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2011 Audi A8 hands-on (photos)

Audi made great strides with car technology in the last five years, staying at the leading edge. The new A8 advances Audi's tech prowess even more, with radical new features and a mind-blowing audio system. We got to try out this new interface at the 2010 Detroit auto show.

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Wayne Cunningham
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1 of 10 Audi
The A8 is Audi's flagship luxury sedan, and as such, it gets a 4.2-liter V-8 under the hood. It also serves as a showcase for Audi's latest production technology. This updated model gets LED headlights standard, and the most innovative cabin interface we've seen.
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2 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET
Audi fills the cabin of the A8 with leather, wood, and metal, minimizing the use of plastics. The center LCD hides away when not in use, and presents Audi's third-generation multimedia interface (MMI)for controlling navigation, phone, audio, and other car functions. But this MMI goes beyond the third generation we've previously seen in model such as the Audi Q5.
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3 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET
To demonstrate the new Audi MMI in the A8, we actually went outside of the car, to a display set up at the Detroit auto show. The A8's MMI controller has a touch pad on the left, and knobs and buttons in the center and right. The touch pad uses character recognition, letting you trace letters on it to input addresses.
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4 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET
To test out the touch pad, we began to enter the name of a city. It proved very accurate when we traced an R with a fingertip, replicating the gesture on the screen. The system only takes capital letters, and if you make a mistake, you can merely swipe from right to left to erase.
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5 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET
The gesture completed, the system recognized our input as an R, filling in the next letter of the city name. Once it recognizes the gesture, the system says it out loud so you can move on to the next one or erase, if it got the wrong letter. Audi says that, in testing, drivers were easily able to keep their eyes on the road. We were pleased with the system, especially considering that the prior generation, without this touch-pad technology, was very tedious to use.
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6 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET
As we saw in the Audi Q5, this new MMI uses a Nvidia graphics chip to render major buildings in 3D and show topographical features on its maps.
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7 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET
For the A8, Audi updated the graphics, going to this circular menu format from the previous list format. This change was made to put more graphical icons into the interface, easier for drivers to interpret at a glance.
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8 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET
For music selection, Audi offers this new carousel interface. To browse album covers, you can drag a finger across the touch pad or turn the main MMI knob.
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9 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET
We also got an in-car demonstration of the new Bang & Olufsen audio system available in the A8. This system was upgraded from the previous one for even better audio quality. As before, these acoustic lenses take the place of tweeters in front, giving highs greater cabin coverage. The system is composed of 19 speakers powered by 19 amps, totaling more than 1,400 watts.
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10 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET
Even the rear seats get tweeters, as shown in this picture. The audio quality was supernaturally good, with stereo music staged directly in front of each seat, making up four different sweet spots in the cabin. Switching to surround we felt truly immersed; during one track the lead singer's vocal was clearly in front of us, but the back-up vocals emanated clearly from the rear of the car. A Latin track was reproduced with excellent separation between each of the four instruments being played.

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