When we reviewed Audi's A7 in July, we came to the conclusion that it was a car you would buy on sheer emotion, not necessarily for practicality. For those who need a little more rational justification for buying into the brand, Audi has recently updated the venerable A6 with many of the features from the emotional four-door coupe. One of those features that we only briefly covered in past articles but that really caught our attention this time around, is Audi's internet-connected infotainment system.
Called Audi connect, this technology launched in the flagship A8 and has been moving its way down the line since. When paired with a T-Mobile 3G SIM card fitted in the dash, it means that your A6 is no longer an island when it comes to connecting with life’s vital information. But as exciting as this all sounds, it's not as much of a revolution as you'd think.
Working with the Audi Connect system is intuitive to anyone who has operated Audi's MMI interface in the past. In fact, on a daily basis, the only real way it really reveals itself is in the form of additional icons in the MMI's carousel interface, where new options to "search for a destination" now sit. The flashiest element, however, has to be the Google Maps integration into the navigation unit. Whereas most navigation units leave you with little more than an animated Rand McNally, Audi Connect gives you a true bird’s-eye view of your surroundings, fed by Google Maps’ satellite imagery downloaded through the aforementioned data connection.
Having the satellite images integrated into the system certainly adds a little eye candy to the experience, but again, it merely enhances the system; this is no overhaul. The ability to search for a destination, on the other hand, is both a more useful and more interesting step forward. What used to be a two-device affair of using a smart phone to look up an address before having to type all of that information into the navigation is now handled in one place. It cuts out quite a few steps as well, only requiring a search for the name of the destination, and then selecting “Begin Guidance.” Other options exist as well, like being able to get weather forecasts for the current location or destination, along traffic reports along the route. If Audi’s goal is to keep phones tucked safely away in pockets, this is a good start.
Even data entry for searches is smartphone-simple thanks to our tester’s MMI Touch package, which provides a touchpad on the center console that recognizes handwriting as a means of inputting data into the system. Unfortunately, this south-pawed journalist was handicapped by the fact that the pad is only on the right-hand side, making it difficult for lefties. That may also be a testament to how well the handwriting recognition works, though, as even handwriting on par with a five-year-old was unable to defeat the system.
This time, the chicken scratch spells out "Top Golf," a driving range equipped with RFID-enhanced golf balls and large targets cut into the turf on the range. It’s a perfect parallel to the Audi Connect system, really. Even though there are TV screens in your bay to show how far and how straight you hit your ball, you’re still left having to swing a club to get the ball to the target. The mechanics of hitting the ball (and usually getting very frustrated) are all still there, but technology makes the results more accessible and more detailed.
The Audi Connect system does just the same. You still interact with a screen on the dash, but the MMI Touch and internet-connected destination searches make getting to the final results easier and more enjoyable. But still, if this parallel is to be believed, Audi must be on to something, because from what we’ve seen, Top Golf is an addictive gateway to a more involved hobby. Will Audi Connect prove to be a gateway to stronger sales?