Head Up Displays Go Big Time – Why We Love Them Now

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Automakers have just upped the ante on Head-up displays. Here is why we love them.

Like all automotive technology, head-up display (HUD) systems started in low-volume, high-priced vehicles, and quickly trickled down to the mainstream.


One of our first experiences with the technology was in the Chevrolet Corvette (above). Incredibly, our next test vehicle to have the technology was the affordable and mainstream Mazda3 (below). Just like that, a technology once exclusive to a 200 MPH sports coupe was in an affordable commuter car.


Of course, the technology varies from automaker to automaker, and even from model to model within a vehicle family, but the new trend is to make these windshield-view information displays dramatically larger and to offer much more than just a digital speedometer. Most notably, blind-spot monitoring information is starting to appear in these displays, and it has completely turned around our thinking on these systems of dubious value.

Jimmy Dinsmore of Drivers Side is one our fellow vehicle testers, and his post about finding the Kia Sedona minivan’s blind spot monitor hovering in his forward field of view caught our attention. Jimmy says, “I found putting the blind spot monitoring in the heads up display was the most logical place to put it. It was intuitive and reassuring to have it light up without having to turn my head to check. Although instinctively I still checked over my shoulder.”


Within days of Jimmy’s post that this technology was now in affordable minivans, our own Nicole Wakelin found herself in the all-new 2016 Mazda CX-9. She found the large, clear, and easily customizable HUD, called the Active Driving Display by Mazda, quite a step up from the Mazda3 system. Nicole commented on the right-sized feel of the CX-9’s display, saying, “There’s a sweet spot between making head-up displays small enough to be unobtrusive, but large enough to easily view. The Active Driving Display in the CX-9 hits that spot. ”

2016-12-08-13-52-01The new Genesis G80 we tested concurrently with Nicole’s test of the Mazda CX-9 was all we needed to confirm this is a trend. The G80 has a large, wide display like the Mazda’s. As is the trend the G80 allows a driver to decide if the HUD is on or off, and then to decide what information she would like to view.

Automakers seem to be exercising good judgment on these updated displays. For example, if one chooses to display a navigation aid in the field of view, it will only appear when one has a destination set. Mazda’s system takes that one step further and allows the driver to choose to see the next navigation instruction in the view at all times, or just when the next step is ready.

Similarly, if one opts to include audio selection information in the Genesis, it only appears when the station is changed. Information overload is, of course, a risk, and automakers are already limiting the data one sees.


 We added the red arrow above to show the blind spot icon because these systems typically don’t photograph well.

Getting back to blind spot monitors, the HUD system is really the most sensible place for this information. If you’re like me, you already know how to manage the rear corners of your view when driving. With past systems, many people felt that the blind spot monitor was limited in value because one had to look in the side mirror to see the icon and they seem to be constantly blinking, thus we tune them out.

With head-up displays, the information that a car is approaching from one’s rear and side is much more intuitive in the forward view.  Even better, the icons are shown in relationship to your own position. Just like that a system many found limited in value becomes a helpful driving aid.

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