New A8 sports touchpad control and Bang & Olufsen audio

CNET Car Tech gets a look at the 2011 Audi A8 at the 2010 Detroit auto show.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
2 min read

Audi A8
Audi's A8 gets a major update for 2011, with an innovative new cabin tech interface. Audi

2011 Audi A8 hands-on (photos)

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DETROIT--At the 2010 Detroit auto show, we got a hands-on, and ears-on, demonstration of the 2011 Audi A8. As the A8 is Audi's flagship luxury sedan, it showcases the company's latest technologies. This latest model uses a touchpad for character recognition, making destination input much easier, gets an updated Bang & Olufsen audio system that reproduces music with near perfect staging, and later this year will also feature a UMTS data connection for Google map searches.

Audi has been steadily updating its Multimedia Interface (MMI) over the years, and introduced a third-generation MMI last year. Although Audi still calls it the MMI in the A8 third generation, it advances a few steps beyond anything we've seen to date, either in an Audi or any other kind of car.

A touchpad with contextual backlighting sits next to the standard knobs and buttons from the previous MMI. With the radio on, the pad shows six numbers, indicating presets. Switch to navigation and destination entry, and the numbers disappear, the touchpad changing to character recognition mode.

A8 character recognition screen
Character recognition works very well in the A8. Sarah Tew/CNET

In this mode, we traced letters on the touchpad to enter a city name. It recognized them with uncanny accuracy, confirming the input by speaking the letter and showing a nice block version on the screen. It makes navigation input much less tedious compared to the MMI in other Audis.

As Audi updated the model, Bang & Olufsen updated the premium audio system. Still present are the cool acoustic lenses, high-frequency speakers with a wide spread, which pop up from the corners of the dashboard when the stereo is turned on. Bang & Olufsen didn't neglect the rear seats, putting tweeters in the B pillars. There are 19 speakers in all, powered by 19 amps with an output of more than 1,400 watts.

We were treated to a variety of music during our demonstration and were simply blown away by the quality. In stereo mode, the system manages to place a sweet spot in front of each seat, staging the music directly in front of the occupant. We sat in the driver's and rear seats, and in each position it sounded like the vocalist was directly in front.

In surround mode, the system became very immersive, again placing the lead vocalist in front of us, but then bringing up backup vocals from the rear of the car. Instruments were also nicely separated.

We didn't try out our own audio sources during this demonstration, and the Bang & Olufsen representative giving the demonstration told us that the system wasn't designed to take into consideration compressed MP3 files. Rather, the company hopes that people will start putting uncompressed music on their MP3 players, considering that storage is so cheap.