Navigation, Audi connect, And Phone Connectivity
Audi’s MMI Navigation plus with MMI touch offers good-looking maps and an intuitive user interface. You get 3D cartography with elevation data and three-dimensional buildings in major cities. Given the number of flat, 2D solutions we've tested, the A8L gave us one of the best navigation experiences we've ever had in a car.
The combination of handwriting recognition and an intuitive control knob made searching for addresses and points of interest easier than in competing solutions. Blindly writing whatever it was we were searching for turned out to be so much less distracting than trying to operate a touchscreen keyboard. Audi even leaves both inputs functional when the car is in motion (after displaying a warning screen); you don't get locked out.
On its own, the MMI Navigation system is pretty plain, sporting standard 2D and 3D maps. Audi connect is what transforms the MMI into the paragon of awesome navigation solutions. Nothing else we've used comes close to rivaling Audi connect. Its secret is an always-on data connection. Using this communications channel, Audi's MMI Navigation downloads Google Earth 3D map overlays on the fly as you're driving. The maps are so beautifully detailed that I found myself leaving the navigation screen up most of the time. Google Earth overlays also make it easier to find your destination with Google Maps Street View images.
Audi connect adds additional functionality to the MMI system, including Google search, weather updates, gas prices, and travel information. The search feature lets you find points of interest using Google instead of the built-in POI list. Naturally, Google is a lot more up to date, since navigation data from the map makes is often a year behind. The weather updates, gas prices, and travel information are fairly standard. Most auto manufacturers facilitate similar data through SiriusXM. But we still don't see the appeal of integrating capabilities that are more conveniently accessed through a smartphone.
The A8L's Audi connect serves up one more great feature we have to mention: on-board Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity, which is perfect for working on the go or keeping a passenger productive. Driving a couple of toddlers around for a week, the Wi-Fi went unused. However, I've dreamed of a world where I could stay connected during a long road trip, and that's now possible.
As with any data connection, Audi connect isn’t free. But surprisingly, the data plans aren’t obscenely priced. The feature runs on T-Mobile in the U.S. and costs $30 if you want to pay month by month. There is no data cap for in-car use, and the price drops as low as $15 a month if you want to pre-pay for 30 months of service at $450. That is by far the best deal you're going to get, since the 24-month plan runs $600 and 12 months sells for $324.
Phone connectivity in the A8L works as expected. You can pair your Bluetooth-capable device and download its contact list and call history. Make and receive calls, and stream stereo sound via Bluetooth, too. The only function we missed was text messaging support.