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Your next car could be more akin to the world’s biggest smartphone than a collection of bolts and conrods that simply gets you from A to B. While Apple and Samsung fight for bragging rights over a couple of extra millimetres on their hand-held displays, car companies have turned analogue dashboards into giant digital display screens with 24-7 connectivity. But that’s not even the half of it.
It’s the operating system in the background which is making the pace. Want a weather report? Ask your car. Forget to close the windows and it starts to rain? Ask the car to button up. If the very worst happens and you have a crash, the car will make an automatic SOS call to get you help.
All of this is happening now through cars like the Audi A6, which its German makers proclaim is the pacesetter for in-car connectivity in Australia through its latest Audi Connect Plus system.
Smart at heart
It’s made possible through an embedded SIM card that does everything from creating a personal WiFi hotspot for that teenage must-have, gaming in the back seat, to finding a vacant inner-city parking spot. If you need fuel, the car can locate and navigate you to it, and also check the best prices.
In the not-too-distant future, Audi promises its connected cars will communicate to prevent crashes, or warn of hazards already encountered by other connected vehicles – rain, potholes, traffic jams or crashes.
It’s a long way down the road from the earliest digitalisation of cars, through the installation by Lexus of the first TFT display screen in the 1990s, as car connectivity begins to move at hyper speed.
We are yet to reach Peak Screen in the car business, but it’s not uncommon to find a couple of 12-inch displays – since screens, like wheels, are still measured in Imperial – sitting side-by-side in a new Audi, Volkswagen or Mercedes-Benz. Porsche is now crowing about a curved screen, using technology transferred from upscale televisions, it is installing in its upcoming battery-electric sports car, the Taycan.
Then there are head-up displays, which provide the basics on speed and navigation while the dashboard does the heavy lifting.
Anything built in the past 10 years will have some form of online connectivity, usually driven through a hook-up to your mobile, but even that is changing fast.
A giant leap forward
Connectivity has become as important as transport to many people, and carmakers are racing to deliver on their dreams with embedded SIM cards, voice-control systems, and even car-to-car connections.
Audi is banking on the system in the A6, A7 and Q8 that steps up several levels from the 'Multi Media Interface' system first seen on the Avantissimo concept car as far back as the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show.
The new Connect Plus system is Audi’s response to BMW’s breakthrough iDrive and over time it was extensively updated, improved and made more user-friendly.
It arguably goes backwards in one area, however: switching from the tactile convenience of a rotary controller in the centre console to a distracting touchscreen system with a double-decker display in the centre of the dash, and another big screen in front of the driver for dials and sat-nav. That said, you now get hand-writing recognition on one of the smaller touch screens.
Simplify your life
So there are three screens and an onboard SIM, as well as a 24-7 ‘concierge’ to handle any dramas – with your car, or your life
“The objective is to make the lives of our owners simpler,” the managing director of Audi Australia, Paul Samson, tells Executive Traveller during a preview for the new A6. “There is an incredible amount of depth to this new technology. It’s an exciting journey we’re about to embark on.”
The basics of the A6 are as good as ever, and the curvier look of the full-sized Q8 SUV is also winning more people to a brand which has been struggling for sales in recent years. With the A6 leading the way, Audi is forecasting a big lift in Australian sales in the back end of 2019 and into 2020 with what Samson describes as “an avalanche of new products”.
Each will get some form of the Audi connect system and there is also a MyAudi smartphone app controlling the car’s alarm, including geofencing to catch thieves, among other features.
It’s all currently delivered through Telstra, as A6 and other Connect Plus buyers get a three-year, no-cost package on the embedded SIM. After that it will cost $100 a year for the Audi package, and the usual mobile services, and Samson is not expecting anyone to cancel the deal.