Not that long ago it was considered impressive if a car had electric windows, cup holders and a CD player.
Now in our tech-obsessed age, modern-day motors are becoming a hive of gizmos in a bid to stand out from the herd. Tiredness detection, clever satellite navigation, sensors that can read road signs ─ it's almost the stuff of science fiction.
Car manufacturers aren’t just focusing on safety and navigations systems, either. Take Audi, which is aiming to turn your car into a smartphone-style entertainment centre with the latest version of its Audi Connect system for the new Audi A3 Saloon and future models.
So how does Audi's attempt work and is it R&D money well spent? We went for a spin in the A3 Saloon to find out.
Folding display goodness
Stepping into the Audi A3 Saloon, the 7in colour MMI 11mm deep display used to display all infotainment features remains hidden under the dashboard until you turn the ignition. At this point up, it folds out into view in impressively smooth fashion. Q from James Bond would almost certainly be impressed.
The display is large enough to see without hunching over but not so large it looks comical and obscures the view ahead. Although not full HD, everything looks crisp, colours look correct and we never once struggled to see what was going on, even in relatively bright conditions. Sadly, the sun was behind clouds, so we can’t speak to how well it’ll perform in direct sunlight.
It's worth noting the standard 5.8in QVGA display is of a lower resolution and lacks the 3D mapping capability of its larger cousin. The 7in display comes part of the optional £1,500 Technology package.
Naturally, the system also comes with Bluetooth connectivity so you can link up your smartphone to make and answer calls and digital radio. You’d hope so, for a grand and a half.
Can't touch this
As a newbie to the MMI system for navigating around Audi Connect, it really didn't take long to master how to use it. In the centre of the car is a wheel with a button on top. Beside that is a button that says menu. No prizes for guessing what this does.
Once pressed, a series of icons laid out in a 3D circle (each clearly named) present themselves; you twist the aforementioned wheel to move between them. It's a simple system that lets you jump between one function and another without any thinking, which is reassuring when your eyes need to be on the road ahead.
Next to the menu button is a back button that takes you back out of each function. So easy a monkey could do it.
At first, we did try to press the display as if it was a touchscreen and wondered why Audi had stuck with buttons. However, after using the wheel system all day, it becomes apparent that it’s a safer option; memorising the layout is easier than mashing at the screen with your finger.
More complex tasks are handled by pressing two buttons that correspond with what is seen on the right and left of the display. This did take a few minutes to sink in but made a great deal of sense.