Advanced multimedia systems are becoming increasingly central to daily life with modern cars. Especially at the luxury end of the segment, where BMW's iDrive, Mercedes-Benz's COMAND, Lexus's new haptic system with Enform and Audi's MMI all compete for top honors. The latest iteration of Audi's MMI system is now headed to the U.S., and it will make its retail debut in the new Q5.

Like Lexus's haptic interface system and BMW's iDrive, Audi's Generation 3 MMI uses a joystick-like remote input device. The idea seems to be that by placing the control mechanism within easy reach of the driver, the screen itself can be moved closer to the line of sight out the window, improving both the interface and safety of operation.

Other new features in the third-gen MMI system include real time traffic information, new 3D map displays, giving perspective to the images on the navigation screen, helping drivers orient their current location and understand what's ahead. Voice input for destinations can be done with whole words rather than spelling out letters as in previous MMI installations, with 'a number of languages' supported.

The music and entertainment system is upgraded as well, allowing playback of DVDs with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, MP3, WMA and AAC format CDs and SD cards, plus Audi's Music Interface application for integrating Apple's iPod into the Audi MMI display. The display itself gets upgraded as well, the 7in TFT unit displaying 800x480 pixels with bright backlighting and strong contrast to help keep from washing out in bright sunlight.

Up to 10gb of storage space on the internal 40gb hard drive can be used for music storage. All of the computing is handled by a pair of processors - one 800MHz unit for general processing and a 500MHz digital signal processor. This duo enables all of the MMI systems functionality to operate simultaneously - meaning one could, in theory at least, make a call, use voice input for the navigation system and play music all at once.

Finally, a 3D graphics processor from nVidia enables the true 3D display of the nav system and accelerates it to ensure rapid, smooth performance.

The all-new Q5 will be coming to the U.S. in March, with the Generation 3 MMI system as an optional add-on. Pricing and further details will likely come with the car's retail debut.