The 2011 Audi A8 Does In-Vehicle Technology Right, Actually, Nearly Perfectly [Video]

The Audi A8’s in-vehicle system is a case study in restraint. The systems are robust as the video above shows, but they’re not overdone. Perfect? Nah. But really damn close. I mean, you can’t hate on a system that puts trackpad on the dash for easier input.

The Audi A8 caught the attention of tech news when its NVIDIA-powered MMI display was announced at the CES 2010. Generally, in-vehicle infotainment systems are an after-thought, something developed as a “me too” feature. But not in the Audi A8. This will be the system that other manufacturers will attempt to copy for years to come.

Concealable For Your Pleasure

Audi put the 8-inch MMI display smack dab in the middle of the beautiful dash. It’s surrounded by wood veneers and real brushed stainless steel (no plastic lookalikes here). But with a touch of a button, the display retreats into the dash, leaving the driver with just the road. It’s wonderful. The Audi A8 is a driver’s car and this single feature of hiding the infotainment screen eliminates a host of distractions.

But with a touch of any number of the buttons, the display will pop out, ready for action. A center-mounted large dial surrounded by four soft buttons control most of the action. Nearly everything can be adjusted with these controls, but they don’t have to be. There are separate control pads for both climate control and media playback to relieve some of the stress associated with new interfaces.

Everything about the Audi A8 screams attention to detail, even these buttons. They feel solid and springy. Almost if there’s a mechanical switch behind each one. Clearly Audi is not ready to go button-less and that’s fantastic. There’s not an over abundance of buttons or switches, but the ones are present just feel right.

Audi put a trackpad right in front of the gear selector on the center stack. This clever little pad pulls double duty with it serving as the radio favorite button, but also an input pad. Say you want to enter a destination in the navigational computer. Instead of pecking at on-screen keyboard, you simply rest your wrist on the flat gear selector and write out each letter on the pad. It could be argued that since it’s letter-by-letter, it’s not necessarily faster than the on-screen keyboard input method, but it sure is more satisfying.

Form, Not Functions

Ford’s MyFord Touch system is pretty amazing and the systems inside the Audi A8 does not eclipse the Ford system in terms of sheer features, but it works better and that’s what matters. Just like the MyFord Touch, there’s an LCD screen in the dash cluster as well as the dash. Both systems give the driver access to most of the systems found in the main infotainment system in these secondary displays, but in a location that’s a bit less distracting. The Ford system is nearly endless in screens and customizable options, but Audi designers choose to take a more minimalistic approach.

The screen sits in the middle of two large, analog gauges and is controlled by scroll wheels on the steering wheel. Four main screens are available: drive information that includes a trip computer, digital speedo, and MPG info. Then there’s one for media controls, a phonebook for the connected cell phone and a digital compass. Another screen comes into play when using the adaptive cruise control to virtually display the highway and vehicles.

It’s not feature-laden, but instead brings just the right amount of information to the driver.

Audi, Don’t Change Anything

In-vehicle systems are generally something that you get used to over time. Rarely are they so well done that they just feel right instantly. The Audi A8’s system is the exception here. It just feels amazing. The system responds without lag and the interface flys through all the controls. The screens are beautiful and must employ some sort of magic for the deep black levels. Watch the video. It’s impressive.