Hard buttons that are easy to operate by touch and feel might as well be put on the endangered species list at Audi.
The German automaker's latest MMI Touch Response infotainment system consists of a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, a 10.3-inch touchscreen for infotainment, and an 8.6-inch touchscreen for climate controls. Few buttons exist inside the current A8, A7, A6, Q8, and upcoming 2020 Q7, though there is a volume knob for the radio.
This is just the beginning.
2019 Audi A8 L
Marc Lichte, Audi's head of design, told Motor Authority the next step is an augmented reality head-up display. With the implementation of this next-generation technology, the digital gauge cluster will become smaller and show less information. The two touchscreens in the center of the dashboard will eventually merge into one large screen if Lichte's vision of the future comes to fruition.
While today's setup has a real volume knob, Lichte said in the future there will be no more buttons. The traditional volume knob will disappear, but some sort of alternative will remain, likely a volume rocker on the steering wheel for those who don't want to use the touchscreen or voice controls.
Not only interiors will change. Electric vehicles will change the way Lichte and his team design exteriors. While the E-Tron crossover released this year and the coupe-like 2020 E-Tron Sportback crossover shown last month at the Los Angeles Auto Show look like most gasoline-powered crossover SUVs, the devil is in the details.
Audi e-tron GT Concept, 2018 LA Auto Show
The proportions for both all-electric crossover SUVs differ from those of Audi's gas-powered models. The wheelbase is long and the overhangs are very short. Audi can design vehicles this way because EVs don't need to package around the internal combustion engine. Lichte said this is the beginning, but the design changes are starting as an evolution rather than a revolution so as to not shock the consumer.
In about four years, Audi's electric-vehicle design will transition to revolutionary with big design changes. The largest change will be ride height. Future Audi electric cars (likely starting with the upcoming Audi E-Tron GT based on the Porsche Taycan) will feature extremely low ride heights with low floors (referring to the bottom of the vehicle) for cars, though crossover SUVs will retain higher ride heights and seating positions.
This change will improve aerodynamic efficiency and range.
The Audi E-Tron GT, which is due by the end of 2020, will be joined in the German automaker's showroom by an all-electric car akin to the A5 Sportback in size and proportions. It's not to be confused with the 2020 Audi E-Tron Sportback. Audi plans to make coupe-like Sportback EVs in both car and crossover form.