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Audi's in-dash system combines a trio of infotainment controls

Audi in-car info-tainment system

Ted Kritsonis for The Globe and Mail/ted kritsonis The Globe and Mail

Audi is a brand known for luxury and performance, and like its competitors, it is trying to stay ahead of the curve on the in-car infotainment system it offers. The main thing to note about Audi's system is that it works on three distinct, though altogether related, components.

The Heads-Up Display (HUD) projects information (speed, cruise control, navigation) directly on to the driver's-side windshield. The Multimedia Interface (MMI) handles all the media, navigation and phone capabilities via a seven-inch display in the middle. And the voice-activation button on the steering wheel offers an alternative to both.

The rotary dial in the centre console is similar to what Mercedes-Benz uses for its COMAND system, only the execution is a little different. Turning to navigate menus is easy enough, but the four surrounding buttons are key because they move you quickly to either of the four options that show up on the corners on the MMI screen, rather than clicking to the side to access submenus as in COMAND.

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On either side, Audi has self-explanatory one-button controls for NAV, TEL, MEDIA and RADIO. To the left of the stick-shift is the MMI Touch pad, which can be used to literally handwrite letters, numbers and symbols using your finger when you want to input a name or address (the pad also doubles as the Tiptronic control).

As an alternative, you can do almost everything you need to using your voice, albeit with mixed results. On the one hand, it's pretty good at recognizing commands when spoken clearly after the beep. On the other, it fumbles a little interpreting contacts and addresses.

I could tell it what Sirius station I wanted by name, but the system can't recognize commands for songs or playlists from a mobile device connected through Bluetooth or line-in. In addition, metadata (song, artist, album, etc.) only shows up when playing music from the native music apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone, so if you use a third-party app for playback, the fields just stay blank.

A personal gripe is that the system wasn't designed to let you string commands together. The constant back and forth prompts for setting up a nav route prove to be annoying, and rerouting to another stop on a set route while driving isn't particularly great either.

Still, Audi scores points on using Google Maps with great 3D imagery (depending on location), tons of points of interest and voice commands that help narrow things down. For example, I could say, "Online destinations, in immediate vicinity, Greek restaurants" in succession when prompted, and then see results pop up on the map.

I also preferred having navigation instructions on the dashboard, rather than the windshield HUD or the MMI screen because they were easy to discern both in day and night driving, and could be adjusted using steering wheel controls.

Phone call quality was also superb. Callers had no idea I was even in a car, and their voices came in consistently clear.

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The one constant over the course of a week-long test drive in a 2012 Audi A7 was that the overall system requires a lot more time to grasp. It also helps filter through some of the gimmicky stuff. Night-vision is a nice concept, but not overly reliable, and the HUD is probably something drivers will either love or hate.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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