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This review was conducted in an RNS510-equipped Mark V Jetta 147TSI. Particular aspects of the specification, such as number of speakers and standard features, may vary from model to model.
Visually, the RNS510 is very similar to the RCD510 system that's a standard fit to many VW models. Both are double-DIN-sized head units and have a 6.5-inch touchscreen. The more expensive RNS510, though, features a higher resolution display — 800x480 compared to the RCD510's 400x240 — as well as a television-esque 16:9 width-to-height screen ratio.
The interface features no home menu screen, rather the screen is flanked by two columns of physical buttons that allow access to all of the RNS510's various functions — Radio, Media, Phone and Tone on the left flank, and Map, Nav, Traffic and Setup along the right. Keep in mind that the presence of a particular button doesn't naturally guarantee that that function is present on a particular vehicle. For example, in our Jetta the optional Bluetooth hands-free kit wasn't installed, so the Phone button acted as a mute switch instead.
Below the screen are two dials, one that's a power and volume control, and another that's used for station tuning, map zooming and the like. Beside the disc slot are left and right buttons to skip tracks and stations, as well as buttons for disc eject and instruction repeat.
Steering wheel audio controls, mounted on the left spoke, allow the driver to quickly change track, station or audio source, as well as make phone calls if Bluetooth hands-free is available. The LCD screen between the speedometer and the tachometer — multi-function display (MFD) in VW-speak — can be used to display current audio and navigation info. The MFD is manipulated by controls on the steering wheel's right spoke, and also allow basic audio functions, like track and station changing.
The resistive touchscreen not only responds accurately, but looks sharp too and is clearly visible through a pair of polarised sunnies. Only the harshest direct light is able to render it useless. Thanks to its clear text, large buttons and well designed screens, the on-screen interface is simple to use for most tasks. Do keep in mind, though, that volume settings for the navigation system lie underneath the Tone menu rather than the Setup screens.
In bare-bones configuration the RNS510 comes equipped with an AM/FM radio tuner, single disc slot, auxiliary jack, a 30GB hard disk and an SD card slot. A media device interface (MDI), essentially a USB port for reading flash memory drives, is an optional extra and can be found underneath the central arm rest.
A VW-specific iPod cable needs to be purchased for the media device interface to work with Apple's range of iPods, iPhones and iPads. Also on the options list is Bluetooth hands-free.
The RNS510 is capable of reading MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis and WMA compressed music file formats from either the hard disk, CD data discs, SD cards or USB sticks. Files stored on CD and SD cards can be copied over to the unit's hard disk, with 20GB of its overall 30GB capacity set aside for music file storage.
DVD video discs are also recognised and look fantastic on the RNS510's 800x480 resolution screen. On the Jetta's 10-speaker set-up sound reproduction is excellent.
Like the rest of the system's design, the RNS510's main map screen is clean, clear and pleasant on the eye. 3D and 2D perspectives are available, and map colours can automatically alternate between day and night schemes.
Were it not for the lack of a QWERTY keyboard, we would have no complaints about destination entry. Routes are calculated fairly briskly and while they mightn't be the quickest path from A to B, you will get to your destination eventually, primarily via main roads.
As the RNS510 is wired up to the car's sensors it doesn't lose track of your position, even in areas that would normally stump a portable GPS, like tunnels, car parks and in the heart of the central business district.
Drivers stepping up from portable nav units may be disappointed to find that the four-figure RNS510 doesn't feature text-to-speech for spoken street names. Junction view, 3D landmarks, speed limit info, red light and speed camera locations, and terrain shading, as well traffic information from Suna, are also no shows.
On the upside, though, the system will turn down your music's volume when reading out instructions, as well as showing information about the next turn in the instrument cluster's LCD display. Lane guidance is limited to main roads, as well as highways and motorways, and the lane arrows are small and can be camouflaged by other map elements.
Despite not being as fully featured as many entry-level portable nav units, the RNS510's high-resolution screen, pleasing design, ease of use and balanced integration of entertainment and navigation, make it an excellent upgrade for any VW buyer. Our key gripes are the presence of Bluetooth, USB and iPod connectivity on the options list.