Back in 2015, with the launch of the Audi Q7, the four-ringed brand debuted a new technology that would change the face of Audi’s interior design for good — Virtual Cockpit. The all-net set of fully-customizable digital gauges absolutely changed the game, not just for Audi but for the industry as well. However, as good as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is to use, there are still some car enthusiasts that prefer good old fashioned physical dials.
Objectively speaking, there’s no contest — the digital instruments are better. They’re more responsive, more precise and far, far, far more customizable. You can’t customize physical gauges; they are what they are. However, you can completely tailor the information displayed by Virtual Cockpit to suit your own wants/needs. That in itself is a massive advantage.
Having said that, there’s something else to be said about the look or proper instruments. There’s something magical about watching a physical needle swing around some delightfully designed dials as you listen to an engine rev. It’s similar to the manual transmission in that it’s technically worse but more enjoyable somehow.
There’s also the creativity that came from certain physical gauges. For instance, the sweeping rev needle that went from zero-to-redline-and-back upon start-up in the first-gen Audi R8. Audi wasn’t the only one to get creative with dials, though. BMW had red-line lights that would change depending on engine temperature, Mini had just the central tach with a giant speedo in the center of the dashboard and Lexus even had a sliding tach (okay so those were actually digital but the tech physically slid around).
Then there’s the artistry of certain gauges. For instance, the gorgeous timeless design of Smiths dials in an old Jag or the Jaeger dials of a classic Ferrari are both great examples of artistry in instruments.
Personally, I will always prefer the look of old-school, physical dials in my cars. I also love Audi’s Virtual Cockpit and think it’s a wonderful tool for modern cars. However, if given the choice, I’d go back to real swinging needles in a heartbeat.