It says a lot about where the automotive industry is today that Audi chose to unveil the new A3 interior here in CES, rather than a few days earlier at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
In the process the firm also inadvertently unveiled the exterior design of the next generation of the 3-door hatch through the high quality renderings used in the menus of the new MMI system.
The new MMI system comes with an enlarged, raised center clickwheel that is topped by a touchpad. This allows alpha-numeric input to the sat-nav via finger gestures.
This, together with the deep luster and vivid colours of the 800x480 resolution screen, is capturing all the headlines here with the tech-orientated press at CES. The navigation itself is Google-earth based and can display Google Streetviews of destinations, via data accessed from a simcard in the glovebox. That, and two SD card slots, are part of a modular, flash-memory hardware unit, powered by NVIDIA's tegra2 chip. It's modular because the pace of development in this space is so fast, Audi wants to provide the opportunity to upgrade the system within the lifetime of the car.
Other functions incorporated into this new MMI include the first fruits of ‘Audi Connect' – the firm's dedicated app store – which provides apps like Facebook, but displayed in Audi-specific graphics.
However, while the technology is deeply impressive and beautifully integrated, to our eyes, the stand-out aspect is the depth of design quality on show in the interior overall. It's easy to dismiss as ‘yet another Audi' interior at first glance, but get in and begin to touch and look at each element, and we suspect you'll come to the same conclusion as us: this is a higher quality interior than anything else in the premium C-segment, as well as the segment above.
The one-piece IP moulding is visually split into upper and lower segments via a recess, into which a fillet of thick-sectioned, etched aluminum is inserted. This horizontal center section of the IP also accommodates the auxiliary switches for the hazard lights, stop/start system and screen retraction in a bank of keys that operate like piano keys.
The air vents are round, turbine-form in design, like the A1. But they're of much greater sophistication, surrounded by a knurled bezel of aluminium, which is repeated around the MMI clickwheel and HVAC controls. The operation of the vents is controlled by pinching the center section, which gently pulls the unit out, or pushes it in. As you might expect from Audi, its action is beautifully damped in operation too.
All of this is combined with the aforementioned retractable screen – which is small of bezel and thin of depth, like the best HD TVs – to great effect. Technology is seamlessly integrated with design; it feels advanced and next generation, yet technology hasn't overtaken the interior or simply been dropped on top of the architecture.
It might be subtle, but this is deeply impressive design and technology from Audi. If there was ever any doubt that the company was in danger of relinquishing its leadership in interior design, the A3 banishes that thought. We suspect this interior will reshape the premium car cockpit landscape.
Audi at CES 2011