In 2012, when the 2013 Dodge Dart launched, the world saw the first normally priced car with a seven inch customer-configurable dashboard display. Placed in the center of the gauge cluster, the screen had enough contrast to pass for another analog gauge in photos — and in real life; people seeing it for the first time didn’t realize it was fully digital.
The system was not a new idea for Chrysler; the 200C concept car had an entirely digital dashboard, and the company had started using huge 8.4” center displays some time earlier. Back in 2009, Alex Petersen noted Chrysler’s patent application number 12/414,723, filed in March, which covered such a device.
Ironically, the actual 2015 Chrysler 200, while it used a seven-inch configurable display, did much less with it than the Dart; it was used not for virtual gauges so much as a more graphically inlined EVIC. Owners could only change the top three positions for permanent displays (not the bottom two as well), there was no analog speedometer except the physical one, and the center was changed by steering-wheel controls like the old black-and-white EVICs.
Design chief Ralph Gilles said the main reason why such displays hadn’t been used before was because resolution and contrast were not high enough; the breakthrough was a tight enough density to avoid being able to see individual pixels (what Apple calls a “retina display”).
Since its launch, Chrysler has spread it to the Ram, Grand Cherokee, Durango, and Cherokee, while General Motors has added a similar setup (with a slightly smaller screen and completely different user interface) to its 2014 Silverado. Starting with 2014 models, Chrysler has also modified its steering wheels again, to make manipulating the display easier.
In essence, buyers can change the display in six areas: the central portion, the absolute center, and the four corners. They can, if they choose, leave any part blank; have the center indistinguishable from an analog speedometer; or have different information in each part. Samples on this page are mainly from the Dodge Dart. Buyers can change speedometer style (but not font) and PRNDL style, and read car messages, as well as change where information is shown, using a fairly easy set of buttons on the wheel.
If you’re a gauge freak, you can get oil and coolant temperature, transmission temperature, and other measures, though you can’t get them all at once, which is unfortunate. On the lighter side, you don’t have to sacrifice temperature, compass heading, and gas mileage to get oil temperature, as you do on, say, a 2013 300C. And it gives you cool graphics when you start up or leave a door open.
The digital display makes it easier to show the rear proximity detectors in real terms (distance and which detectors are showing obstacles), and is essential for Jeep Cherokee’s active parking system.
In a plus for both Chrysler and drivers who frequently cross the border, it makes switching to metric distances easy. What’s more, it does so in a way that preserves the same speed range, so the speedometer needle doesn’t end up traversing a tiny physical space when switched to km/h.
There are some odd areas where the Dart’s setup is superior to the 2014 Grand Cherokee’s. First, you have exactly two speedometer design choices: conventional (analog) and digital (numbers only). Dart provides different gauge looks; Grand Cherokee does not. Second, the information you can place in the top left and top right are limited to trip odometers, fuel economy and range, and compass, clock, and temperature (these three are shown all the time in the 8.4 inch center display as well). You can’t show, for example, oil temperature all the time in the top right. There is also no customization of the bottom of the display, nor of the gear indicator (other than shutting off the display of the current gear number). This is all rather surprising given the price difference between the vehicles; perhaps more is coming in a future release.
The following photos are from the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
More Mopar Car and Truck News
Chrysler’s market status • The role rental cars play in a customer's... • Wiper Issue '82 Dodge 400