Audi City London has come up with a novel new way of encouraging you to buy one of the 200 million possible iterations of the 36 cars in its range: letting you customize your perfect car, and see it drive around in front of you, life-size, on a 210in screen.
The upstairs of Audi City is dominated by a bank of four of these floor-to-ceiling 'Power Walls', each of which consists of nine 70in rear projection displays. Two of these have Kinect cameras above them set up to recognise when a punter steps on an aluminium crosshatch embedded in the floor.
Then the Windows 7-powered system takes over, allowing you to pick an Audi and see it spin and drive around on screen in full HD, using your sidesteps and leans for interface navigation. You don't get to 'drive' the car, but thanks to recorded engine notes and the sounds of the opening and closing of doors and boots, you can get a useful feel for it.
Audio for each wall is provided by a highly directional 2.1 Sonus Sound Shower system, designed not to colour the noise of the car the punter next to you is checking out on his Power Wall. For special events, such as Le Mans or the F1, it's also possible to convert the four Power Walls into one ultra-widescreen cinema system.
All fun, but Audi's also in the business of making you want to actually buy one. This is handled upstairs by four Power Wall-complementing 32in 3M multitouch displays, which let you specify every element of your chosen jalopy down to the colour of the gear stick.
You can pan around and zoom into the car to an astonishing degree, and cast it on to your Power Wall for a full-sized view. Then, if you're serious about the car, you just send the details downstairs.
The lower floor is home to a few high-end Audis (well, this is Mayfair) and two sales booths, each designed to resemble a tailor's samples room. Paint, leather and cloth samples on RFID-enabled swatches can be grabbed from the wall and placed next to the 32in multitouch screen in the middle of the booth, automatically updating your vehicle with the choice you've made.
It's all too easy to get carried away here ("Tiptronic's only £4750 more? Oh, go on then"), but there's a live-updating receipt in the corner to help your rein in your indulgence.
Once you're happy with your choices it generates a mood board with hi-res snaps and videos of your chosen car, which can be shared on Facebook and Twitter, emailed to a friend, or stored on a USB key. This hooks over a bespoke printed brochure that you can show to your more sensible half.
The USB key also has built-in RFID, used to store a unique code referencing the complete details of the car you've created. Place it next to one of the 3M screens on another occasion and it'll bring up your car's details in a snap. Or type the code in at home, and customise your Audi further on the online configurator.
Once you've decided, you can get a real-life test drive of a similar model, or simply place your order and wait for your yellow A1 with hot pink interior to be delivered.
We asked whether the process could be taken to its logical conclusion, letting you drive your bespoke Audi in a 3D simulator. Audi reckons that for now the experience is too removed from having a real test drive - but its engineers have already looked into it. Another possible future enhancement is the ability to test out your virtual car's entertainment system on screen.
Audi plans to roll the 3M multitouch screens out to dealerships all over the world, and to create 20 Audi Cities by 2015.
The best thing is that you can mess around with the Power Walls whether you're going to buy or not – so it's worth popping into Audi City if you happen to be wandering down Piccadilly. Sure beats traipsing to a business park and guessing at how your finished car might look.
Stuff Office Cat’s Diary – 16/07/12