Mercedes-Benz reinvents the fuel gauge

BAN THE ELECTRONIC FUEL GAUGE NOW. A campaign I started in 2011 but which surprisingly has failed to take off.

Today, ever-more cars are replacing an accurate, easily assimilable analogue dial with a series of blocks in which each one represents 10 litres or more.

One moment you have an ample four gallons in the tank, the next you barely have two gallons and the low fuel light is glaring. It’s terrifically annoying.

The mobile phone industry shows how to do it. Before they became smartphones, they used to do batteries in bars. I’ll be fine, we used to say: I’ve got two bars left. That was when Nokias dominated and two bars from five would indeed last you all night (and well into the hangover the next day).

Then the iPhone came along and if it’s not fully charged before you leave, it will die.

So many iPhone users, to give themselves a fighting chance, thus switched to percentage remaining. Conversations went from bars to percentages – and, unknowingly, became significantly more granular. Whereas one bar was 20 per cent, now batteries could be monitored in fractions. Mainly because they needed to be, such was the lack of range, but a shift nonetheless.

And now Mercedes-Benz has, in one brilliantly simple move, done the same with cars.

The new S-Class has an electronic fuel gauge. That can show fuel level in per cent, just like an iPhone. Full is 100%, half a tank is 50%… so panic now starts to set in at 10% (a couple of gallons remaining) rather than when a needle enters a danger zone or a glowing yellow fuel filler graphic illuminates.

You can choose between other displays, if you wish: there’s a regular block-like graphic, plus a litres remaining display too. But why you’d want to is beyond me. Per centage remaining is a new and novel way to think of fuel level, but in today’s smartphone world, it makes perfect sense.

Stop press: Stop the ban. The electronic fuel gauge can work after all.