We've already noticed—in drives of various Audi models, and in the 2013 Audi Allroad that we have this month for an extended test—that the always-on data connection you can have as part of Audi Connect services makes a great backup to whatever ways you usually connect.
Audi Connect is an embedded data service for the car. And in addition to functioning as a router with access to the Internet, it allows integrated Google Earth 3D maps for the navigation system, plus individualized weather, news, and fuel prices, Google Voice Local Search for point-of-interest info, and a myAudi Destination feature that lets you download up to 50 destinations (clients you need to visit, for instance) to your vehicle, directly from Google Earth on a computer or smartphone.
Activating the system simply requires placing a dealer-activated SIM card in the slot that's just below the MMI screen and alongside the Allroad's two SD-card inputs. You can't be moving, and the parking brake must be engaged, when you go into the settings for data connections. But once your devices are connected, you're good whenever the car's running—or even when its accessories are switched on.
From there, you can make wi-fi active, set up your password, and pair devices—using the common WPA2 encryption that many tablets and laptops now favor. We found that several devices could connect right away, finding a connection with no fuss, no delay.
If there's a down side, it's that the data speeds aren't all that fast and only use 3G technology. Using one of the major bandwidth tests, and our connected MacBook Pro, we only managed to pull 3.10 Mbps on download and push only 0.30 Mbps on upload—a fraction, on both counts, of what we see tethered to an iPhone5. Although the 3G connection was stable enough to maintain lower-resolution Netflix streaming, which we could see as a savior for the kids if all else fails on a road trip.
The system allows eight different devices to be connected simultaneously—to share the connection. Although based on the speeds we saw, you wouldn't want to be using more than one or two at a time.
The cost of the data plan for Audi Connect—through T-Mobile—is $30 a month; but if you pay $450 up front, the provider gives you 30 months (cutting the charge to $15 a month).
At that rate, we can't imagine owning the Allroad and not taking advantage of all the Audi Connect perks.
Audi MMI controller - 2013 Audi Allroad