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Audi adds advanced tech at the low end

Audi brought its new A3 cabin electronics to CES 2012, although leaving behind the car. Its connected navigation system is similar to that in the A6 and A7, but Audi cleverly has reconfigured the interface controls.

Audi A3 dashboard
Audi brought the dashboard of its newest A3 model to CES, showing off its latest cabin tech. Audi

LAS VEGAS--Audi delivered remarkable technology with its A7 model last year, and now the company is bringing even more advanced features to the low end of its lineup, in the new A3.

Although Audi did not have a new A3 on display at CES 2012, the company did bring its dashboard. The completely functional head unit in this dashboard showed off Audi's latest cabin technology. More importantly, it showed that Audi won't reserve this technology for its high-end models.

Audi A3 dashboard
A new, slim LCD shows Google Earth imagery integrated with the navigation system. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

One of the top features, which also made the A7 such a standout, is the dedicated data connection into the car, enabling Google Earth integration into the navigation system. Just like in the A7, the A3's dashboard showed Google Earth satellite imagery on its LCD.

The menus took the same circular format as in the A7, but Audi has further refined this interface for better usability. It is easier to find points of interest in the A3's navigation system, and Audi made it possible to use a free text search for locally stored music in the car.

Where the A7 has a dial, buttons, and a touch pad for tracing letters, the A3 puts the touch pad on top of the dial, saving space on the console. This innovative layout worked very well during a demonstration at the Audi booth.

Audi A3 dashboard
Audi fit a touch pad on top of the interface control's main dial, a clever, space-saving move. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The A3's LCD is also new. The 7-inch screen slides up from a slot in the dashboard, and it uses LED backlighting. That technology makes possible a very thin screen, not much thicker than an iPhone, according to Audi.

Powering the infotainment systems in the new A3 is an Nvidia Tegra 2 chip, a dual-core T20. This processor not only powers the different menus and Google Earth imagery, it also enables a 3D display of the car in the vehicle settings menu.

Other new cabin tech tricks in the A3 include what Audi calls a phone box, an area in the console enabled with NFC (near-field communication) that can pair with phones also using that technology. As of now, the phone still needs to plug into a USB port for charging, but Audi is looking into installing an inductive surface. The new A3 also includes a head up-display, showing useful vehicle information such as speed and navigation projected on the windshield.