Will BMW switch to fully-digital gauge clusters soon?

Interesting | April 3rd, 2017 by 39
2017 BMW 5 Series Italy 58 750x500

At the moment, the only BMWs that feature fully, completely digital gauges are the BMW i3 and i8. Even the BMW 4 Series LCI, 5 Series and 7 Series, which technically have fully digital displays, use traditional and physical gauge surrounds to create a more traditional setup. This creates fixed digital gauges within the screen, so they aren’t really customizable. But could BMW soon make the switch to fully digital and customizable instrument panels, like Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Audi Virtual Cockpit1 750x542

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit



BMW’s chief competition seems to be doing it so it makes sense for BMW to soon follow suit. Mercedes-Benz was the first to make the switch, in the S-Class. It actually features two 12″ high-definition screens for its instrument panel and infotainment screen. It looks good but will likely start to age a bit quickly, as it’s already starting to look old-fashioned. Audi’s optional Virtual Cockpit is a masterclass in digital instrument panels, though. Being that the Virtual Cockpit is housed in a traditional gauge housing, it doesn’t look like a tacked-on screen, a la Mercedes. Plus, the graphics are incredibly slick and the screens are completely customizable. There’s even a feature that turns the entire screen into a gigantic Google Maps navigation screen, which looks brilliant.

Right now, BMW’s digital gauges are just that, digital gauges. They aren’t customizable screens that can completely change their display to show various forms of information. However, there is some method to BMW’s madness at the moment. If you look at the original iPhone, it looks like it’s one hundred years old. It seems as old as a Motorola Razr. So digital screens typically don’t age well, as technology advances so quickly that even modern seeming screens will look ancient in only a few years time. So with BMW creating what seems like digital gauges, rather than just a gigantic screen, they might look better over time.

Mercedes Benz E Class Dash 750x392

Mercedes-Benz E-Class

On the flip-side, though, BMW’s gauges look dated right now, compared to Audi’s super-slick Virtual Cockpit. While they might age better over time, right now they seem old-fashioned and its competitors seem more high-tech. BMW makes up for this by giving us the best infotainment system and screen in the business. But Audi and Mercedes-Benz aren’t far off. In fact, Audi’s MMI system is right up there with BMW’s iDrive.

So I’m wondering if BMW will soon make the switch from just creating digital gauges to using a fully-customizable screen, like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.

39 responses to “Will BMW switch to fully-digital gauge clusters soon?”

  1. Kaisuke971 says:

    Merc’s display is disgusting, i like Audi’s Approach. A Virtual cockpit-like display (which would make even more sense in BMW’s driver-oriented interiors) would act as an HUD extender, displaying additional infos in a way that the central display in the car would be used only for entertainment.

    • I agree. I’ve spent a lot of time in Audis that have both the VC and HUD and it’s very driver-oriented, making it easy to get all of the necessary information (speed, speed limit, revs and nav).

  2. Paco says:

    There are two things that I think the new 5 series is missing; a digital cockpit and a four-zone climate control. Last time I commented about the lack of “virtual cockpit” in the new 5 series, some people argued that they liked it much better with the “physical gauge surrounds.” As much as I understand the “timeless” element of an “analog” looking display, the reality is that cars are no longer just driving machines for the majority of the people. Connectivity and technology are as important as driving dynamics when you buy a 530i or 540i as your daily driver. Whenever I get a 3 series loaner it shocks me to see how outdated its cockpit looks when compare it with the new A4 virtual cockpit, or even the A6 which is on its last year of production.

    • herrdoktorprofessor says:

      BMW dropped the ball on the F30 LCI. It’s no longer the best at anything in its class other than lease residuals that is.

    • Weiman says:

      Umm, the G30 does have four-zone climate control (optional, depending on market/model).

      • Paco says:

        Sorry, I should have specified that this is in the US. I am aware that it is available in other markets and that is why I think it is a missed opportunity. Audi, Volvo, Jaguar, offer this feature.

  3. jason bourne says:

    If BMW does make the jump to full digital gauges, I sure hope they’ll make ALL information accessible like oil temp, coolant temp, battery voltage, etc… It’s pretty ridiculous that a $30K+ BMW currently doesn’t provide that information in the gauge cluster and one has to resort to a third party’s tool to tap into the OBD2.

    • Henry Ting says:

      Just wondering what are the BMW engineers smoking when they decided to give us the useless fuel economy gauge and not a single information on the relevant data that BMW owners need. Yes, I also went that route in tapping into third party OBD2 bluetooth pairing with a phone to get the realtime information needed.

  4. George Stylianou says:

    If a digital display fails, what is the fallback? Well, there is none at the moment. I think as soon as BMW finds a way to have fallback analogue gauges in case the digital one fails then we will not see digital gauges as standard. FYI, when selecting the option for a digital cockpit, you agree to the terms and conditions for that option which covers automakers in the scenario that your digital display fails.

    • A7YJJ says:

      Valid point, but both analogue and digital tech can fail. My analogue speedometer (on a BMW) failed once. There was no ‘back up’.

      • GS says:

        Ok, let me rephrase my comment: As soon as digital displays become as reliable as analogue displays, only then should BMW have them as standard equipment.
        (sorry about your reverse gear)

        • Henry Ting says:

          Reliability has never been BMW’s strong point. I had a E30 when they first came out with the service indicator. A joke soon became popular among the BMW owners. That feature never worked as intended. Very often you have to SERVICE the SERVICE INDICATOR so that the SERVICE INDICATOR can alert you when to SERVICE your car. Pretty lame German over/under engineering if you ask me.

    • manuelf says:

      I don’t get you… there is no analog display at any current BMW! Just because there is the “look” of an analog tube, that does not mean, it is analogue! The combi cluster is a fully digital ECU. In most current displays you only have mechanical rings around the tube.
      And even in the combi clusters where you have real physical needles, they are fully digital driven…

      • GS says:

        I stand corrected, let me rephrase my comment once again: As soon as digital displays become as reliable as digital ECU’s, only then should BMW have them as standard equipment.
        Get me now?

  5. A7YJJ says:

    We just bought an Audi Q2 instead of a BMW cross-over primarily because of the Audi’s virtual cockpit (which I think is also now available on the A3!).The full-Google maps function is excellent. Overtime, the software can be updated easily, just like a smartphone. Not quite sure why BMW is dragging it’s feet on this one.

    • seancorr says:

      VW also has the same setup as Audi and it looks good on the new Passat. Sure hope all future models from BMW will have this as standard right down to their cheaper models like the 1 series since Mercedes is prepping the digital display for their next gen A class.

    • darex says:

      I heard there are serious legibility issues in bright sunshine. Can you confirm or deny it? If so, they can keep it!

  6. John says:

    I like the metal rings. Mercedes digital display looks kinda bad. Like two ipads stuck onto the dash. Oh well….

  7. Giom says:

    I wonder if BMWs decision to stay the course isn’t duo to owner preference. Probably not, as traditionally BMW drivers are more keen on tech and innovation rather than tradition. Maybe, the next big thing from BMW is the move to utilize the entire windscreen as seen in Vision Next 100. Who knows, but the board…

    • Kaisuke971 says:

      If they showed it on the Vision Next 100, that’s clearly what they want to achieve. I think that’s why they don’t bother too much with their cluster, because they plan to get rid of it

  8. Max says:

    Dont know what u are wirting about….
    My experience with the Audi VC was the other way around!
    The custumization is a nice gimmick, but: Looking down at the maps screen between the steering wheel is the worst u can do, because u dont keep ur head up to the road where it should be! Also that scrolling through menu etc.
    Thats why HUD is the best solution and BMW is class leader here without any doubt! Even the screen in the middle on the dash (with iDrive use) is better because you`ll also have your head up! That Audi VC is definitely overrated.
    And forget Benz at all, their usability (HMI) is so bad, that even there shiny big screens cant compensate.

  9. 90's says:

    I need a font from 90’s :(

  10. Henry Ting says:

    All I can comment is that don’t vouch for anything electronic, especially new from BMW to be reliable. Mechanically they are fine, but electronically, you don’t want to be a Guinea pig to BMW. I have experience to back me up from owning the BMW E30 era to the E90s, totally 4 different models.

    • John d says:

      I am on my 6th BMW right now, from the e30 to e92. Except the e46, they all have been rock solid. Mechanically or electronically.
      And we have had 4 e30’s in the family, never heard nor experienced the service indicator problem you mentioned.

      • Henry Ting says:

        Wonder how long you kept your E30. The Varta batteries that supports the service recording functions typically only runs for about 2 years. Then it needs to be replaced. The problem is, the batteries are not easily swapped out because they are hard-soldered onto the circuit board. The procedure is to pull the entire instrument gauge out to gain access to the circuit board, take the board out and then desolder the batteries, then replace the Varta batteries that you are lucky to get 2 years service out of it. Its no joke at all, it is a constant procedure of having to SERVICE the SERVICE indicator so that the SERVICE indicator can tell us when to SERVICE our BMW. I’m surprised that being a long-time BMW (especially the E30) that you are not aware of this problem. As I said, mechanically BMWs are fine. My E30 325i lasted me 1/2 million miles on the original engine. Electronically it has its share of problems to a point that I gave up. I just drive the car around with the instrument panel lighting up constantly like a X’mas tree.

  11. Weiman says:

    The BMW cluster may not be “fully digital”, but it’s digital enough for me and it looks great with the circular surrounds.
    The Merc cockpit is just atrocious.

  12. Marc Stroobants says:

    A good car is a chassis, a good engine, a good seat and perfect steering. All the rest are toys and gadgets which distract you from alert driving and are mostly useless and dangerous.

  13. Eddie says:

    Last few years, BMW falling behind MB, both with range of models and interiors. Speaking of interiors, after owning several vehicles from both companies waiting for my Tesla Model X to arrive in 2 weeks. Nice to have everything on one large screen

  14. prabhu says:

    Trust me, MB instrument cluster looks like disco stage, so bright. I had F10 BMW 5 with Multi Functional display and its awesome and works very good as UI/UX. it was the best display and looks very sporty with the 2 rings when the display is off and for 5 years never had any issues. the right information at right time on various driving modes. I have the Audi A5 this year the new one with Virtual Cockpit and most of the time it fails. The VC map goes blank most of the time, The PDC dont work on MMI some times, radio stations dont show up. The automatic display settings always show night mode even when its sunny. The traffic mode only displays the traffic flow on VC and not on MMI. Whats the point of traffic on my map when i am already in it. It is 4th iteration of VC/MMI software after it was released on TT, Q7, A4 and still very buggy. the MMI is nowhere near the previous generation of BMW iDrive. MMI is slow to start and respond compared to iDrive. I have used all the 3 german systems in the past on MB, Audi and BMW and i claim the BMW idrive is the best in the business and the from the usability UI/UX point of view the BMW cluster gauges and its orange colour is the best as i feel like i am in the club in Audi and MB during the dark setting and god the Ambient lighting of MB E class is rubbish, its not ambient, its bright enough to distract the driver.

  15. prabhu says:

    Also the Audi VC is not customisable. you cannot add or remove the information it is showing on VC. The View button allows you to zoom in the nav or show the dials bigger. Its not cusomisable and saying it to be customisable is completely wrong. Its showing all the information in different tabs such as radio, phone, nav and Car on VC and thats it, BMW does this on the idrive and Audi does it on VC. If i turn the google maps settings on MMI, it changes the VC settings too. If i turn the VC mode to traffic, the MMI changes too. So i cant have the information i need on VC. Its like you are displaying the duplicate information on VC compared to MMI. SO please stop saying the Audi VC is customisable.

  16. Rze says:

    I would refrain from using a map on the instrument panel as it distracts the driver from the road, as bmw had said before. The HUD bmw uses is amazing tech and the way to go forward. Use the windshield instead of the dashboard.

    • I totally agree. I just traded down from a 2016 S-Class Coupe to a used late-model Audi A5 due to financial circumstances. (Even the insurance dropped by almost $200/month!) My biggest peeve so far is having to give up having turn-by-turn navigation on the HUD in the S550 and going back in time to no HUD and having to look at the screen. Same deal with checking my speed. I fully agree that HUD is a massively safer option than the old-school screen.

      Now, having said all that, Audi MMI is infinitely simpler than Mercedes COMAND so in that respect it really evens out in the end.

  17. Curious V says:

    The Audi Virtual Cockpit is much, much nicer aesthetically than the BMW “hybrid”, which is a hybrid for absolutely no apparent reason than just being as conservatively designed as the rest of the interior.

    HOWEVER, it must be said that Audi allow very little customisation for the time being! A standard A (not S) model does not have Power / Nm gauge selectable for example which even BMWs with 1.6 engines do.

    Basically Audi’s hardware is far superior, the software (currently) is however extremely limited. The options for what you can actually display in that nice screen are very few.

    • Agreed – the BMW’s hybrid is crap – either pick one or the other – not both! Also I loved the look of BMW gauges. They always looked like a fine watch to me. Virtual cockpits are just… virtual. I just traded down from an S-Class with virtual to a 2015 Audi A5 with analog and it’s refreshing. Although that Google Earth navigation in the cluster is really damn cool! I have Google Earth on my nav thanks to a US Mobile $8/month data plan and even that’s cool enough on the tiny screen!

  18. I recently downgraded from my 2016 S550 Coupe due to cutting expenses that we don’t really need. I was undecided between an Audi A5 and BMW 528i. I went with the Audi, primarily because I hate 4-door sedans (now THOSE look old-fashioned to me!), and there are so many damn 5-series cars on the road here in Dallas that I’d be one of the “every other car” group. The same holds true for Bentley GTs here, as it did when I lived in Newport Beach, and Scottsdale… so they’re in my “every third car” group – LOL!

    Having said that, BMW makes downright beautiful gauges that remind me of a Breitling watch. I’m mainly an interior guy over exterior looks and that was seriously half the reason I almost got the 528i, especially coming from a virtual gauge 2016 S-Class; however, at the same price point (used 2015 models) the Audi edged out for having the top-end optional sound system (I’m an audiophile too), and it has Quattro AWD which is a necessity for our icy Dallas winters*, especially considering how the Mercedes 4-Matic runs circles around SUVs and pickups in slick winter weather. My only real complaint is that the Audi MMI and Bluetooth take forever to come on and connect while Mercedes COMAND was damn near instantaneous. It’s very frustrating having to sit in the car for a full minute or two just to get music streaming from my phone.

    *(FYI: People in the north where I grew up mock us for staying off the roads after winter storms. What they don’t realize is that we don’t get snow, we get ICE. Snow falls, melts the next day, then that night it re-freezes into ice. Imagine an entire city with all roads covered in black ice. Would any of those yanks really want to drive on that?!?!?!?)

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