Digital Dash Review: AiM MXP


Story and Photos by Wayne Presley

Picture a dashboard: There are some gauges, a few warning lights, and a button or two to reset things, right? Now picture a dashboard from 50 years ago: There are, well, exactly the same elements.

Automotive technology has grown in leaps and bounds in the past few decades, but most dashes are still a simple collection of lights and dials. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a simple dash; they’ve stayed mostly the same because they work. But they aren’t right for every situation, particularly for a track car.

Why? Stock dashes are often difficult to adapt to a new engine swap, and a traditional dash will never be able to filter and prioritize what data is shown as things change–a necessity in a fast car that doesn’t allow much time for gauge-watching.

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We found ourselves facing both of those issues when we were finishing up our newest toy, an Exomotive Exocet that has the engine and transmission from a 2012 Camaro LFX V6 3.6L swapped into it.

What’s an Exocet? Picture a tube-framed Miata with no bodywork and you’re not far off.

The result is impressive: 288 horsepower at the wheels and a curb weight of 1756 pounds. What’s that mean in English? A better power-to-weight ratio than a Porsche 911 GT3, and no time to figure out exactly where that needle on the temperature gauge is when we’re between corners on track.

Digital dashes are more common and more affordable than ever before, and we needed one if we were going to keep our Exocet under control.

So we called AiM and ordered their MXP dash logger. When you’re shopping, that last word–logger–is a biggie: It means the dash can record data, so you’re essentially adding the equivalent of an airplane’s black box to your race car. Why do this? Because data analysis after the fact allows you to do things like hone your exit from turn three or figure out where on track your oil pressure dropped low enough to throw that rod.

The MXP, which is AiM’s newest dash, offers a slightly larger footprint than the MXS with 50% more screen area. And its color screen can be configured with 20 different template styles using AiM’s Race Studio 3 software. We hooked the dash up to our GM E39 PCM via CAN bus, which is the same thing found in every post-2008 OBDII port, but it also brings plenty of its own sensors to the table. The dash features an internal accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope and a GPS module, meaning it always knows exactly where your car is, where it’s pointed, and what it’s doing.

The CAN bus connection means the dash immediately knows every single data point that the PCM knows (which is quite a bit in a modern car). Older cars with less sophisticated engine management systems can make use of the MXP’s available 8 analog and 6 digital inputs, meaning you can add normal sensors the old-fashioned way, or get fancy and add things like shock motion sensors or brake temp sensors. It also has an input for an AiM SmartyCam, which would allow you to automatically merge your data and video. One more bonus: The dash features two digital outputs, which means, for example, that we could hook it up to turn on a cooling fan if the car starts to overheat.

Installation

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Thanks to our Exocet’s open-air design and lack of bodywork, it only took us about 2 hours to mount the dash. (Which brings us to this disclaimer: It probably won’t be this easy to install a dash in your own car.) We chose to put it on the steering column, so the driver can view it through the steering wheel.

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Since the Exocet is designed to use the Miata dash cluster, the Exomotive-supplied dash shroud was not the right shape or location for the MXP. Instead, we tossed it and, instead, cut and welded some scrap aluminum stock to make a sturdy bracket to bolt the dash to the steering column support. After a quick test fit for placement, we then powder-coated the bracket to match the chassis.

All that was left was the wiring, and since we weren’t adding any additional sensors, it only took four wires: A 12-volt source, a ground, and two CAN bus connections. Then we plugged in the GPS antenna and we were off to the races.

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Configuration

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At that point we weren’t quite ready for track duty. The biggest mistake we see with digital dash conversions isn’t the installation, it’s the configuration. The whole point of a digital dash, remember, is to filter and prioritize changing information.

What does this mean in terms of setup? Here’s an example: There’s no reason to waste time looking at a temperature gauge unless your car is overheating, yet with a traditional dash you’re constantly checking to make sure everything is okay. With a digital dash, you don’t need to even display engine temperature; instead, just tell the dash what the temperature should be, and if the car starts to overheat, the dash will alarm and let you know the car is overheating. Essentially, the dash is a friendly copilot that can keep an eye on things for you while you focus on driving.

With this teach-the-dash-to-watch-itself idea in mind, we spent some quality time configuring things with AiM’s Race Studio 3 software. After a few minutes, we settled on four swappable dash faces with a smattering of alarms, shift lights, and tracks loaded on top. Data is transmitted through a USB connection or WiFi, so it’s not hard to change things later as you fine-tune your configuration.

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Testing

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Dash installed and configuration loaded, it was time for a test. Since we drive our Exocet on the street, too, we found ourselves switching between two different faces: A simple one with a speedometer and a tach for street driving, and a more complete one with a big tach, lap timer and shift lights for the track. (It works great at night, too, automatically dimming as the sun sets.)

In addition to serving as the dash’s configuration hub, Race Studio 3 is also its data analysis suite, allowing us to look at individual laps and compare laps based on time or distance, peak g, segment timing, and any of the ECU data. We should note that there’s a cheaper version of this dash, the MXP Strada, that eschews the datalogging capabilities, but for a track car we’d be silly to skip all that data.

If it sounds like we’re fans of the MXP, that’s because we are. It worked great on the street and track. Even its price–$2299–isn’t unreasonable compared to the competition, since other aftermarket digital dashes costs about the same once you add the necessary sensors to match what’s included in the MXP. We’re giving this dash an A+, and really can’t find any nits to pick.

Sources:

AiM
Digital Dash
aimsports.com
(951) 674-9090

Very Cool Parts
verycoolparts.com
(760) 403-6266

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Comments
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Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess MegaDork
12/14/18 3:20 p.m.

That's a cool dash and all, but how about an article on the lower cost digital dashes?  The ones that sell for like three bills?  It's just that I'd like to spend less on the dash cluster than the rest of the car.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Digital Experience Director
12/14/18 3:37 p.m.

Hess, we're planning dash installs in our Miata, Fox, and 350Z, and each car will get a different dash. We're going to try to cover the entire spectrum here. 

 

What $300 dash are you referring to? Not sure I've ever seen one that cheap.

 

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess MegaDork
12/14/18 4:58 p.m.

I've seen some on Amazon in that price range, but I haven't dug into it for a while. I'm looking for the basics, like speed (GPS), RPM, oil idiot lite, engine temp, high beams on, lights on, charging system not working.  That kind of thing. 

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_ Reader
12/14/18 5:27 p.m.

 I’m in for the same cheap, OBD2, digidash options. 

 I did find one that used a raspberry pi and had all the code. I’m tempted to use that since the entire set up is only about $175. The only problem I saw on a YouTube video is that it didn’t seem to respond very quickly to what is actually happening at that moment so shifting off of the shift light wouldn’t be a good idea

Brotus7
Brotus7 HalfDork
12/14/18 5:46 p.m.

It never occurred to me to search Amazon for a cheap digital dashboard before.

Looks interesting, wonder how dubious the quality may be.

https://www.amazon.com/SINCO-TECH-Inch-Dashboard-Sensor/dp/B07G3VP77H/ref=mp_s_a_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1544831008&sr=8-7&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=digital+dash&dpPl=1&dpID=51f0XWEs4lL&ref=plSrch

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_ Reader
12/14/18 6:06 p.m.

https://youtu.be/5C9ypE6JUuY

since we are all so DIY here. 

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
12/15/18 7:07 a.m.
Brotus7 said:

It never occurred to me to search Amazon for a cheap digital dashboard before.

Looks interesting, wonder how dubious the quality may be.

https://www.amazon.com/SINCO-TECH-Inch-Dashboard-Sensor/dp/B07G3VP77H/ref=mp_s_a_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1544831008&sr=8-7&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=digital+dash&dpPl=1&dpID=51f0XWEs4lL&ref=plSrch

That doesn't look too spectactular, it relies on having its own sensors for everything.  Its main value is that it is an LCD display so that you can't see it in sunlight.  You could buy some analog gauges for far less that do the same thing.

 

The advantage of a digital dash, IMO, is that you'd be able to communicate with the engine controller by network and get most/all of the data that way.  Less wiring, no redundant sensors.

te72
te72 Reader
12/15/18 5:19 p.m.

I have one of the previous generation AIM MXL (Strada? Pista? I'm not sure which, it was the cheapest of the lineup since my ecu handles datalogging), and my one major complaint is that the contrast, well, it sucks. The size of it isn't great for a powerful street car, you can't see the "swing" of the rpm because it washes out in daylight, even in a closed car.

 

The other downside is that the rpm scale isn't big enough in height to appreciably estimate without staring at it for a couple moments. So, yeah, hard to see without staring at it... not good.

 

My point (and caution here) is that I bought too soon. Don't buy something like this until you actually need it! The technology with these newer TFT displays is continually advancing, and they seem at a point now that they would actually be preferable to the analog gauges that they replaced in my car.

 

I do like being able to configure it myself though, that is something AIM did well, even on the MXL models. I'm sure the new ones are even more useful.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/16/18 9:48 a.m.

The eBay dash looks interesting, although I didn't see any mention of an odometer, which could be necessary for getting a build legal fro street use (state dependent).

I can't get to the Aim site for some reason (I get some sort of security error). Do they make a version of this that doesn't require OBD connectivity? 

te72
te72 Reader
12/17/18 11:38 p.m.

In reply to Ian F :

Ian, if I read the article correctly, these newer models run on CAN-BUS as well, as does mine. Works fantastic with MS3-Pro, can't say on any other types of ECU's, but mine is all in an 87 Supra, so no OBD whatsoever. I guess it had a Toyota OBD type, but that's a far cry from OBDII.

 

EIther way, that's all gone now, and my AIM dash has a whole four wires to connect.

Jeff351
Jeff351 New Reader
12/18/18 8:07 a.m.

Great review!

Like pretty much all electronic items, the price will eventually come down. I'm going to wait a couple of years and see what happens before pulling the trigger on one of these.  I'd love to have one, but for a street car its hard to justify dropping 2k for something that amounts to just eye-candy at this point.

 

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess MegaDork
12/18/18 12:45 p.m.

This has enough information displayed and costs less than 1 LEU (Locost Equivalent Unit):

https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B019SM3T44

 

te72
te72 Reader
12/19/18 12:00 a.m.

In reply to Jeff351 :

Jeff, I would place digital dashes in the same category as ECU's and turbochargers, in that it would be wise to wait until you are really ready to drop it into the car before buying. Technology has come a long way in the last decade, and a lot of the cool parts I bought for the Supra literally sat in their boxes doing nothing for a few years until the car was finally being assembled.

 

You know what these parts were doing in those boxes? Being made obsolete by their successors. =P

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