If you're cross-shopping new cars—luxury cars, especially—one thing you might find surprising is that while cars have more features than ever, the number of buttons on the dash has really decreased. That's because, for better or worse, many features—especially audio, but navigation, hands-free calling, and media management (or even Internet hotspot capability
)—have all moved into screen-based interfaces
In the 2013 Audi Allroad that we're looking at in-depth this month, that system is called the Multi-Media Interface—or MMI Navigation plus, according to the literature in the glovebox.
In short, MMI uses a rotary controller, located just behind the shift knob on the center console, and has a screen mounted high at the center of the dash. Unlike many other such systems, the screen is not a touch screen, and voice commands are more limited.
Putting those discussions of why Audi has gone down this road—and what we find distracting or not—aside for the moment, here are five things we like, and five things we don't like so much, about MMI:
- There's no haptic feedback. The dial does have a reassuring 'click' as you move from selection to selection, but that's it. In these days when so many models have a different kind of click or detent when you get to the end of your menu options, that might be useful.
- There aren't any hard preset buttons. Having preset buttons (yes, real buttons, or at least always-present screen options) for favorite radio stations (or favorite media locations or navigation destinations) is kind of a no-brainer to us. Yet Audi has decided with MMI to replace them with a presets list in the menu system instead. It's not the same. In the words of social media manager Feder, “Why does it take three clicks to do anything?”
- Destination entry is far harder than it should be. Like so many navigation systems that are embedded in cars, the one that's included with MMI doesn't have a lot of imagination. If you forget early on to enter the state and city (or you're not sure exactly which city it would be), the address just doesn't exist to the nav system. And then you're left inputting the address again a letter at a time with the rotary controller.
- Why no call-end button on the steering wheel? Here's one that has irked us repeatedly. We make a call, and if we've touched anything else in the meantime, after leaving a voicemail or finishing the call we're left fiddling for an easy way to simply hang up. Otherwise we need to cycle through options with the steering wheel's Mode button to find that 'end conversation' selection again—or reach over for the MMI controller.
- No righty-tighty, lefty-loosy here. In our experience with most other rotary interfaces, turning a knob clockwise moved the cursor down the menu while counter-clockwise moves it upward. It's the opposite here, and it takes some getting used to.
Now that we have that out of the way, here are five things we really do
like about MMI:
- The 'four-corner' menu system. It's easy to remember and simple enough to visualize without looking at the screen—and it's instantly intuitive that the corner options apply to the four buttons flanking the controller.
- Always having the 'back' button as a backup. We're happy that no matter which menu you're in, the back button—like the back button in a Web browser—takes you back exactly one step. There's thankfully no trying to remember how you found that menu option in the first place.
- Nice textured knobs. The Allroad's knobs—not just for MMI, but for volume and other features—feel confidence-inspiring and precise thanks to their texturing.
- Clear text, and screens that aren't eye-fatiguing. We really appreciate how there's a consistent, clear font in all screens and all menus, and how the light letters on a dark background aren't too distracting. The hooded screen also doesn't produce the glare or reflections we've noticed in some models.
- Its general unobtrusiveness. An assault of warning and confirmation sounds while driving can be very distracting (and fatiguing), and we're glad to see that MMI keeps that to a minimum. Screen menus don't 'beep' or 'click' every time you cycle through an option; and navigation prompts don't include a lot of unneeded chimes.
Stay tuned as we look at other features in the Allroad up-close; it's all part of our 30 Days of Audi Allroad coverage.
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