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The danger of too much in-car information

Nissan’s almighty GT-R has long been referred to as a car for the ‘PlayStation Generation’. Its level of technology leads to performance, traction and handling capabilities so alien that the car may as well be from Mars.

Despite this, several sections of the motoring press have relayed their overall disappointment with the GT-R. These detractors follow the same line of criticism: “Too clinical. The GT-R doesn’t involve the driver enough in the process of driving.” The sophisticated all-wheel drive, dual-clutch automatic gearbox, effortless twin-turbocharged V6 engine, and massive brakes were simply deemed too competent for the car’s good.

Sitting here now, it’s not a theory I subscribe to, having spent a memorable day with the GT-R a couple of years back. Sure, the technology makes the car punch well above its price, but as I recall my tingling, fully awakened senses during my drive, the car was most definitely involving to drive.

I did have one particular issue with the GT-R, however. In the upper centre console, its 7.0-inch multi-function screen- a device so useful when used for satellite navigation or as a reversing camera- has enough menus to drive a driver crazy. The graphic design for the GT-R’s screen, incidentally, was developed with Polyphony, the designers of the Sony PlayStation game series, Gran Turismo.

Perhaps the most distracting are the telemetry screens, which gauge myriad facets of the car’s all-consuming performance. I say all-consuming because, when you are in the process of driving a GT-R beyond a 60km/h zone you really need to be concentrating on the road ahead.

Called the ‘Multi-Function Meter’ and operated via a combination of rotary switch and touchscreen interface, you can dial up information on the car’s coolant, oil and transmission temperatures, turbocharger boost and front to rear engine torque split. This is all quite useful stuff, for this information can enable the driver to pick up if there are any engine or transmission issues before they become serious. There’s also a ‘gearshift map’ available which offers optimal gearshift points to maximise fuel economy- useful when your 404kW GT-R averages 11.7 litres per 100 kilometres!

From here on- in my opinion at least- things become a little unsafe. The display is capable of showing throttle position, braking force and both longitudinal and transverse g-forces. There’s also functionality to store driving routes and times taken to complete them.

There is an argument these functions are useful on the track, but the GT-R is essentially a road car…and I’m not so sure you will be looking to the screen to check your dynamic throttle position percentage whilst entering the Southern Loop at Phillip Island, let alone on the drive out to visit the folks. It’s a recipe for flying off the road, and unlike in a PlayStation game, you can’t just hit restart.

There is an argument that suggests GT-Rs will only be bought by responsible adults who can afford the price tag, but what about in the second-hand market? And what about the flow-through effect of this technology appearing in cheaper new cars?

I was recently surprised by the display in the muscular new Chrysler 300 SRT8. It stores peak g-forces through its performance metering, and displays it alongside dynamic data should the driver ask for it. It’s an invitation to match or better your previous peak, and it has no place in a road car.

Are these gauges a distraction and potential safety issue, or a key technological selling point for such cars? Let us know in the comments.

Nissan GT-R interior showing multi-function screen

Nissan GT-R interior showing multi-function screen

4 comments

  1. Lee Strauss says:

    This issue leaves me a little divided, the geek in me love all the information that the GT-R can provided. On the other hand have attended a number of accidents where the drivers attention has been drawn away from driving to either their entertainment system or GPS, I’d have to say a drivers attention needs to be 100% on the road ahead, it only takes a split second for it all to go wrong and leave you with regret that can last a lifetime.

    So perhaps the middle ground is having all this extra information available when your stopped rather than on the go.

    March 26th, 2013 at 11:57 am

  2. Mark says:

    The HSV e3 series has the same functionality in the EDI along with an array of ye-olde fashioned gauges on the dash – With the added benefit of being able to download the information saved to USB and then use the motec software to look at it after the fact. I must say I would be lost without the tire pressure information, oil temp/pressure etc. lets you know whats going un under the hood. Lap timer,gforce meters, digital taco/shift timers etc are more for entertaining the passenger than the driver. The inbuilt race tracks are great for track days however..especially split times etc.

    The biggest problem in cars touchscreens without sensory feedback. At least with a knob or button there is sensory feedback when engaged. A touchscreen requires you to look at the screen. Will need to wait and see with the next gen of touchscreens.

    People will always find something to distract them while driving. You cant legislate for stupidity.

    March 26th, 2013 at 2:06 pm

  3. Tom says:

    Depends on what you want to do with your car. I love driving, and I love driving my little Bimmer 125i M Sport coupe. I have no interest in tracking. I’ve just two instruments, speedo and rev counter. Who needs more? There’s nothing to distract me. The car is so perfectly set up, the seats are so good, I can feel everything I need through my butt – when I’m driving, the car and I are one. I’m a great believer in the KISS principle.

    March 26th, 2013 at 4:37 pm

  4. John Aquilina says:

    If we all had seats like yours, some folk would be heading straight to the mechanic if they bumped the seat-warmer button!

    March 26th, 2013 at 9:09 pm