The astonishing illuminations we see on instrument panels provoke rumination on showroom appeal and the Press’ dereliction of duty.
A night time taxi ride last week offered me a chance to experience the festival of lighting, graphics and colours that graces the latest version of Volkswagen’s (VW’s) new Passat, their C-D class saloon. The acoustics of the sound system also left a striking impression. It’s not that I am a big fan of Diana Krall. It is that her brand of lush Martini orchestralism allows the Passat’s music system to demonstrate the staggering illusion of a huge sound stage. The combined effect of the elaborate lights which wove together high tech with cosiness and the richness of the sounds produced a tremendous sense of well-being. The ride quality also impressed.
Now in a traditional show room inspection and on a test-drive, two out of three of these characteristics will be readily apparent. You can see why VW (or “Volkswagen”), the well-known, Wolfsburg-based automotive concern went to considerable lengths to create a strong and positive impression here. The test-driver can feel the ride quality and they can hear the hi-fi. That much is apparent during the day when most test drives are undertaken.
The illuminations, on the other hand, are something one really only appreciates at night. In all likelihood the person driving the car at night is already the owner. If VW and, indeed, any of the many firms that are creating such arresting photochromatic confections were more cynical than they were they could quite comfortably not bother to further impress the person who has bought the car. The ride, the paint, the sound system, the easy monthly repayments all worked their wonders. Deal done.
I have been saying for some time (and sometimes at inappropriate times) that the level of creativity of the graphics of many current IPs is something to sit and gaze in astonishment at. My recent experience of the Opel Adam left me with a dramatic impression that the Adam was a much more appealing thing to have compared to the like-priced Corsa whose IP is good but much less Hollywood and Bollywood. When I sit in my 25 year old car, it’s the IP above all that dates it.
From this one is compelled to assume that designers view the IP as a great place for surprise and delight. Even the Ford Fiesta has a nice but pointless glowing strip on the passenger side of the dashboard. The footwells are illuminated for goodness´ sake. And as I was sitting in the back of the Passat, I noticed a pool of light showing the location of the window switch and a strip of light running along the door capping. A thundering question is this: does the Mondeo and does the Insignia do this? Who else is investing in complex wiring looms to throw intriguing splashes of light over surfaces previously lost in night time gloom? Will the 2026 Hyundai Atoz have such a feature?
Where will this end? And perhaps I should ask if car reviews should be paying more attention to this kind of thing than they do. Stuff the engine and sod the handling. Nothing I had read about the Passat hinted that VW had gone to the trouble of equipping what is ostensibly a very boring car (so they say) with such elaborate illuminations. And I find them very alluring, very tempting. So are we also to assume that VW is figuring that casual rentals and taxi trips are offering a chance to woo extra buyers as I was so wooed?
If the other brands are not offering these impressive light displays they are losing out. And since this could matter and since impressions of well-being count as much as horse-power is it not odd that we are not seeing more strenuous efforts on the part of the Third Estate to communicate this revolution in perceived quality?
(Post Script: to be fair, AutoEvolution have raved a little bit about the Passat’s interior but nothing like as much as I have done here.)