updated 08:40 pm EST, Thu January 12, 2012
We try Audi's new Tegra-based dash system
Audi used CES to unveil a new take on its car interface based on NVIDIA's quad-core Tegra 3 chip, and we got to try it for ourselves on the CES show floor. The new approach promises a much more discreet but also simpler and more powerful approach to controlling the car and its media than before. Read on for an early look.
The general interface itself is considerably easier to use. Although we had one of Audi's executives on hand, there wasn't much help needed. Much of the interface is literal and leaves little mystery as to what a menu item will lead to in the end. The circular, click-down dial from MMI carries over, but it's now accompanied by two rocker switches for core tasks and a quadrant of buttons around the dial. Audi wanted to make sure that drivers could know which control to hit by touch, we were told. It even now has a touchpad on the dial that can be used to draw letters when spelling out navigation directions, which we found much faster than rotating the dial.
Even the screen itself has been improved, and is thin enough now that it can be hidden away in the center dash rather than permanently exposed.
The Tegra 3 comes into play through the general car setup interface as well as Google Maps-based navigation. Setup options like lighting are explained with a 3D model, not just menu items, to make it clear what and where changes will take effect. Google Maps, on those cars that get the cellular Internet option, renders maps very quickly and has a new Street View option to identify locations visually. Audi noted that the Tegra 3 board is modular and design to be swapped out by technicians should an upgrade be feasible in the future to keep the car relevant.
In a pleasant surprise, pairing an iPhone or other Bluetooth device for audio is very easy: it only needs going into a Telephone menu and looking for the two devices. We got playback working on an iPhone within a minute, and while album art won't carry over, it does provide track data and on-screen controls that let you both navigate tracks as well as fast-forward through them, which you don't always see in digital integration setups.
Audi plans to take its new in-car system live when this year's A3 model arrives. A formal unveiling of the car itself is expected at the Geneva Auto Show in March.