There are many car firms in this business that like to claim that they are the leaders when it comes to infotainment and connectivity. For many that area of development can mean as little as allowing you to plug your mobile phone into a USB port in the cabin so you can access your music and contacts book. But Infotainment and connectivity is far greater than just that.
Audi, without being a sycophant, really are the leaders. The company has made huge strides in making sure the hardware and software in its vehicles reflects more closely the huge developments being made in the consumer electronics world. A difficult task for any car maker.
So in the brand's halo vehicle, one that costs upwards of £134,500, you would expect the work that's being done by Audi and partners including Nvidia, Rightware and others, to be brought to the fore. And it is.
Sit in the cockpit and the first thing that you are faced with is Audi's virtual cockpit. So long to mechanical dials, hello to high-definition digital readouts.
It's isn't a new technology, and Audi began using the system in its smaller TT sports cars, but it remains impressive.
The screen is powered by one of Nvidia's Tegra3 GPUs – the same chip technology that powers numerous smartphones and tablets, and is one of two chips in the system, another Tegra3 is the heart of the infotainment system – the system is crisp and clear, as it should be on a 12.3” TFT-screen with a resolution of 1,440 x 540 pixels. The frame rate for the screen is 60fps, which means if there is any hesitation in the dial readouts, you can't notice it with the naked eye.
That's good, because the first digital instrument clusters were hideous. Jaguar used a similar technology in its big XJ limo, but as nice as it looked when you weren't moving, once the needles started racing around the dials it all fell flat. Audi's is big, bold and beautiful.
But a small needle on a speedometer or tachometer is one thing, perhaps the biggest test is when you start switching between the different configurations available: traditional dial layout, an infotainment mode, a performance mode and other variations. The virtual cockpit puts every bit of information directly in front of the driver. There's no secondary screen off to the left for you in here.
And the transitions between the different layouts are incredibly smooth, even when you shift from the visually impressive Google Maps-based navigation screen to the traditional view.(Audi offers online updates for the navigation map – they are made
available every six months, and the first five are free-of-charge).
Of course most owners of the R8 V10 Plus will probably want to stick with the central rev counter as they try and push the needle as close to the 8,500rpm redline. And if they chose they can place other readouts around it too; a g-meter, power and torque readings and even a lap timer.
Generally using the system is simple enough, all you need do is use the 'view' button on the steering wheel to toggle through the various options, and if you ever get stuck just hit the back button. That said, if you want to get the most out of all the options then you need to start using the bezel down by your left thigh. It'll take a little bit of practice to remember where everything is stored and how to find it if you've never used the system before, no matter what Audi says.
Which if you're interested states: “The new Audi R8 has an entirely new menu structure. It provides intuitive and easy operation with flat hierarchies. As in a smartphone, intelligent logic replaces branched menu trees, and frequently used functions can be accessed in just a few steps. A special highlight is MMI search, which is available for all basic menus and is operated by user input of free text. It generally generates answers after just a few letters have been input, taking the car’s current location into consideration.”
Perhaps, but with the handwriting technology, it isn't something you're going to be doing on the move, unless you want to crash anyway. The same could be said of the voice controls, which do work, and use microphones integrated into the seatbelts so commands can be better understood. My question is, why use it when if you plug your iPhone in Siri works just as well, if not better, in my opinion.
The R8's cabin is heavily focused on the driver, which is why when all is said and done, there's only really one button that you need to learn how to use. It has a picture of twin-exhausts on it, bottom right of the steering wheel. Press it and it brings the noise and the smiles no matter what's on the high-definition 12.3" screen.