As cars get packed with more technology, the way information is delivered changes, too. Analog gauges are disappearing, and screens are taking over, showing everything from your speed to a full map right in front of you. Adding to the sea of change is the head-up display; once a tech feature exclusive to luxury brands, mainstream vehicles now have them, as well.
The Two Types of Head-Up Displays
The most common type of head-up display projects info onto the vehicle’s windshield. Depending on the automaker, the system can show everything from your speed and navigation directions to what the infotainment system is currently playing. In performance cars or models with manual transmissions, head-up displays have shift indicators that suggest when to upshift. Brands like Mazda, for example, limit the information shown to your current speed, navigation directions, and the speed limit of the road you’re on. Other automakers like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Toyota, and Volvo let you customize the information presented, including the color of the speed readout.
In order to make the head-up display available on more affordable vehicles, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Ford, and Mini project the info onto a plastic panel that pops up in front of the driver just above the instrument cluster. The third-generation Mazda3 was one of the first vehicles to feature this type of head-up display and was quickly followed by the current-generation Mini lineup. Hyundai’s first pop-up head-up display arrived on the Kona and Veloster, while sister brand Kia recently added it on the Soul. Ford’s latest Escape compact SUV also has this kind of head-up display on higher grades.
Which Head-Up Display Is Better?
Each head-up display has its pros and cons. The more advanced windshield projection tech is the most convenient because the information is positioned higher and directly in your line of sight. There’s also more surface area, allowing automakers to give you more data without cramming them all in a tiny space. This setup’s downside is price, because of the type of glass required in order to let the system project information onto the windshield. Some of these systems also are hard to see when wearing polarized sunglasses.
Head-up displays projected onto a plastic panel are cheaper, but their adjustability is limited because of the small surface area. Some even require you to look down slightly because the pop-up panel isn’t in your sightline. One upside is that the windshield glass required is a conventional one, lowering the costs of replacement in case of damage.
Should You Buy a Car With a Head-Up Display?
If you look at a head-up display as a safety feature designed to keep your eyes on the road and not looking down at an infotainment display, trying the tech makes sense. However, some systems reflect the opening from which the light projects even when the system isn’t on, and there’s also the issue of cost. Head-up displays are worth considering but are far from a must-have feature.
What to Look for in a Head-up Display
- Check the level of customizability so you can tweak the amount and type of data being projected. Some may prefer a simplified layout with just a couple pieces of info.
- Look at the surface area being used on the windshield or plastic panel. Some head-up displays use a wider area to show more information.
- Ensure the projection can be adjusted to enter your line of sight.
- If the head-up display projects onto a plastic panel, make sure it doesn’t force you to look down too much.
Cars and SUVs With Good Head-Up Displays
Mainstream Cars and SUVs: Mazda3, Hyundai Kona, Toyota Camry, Kia TellurideLuxury Cars and SUVs: BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, Audi A4, Lincoln Corsair