Why traditional instrument clusters could become a thing of the past

The Volvo EX30’s central cluster was designed to provide the driver with the correct info at the right time. Picture: Volvo Cars.

The Volvo EX30’s central cluster was designed to provide the driver with the correct info at the right time. Picture: Volvo Cars.

Published May 4, 2024


Automotive design is a dynamic discipline. Today’s vehicles look exceedingly different to those of years gone by, having evolved in dimensions, proportions, ergonomics and indeed overall styling.

The global automotive market’s inevitable shift towards electric vehicles (EVs) has accelerated this usually fairly gradual change, since dedicated flat-floor platforms (as opposed to underpinnings created to accommodate internal combustion engines) have afforded designers far greater freedom.

It’s a similar case inside, though perhaps for other reasons.

Yes, the modern car’s uncluttered dashboard is a far cry from the button-festooned facias of vehicles from just a few short years ago.

Car manufacturers are moving away from traditional dashboard designs. Picture: Volvo Cars.

With big sellers like the Model 3 and Model Y, for example, American automaker Tesla popularised the idea of doing away with the traditional instrument cluster, instead shifting driving information to a central screen.

The new Volvo EX30 features a similarly minimalistic set-up, though this compact electric SUV’s centrally positioned, portrait-orientated 12.3-inch display employs a clever “contextual bar” along its top edge, providing the driver with the right information, at the right time.

The driver is furthermore able to use their voice to control several of the car’s functions via the onboard Google Assistant.

There are, of course, several other benefits to the broader centralisation theme.

It maximises interior room and makes the cabin feel more spacious, for instance, while also allowing the infotainment controls to be easily reachable by both the driver and front passenger. In addition, there’s an argument that fewer displays – and indeed less information that isn’t critical to driving – results in fewer instances of driver distraction.

However the flipside can also be true in the case of poorly designed systems as fiddling through menus to change the temperature of fans speed, for instance, could prove distracting for drivers.

A more minimalistic cabin also brings distinct sustainability advantages (reducing a given vehicle’s carbon footprint), since the most sustainable component is the one that simply does not exist. There is, of course, also a cost saving at play here, which could very well see the likes of the consequently more accessible EX30 help bring down the average price of battery-powered cars.

So, cars and their cabins continue to evolve. And while the idea of a centrally sited instrument cluster perhaps isn’t entirely new – this sort of layout featured in everything from various classic cars (though sans the digital element, of course) to the fourth-generation Toyota Prius hybrid, after all – this latest execution certainly has the potential to bring significant benefits to modern EVs and their buyers.