The beauty of a Saab instrument cluster

Back in January I wrote a post on the instrument cluster of the 9-5 with the title I want my colours back.

Back then I said that I wanted Saab to move back to such an instrument panel as in the 9-5 first gen and the 9-3 first gen, or even the 9000, I think the instrument cluster was one of the reasons I bought my first Saab.

Today one of our readers has sent us one of those special pictures, at least for people who like numerology.

In this picture the driver has managed to take a picture of the instrument cluster while driving at 100 mph (Please, don’t do this at home 😉 ) and while reaching the 100.000 miles mark.

100.000 @ 100, maybe this is the proof that a picture is worth 1.000 (words). 😉

But I also wanted to share with you the beauty of this instrument cluster. The colours are just right, as they don’t produce much eye strain at night. The instruments are in one plane, without distracting decorations. Nobody can say if there are any other control lamps besides the “CRUISE” lamp. I just love it.

Other car brands seem to think that this cluster looks good, as their all LCD-screen cluster has just the same characteristics.

40 thoughts on “The beauty of a Saab instrument cluster”

  1. Drove 600 K´s in the night from Denmark earlier this week, night panel is a great feature, I just wish we could turn the light of the instrument down to zero.

  2. That dashboard looks amazing, no doubt about it, but speaking about its design, it already carries some age. I find the newest great. Everything green, no eye strain and there isn’t such a great contrast in the needle as when using orange. And the nightpanel, what a feature 🙂

    • I too really like the look of the displays in the new 9-5 and 9-4X. I find them very calming and well set-up. I know it has taken some knocks because it’s redundant, but the altimeter display option for my speed always “wows” guests I drive around. Night panel does its thing also, when needed.

    • Dave,
      You are so right.
      In my line of business aerospace research we have done both the cognitive ask well as the perceptual work on some of Saabs vehicles with wings.
      Saab green is it! Why should a Saab driver not have the same work environment as a fighter pilot.
      The OG 900 and the 9000 was in many ways the very best instrument cluster of its time and still beats many if they where in production. Things started to go sour in 2002 when the 9-5 Aero got a silver-metral fake look instrument panel. To much contrast in the viewing field. So I threw it out right away and put in a carbon fiber second best. A matte plastic would be superior.
      Then the NG 9-3 got the white hands and white numbers really bad combo together with silver surroundings of the gages. Just who where running the Human Factors department. The rest was perfect the green screen up near the windscreen perfect.
      Then with the 9-3 so called upgrade (I say downgrade) in 2008 that nice panel disappeared.
      Had big hopes for my 9-5 2010, they utilize more green that is good but what bothers me is the white light that reflects in the plastics of the tunnels leading down to the gauges. Those tunnels need some lining. As well as green color of the numbers and the please change the needles from fern to orange/amber Also some silly silver chrome on the round info display in the center of the speedo that need to go away.
      If Saab wants a member of an expert advisory/user group they can contact me.

    • Got to agree with Dave.
      No question I would choose the white needle and green number & cruise light over the amber ones at night in a car. Fighter pilots might disagree but driving is not that “hectic” in a Saab 😉
      The green and amber looks nicer though -during day time- but I always rather take the NG 9-3 for a long highway trip after sunset as it’s so much pleasing to the eye.

      I’ve actually put black insulating tap on lights that have been annoying me in the past so I’m pretty hard core when it comes to dashboard lights 😉

      As I’ve said before put different colored led lights in there so people can choose what they like. Unless they make the dash 100% digital on a high resolution screen of course that can be customized from IQon and easily changed/upgraded in the future.

  3. This instrument cluster is a powerful statement even today, especially within this brushed metal 9-5 dash. Please please please send this picture to the entire TDC @ Saab and to both Mr. Pang’s and say that all the people that didn’t buy a Saab from VM want that and will buy Saabs in a jiffy if they have that.



  4. (Please, don’t do this at home ;))

    This made me laugh. I WISH I had a house that size to try that in! But I’m sure by ‘home’ you mean ‘general area where you live, and not ‘house’ 🙂

  5. That is actually a nice picture. Considering it was taken whilst driving at speed. Needles all nicely balanced at half engine temp/half Fuel.

    I have seen displays that look flashier-thhe VW Red and Blue is very nice-until you drive for miles at night and get a headache.

    Saab did much research allied to the aerospace industry and came up with Orange and green for very specific reasons-one being it is the most easily readable combination over long periods.

    They used it to such great affect-many people now recognise its true value (and Saab stopped using it just as people started to appreciate it!)

    I sincerely hope such a trademark feature can make a return, and the general instrument layout remains “uncluttered”

  6. I’m afraid I believe the Saab instrument panels peaked with the C900. Why? Precisely because there’s no over-done backlighting or internal illumination.

    Especially at night, our eyes need all of the help they can get to maintain decent vision. Actual visible light sources are IMHO poor in this context; lighting inside the vehicle should be subtle, all-indirect, and not generate extraneous ‘spill’.

    The reflective lighting in the C900 is fantastic, since it increases the focal length to the source, only those parts designed to reflect actually reflect, and ‘spill’ is dealt with by the all-black surroundings. Any exposed LED, for instance, is terrible – it simply adds to the background lighting in the vehicle, and the dynamic range of the source is too great to ensure that only just enough light reaches the driver.

    Our eyes are not ‘designed’ to look directly at light sources; we have evolved to view things which are illuminated, the light reflecting from them. This is how most things outside of the car look; the same should be true within the cockpit.

    The only way in which it could be improved, IMHO, would be to mount the dials in the ‘roof’ of the binnacle, and use a mirror to display them. Why? Because it increases the distance to the dials, reducing the degree of focus change required by the driver’s eyes, in turn reducing strain. Honda did this with the first digital dash on the original ‘Aerodeck’ Accord (sadly a Japan-only dash) and the effect was fantastic.

    Sadly, not the first time, I find myself out of step. I will agree, however, that recent Saab efforts have not lived-up to the high expectations set by earlier models. I still sit in C900s and think that their clusters are the epitome of good design.

    • +1 on the reflected binnacle idea as long as it is still Orange/Green!

      Seriously though…almost everyone is going digital or LCD/pseudo Analogue and frankly I am not a fan of this new jump.

      on the Jag XJ it is detailed but still seems one dimensional, it is hard and sharp, it stabs your eyes, over long periods to me it seems “flickery” like an old TV.

      it needs to be way better than that-at the moment it is a gimmick, I guess a single LCD panel is cheaper to make than 6 different mechanical guages too.

      • Very interesting input regarding the Jag. I thought analog LCD instruments to be a good idea, but if it doesn’t look well..

        The opportunities of course are marvelous. A consumption gauge came to my mind, with dual needles, one for present consumption, and one for the average. Everybody could have needlesin their preferred colour etc.

        There are now 3D LCDs that work without additional glasses. Wonder whether that would help.

        • The more I think about using an autosteroscopic display in the instrument cluster, the more I like the idea 🙂 ; at least if the resolution is appropriate.

          You could really do anything with it. Like implementing the gorgeous AeroX 3D instruments. Or completely adapting the look to whatever a car manufacturer wants (remember, the Phoenix platform is offered to outside customers as well!) . Total freedom; even after the purchase. Integrated into IQon, hence even third party developpers might provide skins/set-ups. In full “physical” look. Wow!

    • The first generation Lexus LS400 had warning and status lights that were projected, from the top overhang of the dashboard, into the instrument cluster in a holographic effect. It also had speedometer and tachometer gauges which were white numbers with white needles, with a beautiful result.

  7. Are we going to just talk about it, or do something about it?
    All constructive ideas should be forwarded to the design team and Jason Castriota, right?

  8. It would be nice to have in new cars an optional hi-res colour display with configurable patterns (f.e. tachometer layout) and colour combinations + possibility to create new ones under certain conditions.

  9. What I would like to have in a new SAAB SAAB:
    1- A strong body, similar to that of a SAAB 900 Classic
    2- The front wind shield, the left and right hand side mirrors (With their blind spot) of an old SAAB 900 Classic
    3- The instrument cluster (gauge meters) of the first generation of SAAB 9-3
    4- The Vent knobs which were introduced in the dashboard of the first generation of SAAB 9-3.
    5- The hard acceleration of SAAB 99, but with modifications to overcome the problem of Turbo lag especially at take off from standstill.
    6- A new dashboard would have to be inspired from the dash board of SAAB 900 classic, SAAB 9-3 First and Second Generation.
    7- SAAB’s quirky design in terms of ergonomics, driving position, Heated and Cooled comfortable seats.
    8- The electrical windows buttons and ignition key are located in the center console of the car: A smart key with advanced options.
    9- The night panel option
    10- IQON, IPOD outlet, Navigation system, Bluetooth, head up display.
    11- SAAB infrared front head lamps.
    12- Front head lamps pressurized water cleaning nozzles
    13- SAAB’s stability at high speeds, and its dynamic and comfortable handling at twisty windy roads.
    14- The brakes of SAAB 9000.
    15 The rear wind spoiler

    What changes would SAAB have to implement?
    1- Develop reliable, trouble free cars, which are financially viable to own and maintain.
    2- Trouble free, reliable, and long lasting Turbo system
    3- SAAB’s resale value: (Unfortunately, SAAB’s depreciate very fast).

    What else?? Guys, Any suggestions???

  10. I must confess that when I sold my last 9-5 Aero and picked up my new 9-3, I missed the orange, but after a few months of living with the purist green / white combination in the 9-3 I am totally in love with it, especially in night panel mode.

    I’ve even taken a few pics of the whole dash at night

    One element that isn’t quite as iconic on my 9-3 though, is the turbo gauge!

    Nice post.

    • Using science the needle should have an equal or lower frequency wavelength (in the visible light spectrum of course) in order for the eye not to encounter strain.If the light is indirect-it matters less as the intensity is less due to attenuation/refraction -Thylmuc’s point above, this is why greens oranges and reds are typical needle colours in established analogue instrumentation. such a differentiation in colour also allows the periferal vision of the onlooker to determine needle position without actually looking directly at the guage and after time this aids unconscious scanning of the panel, where the information is transferred without any intentional or conscious “head down” time.

  11. Maybe in a near future this can be easily personalized but never forgetting security of course. If all gauges were digital, one could create a suitable color combination (although for me it will always be green) and even a custom dash layout. Doesn’t the Nissan GTR allow some customization of this sort ?

  12. I like it, it is unique, but anyhow the colors seem to be a bit outdated like the old DOS – black and green. The 9-3 with white, green, red is nice. Perhaps nearly preserve the design and change the colors, some winter / ice colors ? From the ergonomic point of view you should use black signs and white background more often, but of course this might be a bit boring. Perhaps have a look into a modern aeroplane ? Photoshop? And I think the turbo gauge could be in each Saab, it´s something people look at, it is Saab heritage.

    • What’s the matter with DOS..or BASH for that matter.? 😉

      No, what I meant to say is that I really, really love the cluster in my OG9-3, Especially when nicely wrapped up in Carbon.
      It is not so much all other rational reasons that other has listed, it is just a feeling of coming home and feeling good

      I would love to have all of the HUD gadgets, but for now I am using my very clever Android phone.
      And for the record I also love the dash that Bengt in Scania links to.

  13. The classic 900 had one of the best dashboards (speedometer cluster) but the 9000 had the better overall dash design. Orange pointers on black with white numbers and green lighting is the best. The new fad to have a big display inside the speedometer and make the pointed short is bad.

    • The interior of a Saab, dashboard, instrument cluster, and seats, are one of the strong points of Saabs. Winter handling, handling in good weather, and safety are others. Hopefully, the new owners will appreciate these core values.

  14. Here is my idea… Make a digital, Jaguar-like gauge cluster with the option to switch from a modern look to a classic look. Think yahoo email, where you can view their new look or classic. Probably won’t happen, but I think its a great idea!

  15. I totally agree with Red J.

    I switch between driving a MY99 9-3 and a MY06 9-5 (Dame Edna).

    Eventhough the MY06 9-5 is a much better car as a whole, everytime I drive the 9-3 I always think of its instrumentation and radio controls as being much better examples of good user interface (or HMI = Human Machine Interface).

    However, eventhough the user interface of the 9-3 is better I still better like the greenish/white colours of the 9-5 instrumentation.

    As Saab has the intention of being to cars what Apple is to IT-related gadgets Saab must get back to, and also improve, their good user interfaces. During the one single time that I have test driven the NG 9-5 I had great difficulties working out the various functions such as trip computer and cruise control. To be honest, I didn’t quite like it (However, I will probably be buying a SW in the end anyway. It is too beautiful from outside) and it felt more like an exagerated christmas tree.

    By the way, I also prefer the sport chairs of my MY06 9-5 compared with those of the new one. If I buy a new 9-5 I’m almost considering switching the drivers chair to that of the old one.

  16. .
    Way back in 1987, when my ‘new’ 9000SE [UK edition with wood door caps, etc] with the Saab airflow kit fitted {aka; Carlsson], I went to the Pub, with some Mates & they were all astonished when the dash lights were switched on…..The most comment was ‘It’s like being in an aeroplane…..Oh, so right!!

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