Audi's New A7: A Sports Car for the Internet Era

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As with every GPS setup I've ever used, the one in the A7 was occasionally a puzzlement: every time I let it guide me home, it got me within two blocks of my house, then had me hang a superfluous right and do a U-turn. Overall, though, it's the best in-car navigation I've tried. The spoken, turn-by-turn directions are crisp and well timed, and the screen behind the steering wheel provides a just-the-facts representation of the road that's more useful than the more elaborate one on the larger display. The navigation system not only warns you about traffic jams but is smart enough to adjust its directions on the fly to avoid them. And icons indicate the amenities available at highway exits, such as brand-name gas stations and roadside eateries. (Marie correctly deduced that the tiny apple indicated an Applebee's in the vicinity; I'd wondered if it represented a farmer's market or an Apple Store.)

The car's other tech features include somewhat fancier, more polished versions of ones I used when I test-drove a 2012 Ford Focus equipped with Ford's Sync system. Once you've paired your phone with the MMI over Bluetooth, you can make hands-free calls and stream music from the phone. If you've got an iPhone or iPod, you can plug it into a port under the armrest, then navigate albums, artists and playlists with the MMI controls. Twin SD slots let you do the same with music stored on memory cards, and you can copy tracks to a built-in 20-GB "jukebox." Luddites get both a CD player in the dashboard and a six-disc changer in the glove compartment, plus Sirius satellite radio.

Did I just say there's a CD player in the dash? Actually, it's a DVD player. For obvious reasons, you can't watch movies while the car is in motion. You can, however, listen to the audio. And you can watch on the MMI display whenever the vehicle is stopped, even if it's just for a moment. I'd find that distracting, and it seems like an odd capability in a car that otherwise errs on the side of safety. (When you back out of a parking space, it mutes whatever you're listening to until you're back in forward drive and on your way.)

I did test the DVD option with a Looney Tunes DVD, though: when I got stuck in stop-and-go traffic, I had the slightly surreal experience of briefly seeing Foghorn Leghorn each time I tapped the brake.

The A7 I tested includes Audi Connect, a built-in T-Mobile 3G connection that it uses for the navigation system as well as other features like a rather rudimentary news browser. (When I tried it, all I got were terse stories from the Agence France-Presse wire and items about Audi itself.) The coolest thing about Audi Connect is that the A7 doesn't hog it — it also uses it to provide wireless Internet to everyone in the car. Like a giant MiFi hot spot, it lets up to eight wi-fi-enabled devices get online at once. That's no big whoop if you happen to be driving, but it's a boon to spouses with laptops or iPads and kids with gaming handhelds or iPod Touches. Audi Connect is free for the first six months, then $30 a month, with discounts for long-term plans.

I'm encouraged by the A7's arrival, even though it's unlikely I'll ever own one. Some of the features it offers are relegated to high-end vehicles now, but they're going to be everywhere, and they're going to change how we think about automobiles. As they do, mere gadget freaks like me will at long last get to think of ourselves as car guys. I can't wait.

McCracken blogs about personal technology at Technologizer, which he founded in 2008 after nearly two decades as a tech journalist; on Twitter, he's @harrymccracken. His column, also called Technologizer, appears every Thursday on

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