In 50 years' time, on the manicured lawns of classic car Concours at Pebble Beach and Villa d’Este, might a dashboard covered in touchscreen displays stand out like a sore thumb? This is a concern Bentley has, and which prompted it to spend three years developing the Bentley Rotating Dashboard.
An ingenious piece of precision engineering, the mechanism sees a large chunk of the dashboard rotate like Jame Bond’s number plates, spinning between the infotainment system, three analogue dials, and a blank veneer at the touch of a button. It’s a wonderful piece of design, and so it should be given the £4,865 Bentley relieves you of when adding it to your car. Despite the price, it’s a mighty popular option, with Bentley saying approximately 70% of buyers tick the Rotating Display box.
It’s clever too. There are over 150 components, 40 moving parts and two motors with their own gearboxes, all controlled by a dedicated computer and working in perfect harmony to give the driver whichever of the three views they want. The alignment of each face is accurate to 0.3mm, and the whole system has to survive any temperature or humidity the planet can throw at it, just like any other component.
And to maintain those tolerances, Bentley says the system is self-teaching, in that the ECU uses ‘intelligent speed control’ to vary how quickly the dashboard rotates, thus accommodating for variances in mechanical friction and battery voltage. That speed can’t vary too much though, as vehicle legislation requires a reversing camera view to appear within two seconds of the gear being selected, so the display needs to spin round to show the display at a moment’s notice.
Inside, there are two fans used to keep the display cool and functional in ambient temperatures of up to 50 degrees celsius.
The three analogue clocks on one face are for outside air temperature (also shown on the instrument panel behind the steering wheel), a compass, and a chronometer. Presumably, for all those times you want to time your 0-60 mph sprints, or laps of Silverstone.
I’m being flippant; of course, no one is actually going to use these dials, save perhaps the thermometer, but that isn’t the point. The Bentley Rotating Display is a lesson in reduction; it is a bid to declutter the cabin and create an aesthetic that Bentley and its customers hope will be timeless.
At 12.3 inches, the infotainment screen isn’t offensively large, at least not in a car the size of a Bentley, but for purists, it robs an entire foot of dashboard veneer – a veneer buyers no doubt put a lot of consideration into when specifying their vehicle.
There’s a perfectly reasonable argument against the need for the central display on some journeys. When you know where you’re going and don’t need navigation, for example, or when you are happy listening to the radio, a podcast or a playlist and don’t need immediate access to media control beyond the buttons on the steering wheel. Plus, if you’re happy using the car’s own navigation system – something I’m admittedly not always so keen on – then directions appear on the instrument panel and head-up display.
Hiding the touchscreen away is something I positively encourage. It’s the automotive equivalent of cutting down on your smartphone screen time, replacing an often needlessly-distracting display with a pleasing set of dials, or nothing at all. It brings an added sense of calm to the interior and, in its own subtle way, just feels right.
Whenever I drive a Bentley press car with the rotating dashboard installed, I take great pleasure in hiding the screen away when it isn’t needed. And, of course, it’s a wonderful party trick to show your passenger.
Almost £5,000 is a huge amount of money to spend on a novelty intended to make your Bentley retain its classical good looks in decades to come. But when it makes you feel like James Bond – who, don’t forget, drove a Bentley long before Q insisted he switch to Aston Martin – the price can almost be forgiven.
This article is part of The T3 Edit, a collaboration between T3 and Wallpaper* which explores the very best blends of design, craft, and technology. Wallpaper* magazine is the world’s leading authority on contemporary design and The T3 Edit is your essential guide to what’s new and what’s next.