Autmobile Navigation Systems

Note: Click on any picture for an enlarged version

Although not available as a standard or optional feature in any of Audi's North American vehicles, the Audi Navigation System Plus is a feature that we got the opportunity to test during our visit to Audi AG headquarters in February. Our A6 was equipped with this feature and it got quite a workout with the 700 or so miles we put on the car during that week. This article will explain the Audi system, as well as examining the North American offerings of competing manufacturers.

So what was so great about getting a car equipped with a navigation system? I can sum it up in one sentence. We navigated from point to point with precision the entire time we were in Germany and we never got lost once. The navigation system made is possible for us, as out-of-town drivers, to get exactly where we wanted to go. This was no small task in Munich where streets are curvy and narrow and the German street names can be confusing at best. Let me explain how the system worked.

When we first picked up the car the system was set to German language. The display was in German and the commands were spoken in German. This was obviously of no help whatsoever to us. However, to give credit to Audi's designers, I will say that I was able to mess with the system for no longer than 5 minutes and have it switched to English language. The controls were intuitive and the use of icons and other "universal" buttons made the issue of switching languages a minor one.

Once into English we began to play with the system. We were at the Munich airport, a good 45 minutes from Ingolstadt. But we simply dialed in the city and the car began to tell us exactly where to go. Imagine the simplicity and convenience of being in a foreign location and getting pinpoint directions from the car itself!

Navigation routes can be accessed a few different ways. The user can choose to dial in a city by spelling the name of the city. This is accomplished by scrolling through the alphabet letter by letter and can be laborious. But once a destination is "set" you can preset it into memory for quick access later. You can also scroll through menus of common destinations such as airports, train stations, landmarks, etc... Apparently you can buy add-on CD's for the system that include other information such as restaurants, golf courses, hotels and other points of interest.

The system outputs information to the driver through the navigation system's screen inself (via either a map showing current location or a list of upcoming directions), through voice prompts (such as "prepare to turn left in 500 meters") and through a small display above the trip computer. Of course the large display gives the most information, but isn't always convenient to look at while driving. That's why the voice prompts and the "head's up" trip computer display are so nice. The trip computer will display an arrow indicating the direction of a turn, will show you a scale indicating how far to the turn and will show you brief route indicators (such as A7 or Road 1). It is more than enough information to get anywhere and is presented in format that is comprehensive, yet not intrusive.

Audi A4 with Navigation System Plus

Close-up of system in our A6

An example of the map display

An example of the TV output

Jason trying to program the system

The navigation system itself is integrated along with the stereo, CD-player and a television tuner. The in-dash TV has got to be one of the neater features I've seen in a car in a long time. The resolution is high quality and the reception was actually decent. The TV system goes blank once the car exceeds about 3 miles per hour -- an obvious safety feature. The screen displays a safety message advising the driver that watching TV and driving do not mix. But the sound from the TV show still comes through the audio system -- thus you can hear the action even if you can't see it.

OK, I lied earlier. We did get lost a few times. But that was only because we programmed the navigation system incorrectly. The system performed perfectly so long as you told it the correct destination to start with. At one point we drove about 20 miles in the completely wrong direction before we realized that we had programmed a northern-Germany city rather than than Munich.

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