’t have a big problem with this setup, as there is enough space between the letters and a seasoned owner learns the denomination change over.  I’m not saying that VW gave you the best cluster but it’s okay.  Even without the redundant digi-gauge in the center!

Okay, I’m lying, I do have a problem with the cluster: 160mph? Really?  In a Golf? This is a good speedo for a high-performance model, exclusively.  Case in point:


This is the cluster from my 1988 Mercury Cougar XR-7.  Sort of, because it’s a Fox body bastard like everything else in my ride.  I added two different Thunderbird Turbo Coupe tachometers (1985 for the face, 1987 for the guts) and the stupid-rare Ford Motorsport 140 MPH speedometer.

Two design beefs: Yes, I have a factory looking 24PSI boost gauge, but I don’t have a turbo on my 5.0L V8…yet. Yes, this speedo is better than the factory unit (85MPH) but the selection of big numbers to highlight isn’t logical (115MPH?). But they chose the highlights that make it flow nicely.

Is this Cougar a bad design too?  Not really.  The speedometer is odd, but awesome.  Considering Ford Motorsport actually made a proper speedo for a unique vehicle (Thunderbird/Cougar only) this is impressive.  It makes me wonder if the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe was actually used by certain government agencies with alphabet names and covert operations. 

You know, covert operations demand a 140MPH speedometer in your jet black Turbo Coupe. Maybe someone at Ford knows the truth, as we all love the myth(?) of the Buick Grand National Turbos supposedly bought by the CIA. And how that somehow inspired the insane Buick GNX. Fiction is fun!

But your Golf? Not really. Just give it a boring speedometer, and let some idiot like me upgrade it with the Golf R unit several decades from now.

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55 Comments on “Vellum Venom Vignette: More Cluster Commotions?...”

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    because having convoluted info-tainment systems,smart phones and complicated HVAC controls is not enough, we need more distractions to take driver’s eyes off the road.

  • avatar

    Because the automotive rags and consumers who wouldn’t buy a new car one way or another, complain that clusters aren’t pretty enough.

    I liked the digital Ford/GM clusters from the 90s. Gave you the exact speed without any guesswork between the 10 MPH increments.

  • avatar

    I have the stupid-rare 140mph Ford Motorsport speedo they made for 83-88 Rangers in my ’83 Ranger 4×4 w/5.0L C4/9in axle and 4 wheel disc brakes.

  • avatar

    My Garmin GPS tells me how fast I’m going and what the speed limit is. Alas, last time I used it I got a 75 in a 55 ticket. Readability of a speedometer is maybe further down than last on my list.

  • avatar

    That Golf speedometer is just stupid. The numbers should increase linearly. I wonder if the metric speedometer (i.e. in km/h) is also non-linear?

    Note to the submitter: the numbers on the dial are the same when the car is stopped. You didn’t have to take the picture at 84mph.

    • 0 avatar

      The Golf’s metric speedo is non-linear, too. BTW: although the numbers on the dial are the same when the car is stopped, VW did the same thing (cf.[email protected]_medialist_0_mediaItems_medialist_mediaitem_1)

    • 0 avatar

      VW’s logic in changing the calibration makes sense, but I would have preferred the break between 10- and 20-mph increments happen at 100 mph, and be somehow indicated by shading or something. Beyond 100 mph, you shouldn’t be worried about precise speed, you should be looking far, far ahead down the road where you’re about to be. Precise speeds don’t matter, expect on a cop’s radar gun. At that point, your license is toast, anyhow. The exception is one of those empty-road, middle of Nowhere, Nevada speed runs where’ you’re “testing.” Then I’d read the clear digital speedo for my bragging rights.

      From my experience, you;re more likely to get speeding tix at lower speeds in hyper-patrolled places like Boulder. There, I’d rather have larger and clearer indications of modest speeds, and give up the 120+scale. But I know that the top speedo number is oh, so vital for those test drives that never leave the showroom floor.

    • 0 avatar

      The speedometer on my 2011 GTI increases in equal increments right up to 180mph.

      • 0 avatar

        Upon further review… The speedometer in the GTI has hash marks in 5mph intervals with the 10s noted (even 10s being larger) up to 140mph and then 10mph increments up to 180mph. As someone noted, kind of a moot point since the car is governed at significantly lower speeds.

  • avatar

    The problem with the Mustang speedo is with the cramming of so much information into one gauge. The lower half is filled with idiot lights, while the top half has to span a range from 0 to 160 mph. In the old days, the sweep of the gauge was greater, and it covered a smaller range of speed, which gave things a bit more breathing room.

    The trip computer/ electronic display in the middle of the instrument panel of the current model takes up a lot of space, which inspires these sorts of design choices. The alternative would be to have a larger instrument panel so that the speedometer and tach could sweep a wider range, i.e. 8-4 o’clock instead of 9-3, and the fuel gauge, idiot lights, etc. could be located somewhere else.

    The 15-mph increments on the old T-Bird above are quite awkward, but I suppose that they were trying to find a way to accentuate the 55 mph speed indication, in the spirit of the short-lived federal speedometer mandate. Not how I would have done it, however; 10 mph increments are a lot more intuitive.

    The VW thing is just ridiculous. One should be able to glance at a speedometer very quickly to get a good approximation of one’s speed. Using a mixed scale interferes with that, and is not at all intuitive.

  • avatar

    Speedometers exist for two primary reasons:

    a] How fast am I going relative to the speed limit?

    b] Does this car make my peni$ look bigger?

    Since the highest speed limit in the US is 85mph, any numbers on the speedometer >100mph are solely there for reason [b].

    Fact is, the smaller the range of the speedometer is, the wider the graduations can be, and the easier the speedometer will be to read. In the bygone days of the federally-mandated 85mph speedo, the gauge was markedly easy to read. Conversely, a speedometer that goes to 140mph will, by definition, have smaller graduations and thus be more difficult to read.

    (Interesting exception: in some GM cars I’ve rented, the speedometer goes to 140, without units. If you push the “metric” button, the speedo reads in km/h. Since 140 km/h is a useful speed to be able to know, it’s an interesting workaround to having to crowd the dial with two sets of numbers.)

    • 0 avatar
      A Caving Ape

      This is half-remembered hearsay, but I think there’s an ergonomic argument in here as well. The premise is that needles are easiest to read when they’re pointed somewhere between 11 and 1 o’clock on the gauge.

      This is why on a sports car tach (ferarri and the FR-S are both great example, google ’em), noon is 6 or 7K RPM. When you need to very quickly and accurately asses your revs, you’ll be up in that range.

      For the speedo, though, you need that optimum information availability at highway speeds- 60 to 80. If that area occupies the top of the gauge, it only makes sense that the demarcations would go up to roughly double that on the far side of the speedo.

      • 0 avatar

        “…needles are easiest to read when they’re pointed somewhere between 11 and 1 o’clock on the gauge.”

        Good point. OEMs could develope an LED speedo that indexes to keep what ever speed you choose, ‘straight up’ at 12 o’clock and that could be 55 mph or the GPS could index it for the max limit on that stretch. Or set ‘straight up’ at 7 mph over, for example. Then it could ding, flash or ??? at a predetermined speed over the limit.

      • 0 avatar

        @DenverMike: My Iphone has an app that pretty much does what you suggest with reference to telling you when you exceed a speed. The speedometer was free and it cost me a whopping $3.99 to get the rest of the app. An OEM would have probably have been able to install that for..oh, maybe $399.

      • 0 avatar

        I had an A8 which would let you pick a “desired” speed, and when you exceeded it by 3 or 4mph, there would be a warning in the center cluster screen, and beeps from the dash.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Junk like that is why I’m fairly pleased with my Volt’s dash. Just a big honkin’ speed number, gas/battery gauge, and ignorable moving ball. There’s a selectable bit that I leave on current trip odo, range, compass and total odo, but the speed number is the main thing and it’s about 3/4 of an inch high, and in what appears to be some opensource-equivalent Helvetica font. Plus, the cruise control works with 1mph/kph increments, and regenerative braking does a very nice job of maintaining speed on downhill stretches.

    I also like the W12X Benz Futura Modern VDO gauges.

    • 0 avatar

      And that’s why so many automakers are incorporating full-out LCD instrument clusters–Land Rover, Jaguar, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Fisker and Tesla among them. They are extremely reconfigurable and pose less liability of having to be redesigned or scrapped midway through the product’s lifecycle. I’m pretty sure Land Rover carried theirs over from the outgoing Range Rover to the new L405…

  • avatar

    I too have an issue with unnecessarily-high numbers. Our Nissan Murano’s speedometer goes all the way up to 160 MPH. There’s no way I’m getting that thing to go that fast without ripping out the rear seats and stuffing a GT-R engine in there. (And even then…)

    I think Ford came up with a nice solution for most of its MyFord Touch equipped models, which have a mechanical speedometer front and center, flanked by two rectangular LCDs. I drove a car with such an arrangement and was surprised at how easy it was to read.

    Too bad nothing else worked properly on the car…

    • 0 avatar

      This is my complaint, too. Why does the speedo go to 160? It’s made it past the center line once or twice when I’ve passed someone on the freeway.

      To add insult to injury, my VW came with a little paper sticker reminding me that the tires are only rated up to 130 MPH.

    • 0 avatar

      Probably just pulled from the Nissan parts bin. A first-gen G35 6MT coupé can go 155 (electronically limited, I believe) and also has the same 160 mph speedo.

  • avatar

    My G8 has virtually the same thing going on as the Golf. 10 MPH increments to 100 then 20 MPH increments to 180 all while keeping the same visual spacing. This sequence keeps the dial very legible to 180. You get used to the spacing and it works well if you’re a lead foot. Hitting the 160 hash mark isn’t even that hard…I’ve heard.

  • avatar

    I much prefer the older 85mph limited speedos. It makes it really easy to read every speed.

    Like on my 1990 f250. The max I’ve probably gone is 75 in that thing so it works great.

  • avatar

    The RX-8 cluster is still the best I’ve used. Huge center tach, digital speedo inset. Done! What more do you need? I have the GTI as well and I just use the digital speedo. The analog one is worthless.

  • avatar

    my car (tsx) has a speedo that goes to 160 mph.

    that’s retarded.

    aint no way the car goes that fast, and that makes it harder to read.

    Last time I went crazy fast in a car (many years ago), the thing quit on me. It was as like at 120 or something.

    160 mph is retarded.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of my old GTI. 160mph speedometer for a car that was governed at 130. At least the increments were linear though…

    • 0 avatar

      I ranted about the illegible speedo in my Mk. V GTI a few days ago, so I won’t be repetitious. But how many of you would cut all this infotainment for a set of simple black-on-white VDO gauges, like all the best sports cars used to share? I know I would.

  • avatar

    Are there any aftermarket instrument clusters for the 2005 and later mustangs?

  • avatar

    Legibility: that’s why I took a brave (and lonely) stance in favour of the Lincoln LS instrument panel that you dissed in the recent ATS VVV piece.

  • avatar

    It’s called a cluster for a reason. But someone will always complain that it’s too digital, not digital enough, too much or not enough info, etc.

    I do agree that over the 100+ mph readout is unnecessary and should just black out the cluster except for a big LED image of hand snapping on a latex glove… At speeds over say, 120 mph, you should be focusing on other stuff.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I recall driving cars in the 70’s which had a big red 55 highlighted on the speedo just to remind you that the national speed limit was 55 and god forbid if you went over that.

  • avatar

    Is the Accord really that much harder to read? Still looks as legible as ever even in the most “sporty” guise of the cluster

  • avatar

    Ok, many newer displays are horrific – it’s obviously a design non-priority.
    That said, I’d like to go off topic as ask: WHERE ARE THE HUD’s?!?
    With increasing electronic blizzard of options available for many entry level cars, why are HUD’s restricted to B(reak)M(y)W(allet) level cars? Hello Mazda? Hyundai? Ford?
    What is it? Has product testing shown that HUD’s confuse/confound/annoy too many?
    Or is the next priority air bags on cup holders to keep water bottle safe?
    Or would the design dolts at most manufacturers screw the pooch with HUDs too? WTF???


  • avatar

    Had a small electrical fire that took out the electronic speedometer in my truck. Downloaded speedbox for my Iphone. Using it in the car that has a speedometer I found (by using a measured mile and watch) that the phone was more accurate than the car. Now I use it in my truck and have the choice of an analog face or a digital one. Not much lag but a little.

    Honestly think it is an answer if you don’t like what you have.

  • avatar

    You guys have it so good. On the cheaper cars in Brazil oftentimes you just have some blank gauge in the cluster. My Ford Ka for example. It has a large circular clock (speedo) and two half circles on each side. On the right one there’s the (imprecise) fuel gauge and on the right one there is..nothing. Just a big Ka written there. How cheap!

    Not as bas as some Fiats from times gone by. In the cluster there would 3 clocks. On some one of the clocks would have a drawing of a humanoid figure seating on a car seat with “Fasten seatbelt” written in English! I actually didn’t buy one of their cars once because of that.

    On the other hand, my Ka has some hidden functions in the instrument cluster. Turning the ignotion on (but not firing the car), on the (very small) digital total and trip mileage has some hidden functions. One checks the lights, there are some other functions I haven’t discovered yet, and then you reach a digital speedo! You turn on te car and you don’1t get the mileage or trip mileagedisplay but you get the digital. Of course much more precise than the analog one. Sometimes I put it on to show my friends. There’s nothing about it in the manual. A jest from Ford?

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like US cars in the 1960’s, where there was a huge round area for the optional time clock that screamed “cheapskate”. On those cars the speedo was typically hard to read horizontal instead of round and went to 120mph on cars that couldn’t do 90 with a tail wind. Oil pressure and ammeters were rare. Voltage gauges were non-existent. My ’65 Chevy didnt even have a temperature gauge, just a light.

      My all time favorite was the 1980’s-1990’s Ford Truck “fake” oil pressure gauge. It was a fully functional instrument that was fed by an on-off switch and in-line resistor, so it only read 0 or 50% of needle sweep. Both our ’88 Ranger and ’94 F-150 had them.

  • avatar

    I would argue the 2013 Honda Accord cluster is easier to read than the 2012. The 2012: and the 2013: . With a simple addition of a screen inside the speedo, trip information is displayed, more clearly, and inside a larger speedo. The compromise is reducing the size of the tach, which the majority of family sedan buyers probably don’t care about anyway. This also allows the speedo to be raised and mounted dead center, more easily viewable through the top of the steering wheel.

    But even better is the improvement in the center stack, for example in the Navigation-equipped models, 2012: and 2013: . I remember comparing the 2012 vs. 2013 Accord in a dealership, the difference is huge. The 2012 has a wall of buttons that make you feel like you’re driving the space shuttle. The 2013 stack, when equipped with the touch-screen, is very slick and actually works well (with redundant stereo controls on steering wheel). You can also turn off both screens with one simple physical button on the top left of the screen.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “and let some idiot like me upgrade it with the Golf R unit several decades from now”

    LOL, good luck at that.

  • avatar

    The Fiat 500’s speedo is one of the worst I’ve seen. They somehow managed to fit four gauges onto a concentric display (speed, tach, fuel and temp). It may contain lots of information, but it’s really hard to read. Even the idiot lights are positioned in an arc around the display. It was a huge turnoff for me when I test-drove one.

    While I really like the simple digital/numerical speedometer on my Leaf, the abundance of other information can become a distraction if you let it.

    The center-mounted speedometer on my 05 xB was excellent – easy to read and not distractive at all. By comparison, I think the Mini’s center speedometer is cartoonishly large.

  • avatar

    I guess the Crown Vic P71 speedo is about as good for clarity as anything . . .

  • avatar

    My favorite Speedometer are the ones in my 78 and 79 Chevys. 80mph tops, plenty of room between the marks to easily read. The 79 goes considerably faster then the 78, and I’ve had that needle half way through the odometer. But, 80mph+ is reckless driving, so at that point, does it really matter?

    Not crazy about the one in our 2012 Mustang. I’ve gotten use to it, but I still think it’s a bit too much. But at least it’s a Mustang with sporty intentions; these 140-160mph speedometers in FWD economy cars are completely pointless.

  • avatar

    I love the cluster in my non-Bullitt SN-95 Mustang. Clear, easy to read numbers, sensible number of ticks on the tach and speedometer, and essential info is out front with no clutter.

    Some complain it’s too plain or not Mustang-y enough but I disagree – the best Mustangs copied and adapted what the Europeans were doing and the Europeans perfected clear, easy to read gauge clusters in the 80’s and Ford copied them in the 90’s. This reminds me very much of the Volvos and VWs we had in the 80’s (and BMWs and Mercedes and Porsches we didn’t have). Unfortunately, the whims of fashion left simple panels that simply deliver information to the driver in a straightforward way long behind.

  • avatar

    Because without this commotion going on inside the car the Millennial why’s wouldn’t have anything left to attract them to new generation vehicles.

  • avatar

    I can’t wrap my head around why VW decided to do that to a regular Golf at such a low speed. They did it in the GTI too, but it doesn’t start until 140 mph, which is way faster than the car is electronically allowed to go in the first place. Even if the car had no electronic restriction and had enough horsepower it’ll probably hit the rev limiter in sixth gear at 140. That the speedometer goes to 180 is mildly amusing.

  • avatar

    I always liked the horizontal speedometer from the ’64 Pontiac Bonneville. Seemed extremely easy to read, and it wasn’t round like EVERY speedo used today.

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