Audi's Infotainment System
Right off the bat, we were introduced to Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI) touch with handwriting recognition technology. This requires a bit of explanation, so sit tight.
Tucked beneath a wood trim flap is a seven-inch LCD display that pops up every time the vehicle starts. It sports a resolution of 800x480, which is fairly typical in the cars we've reviewed. Of course, that's not a high-definition output, but it gets the job done for traversing Audi's user interface. That screen itself is not what responds to touch.
Many of Audi's competitors do use touchscreen displays. But we've noticed that more luxury-oriented offerings are the product of extra investment into user control. So, we tend to find physical control interfaces with more satisfying tactile feedback. Not surprisingly, then, the company so well known for its smart interiors exposes a number of buttons corresponding to the infotainment system.
A main rotary knob cycles through content displayed on-screen, while the silver buttons around it are associated with functions displayed on each of the user interface's four corners. There are even dedicated buttons that take you straight to infotainment features like navigation, telephone, and car settings. Audio control over media, the radio, track navigation, and tone settings are right next to the control knob, easily accessible. Audi also adds a dedicated volume control knob in the same little cluster.
Really, this is ideal for infotainment control. It gives us full access over Audi's MMI with an arm rested comfortably over the center console. A full complement of physical inputs make it easier to flip through menu items and dial in adjustments without taking your eyes off the road. I'll admit that it takes some time to learn the location of so many buttons without looking. But once you get your bearing, you're at a big advantage to someone stabbing around at a screen in traffic.
As a bonus, the MMI touch system ties in to the A8L's climate control, displaying settings on-screen. Audi wisely leaves the physical buttons and knobs for that subsystem in place, which we very much appreciate. Again, I really like the physical input and the tactile feedback it provides. You know exactly what's going to happen when you press. Some manufacturers (we’re looking at you, Lincoln and Cadillac) think it looks cooler to replace those buttons with capacitive touch functionality. Although a nice smooth panel looks good, it's a nuisance to drivers.
The star of this show is Audi's handwriting recognition panel that, as its name suggests, recognizes written letters. You can spell everything out with just your index finger. It's a cool novelty that works very well, and you may even find the touchpad more useful than voice commands. Once you get the hang of it, entering navigation instructions is easy. My only concern is for left-handed drivers, who might have a tough time using the pad.