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Audi Virtual Cockpit explained: what is it, and should you have it?

The impressive Audi Virtual Cockpit replaces traditional dials with a large screen

Many new cars now come with the option of a digital instrument cluster, which replaces the analogue speedo and rev counter with a configurable screen. The Audi Virtual Cockpit system was one of the first, and it’s perhaps the best-known on the market. But if you’re in the dealership and the salesperson is suggesting you upgrade to the system, should you take their advice?

What is Audi Virtual Cockpit?

The Virtual Cockpit is a screen that fits perfectly where conventional analogue dials would be. It’s a configurable system that allows you to personalise the display to show the information you want to see. There are plenty of layouts, and the system shows more information than traditional dials. Depending on the model and spec, it comes in sizes of either 10.25 inches or 12.3 inches across models including the A4, A5, A6, Q3 SUV and Q3 Sportback.

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The exact layouts can depend on the car you’re in, and how far it is up the Audi model hierarchy, but all versions let you toggle between several different menus. You can have it set up to show audio, phone book and/or trip computer information, as well as having the sat nav appear as a nearly full-screen display. Virtual Cockpit also allows you to change the sizes of the dials. If your car comes with Virtual Cockpit as standard, it can be configured to look like traditional dials if you prefer.

Virtual Cockpit isn’t a touchscreen; it’s controlled by buttons on the multifunction steering wheel. The steering wheel is different to the one in models that don’t have the system included, so it’s not worth retrofitting Virtual Cockpit to an Audi that didn’t have it installed from the factory.

When was Audi Virtual Cockpit introduced?

It still feels like state-of-the-art software but the first version of Virtual Cockpit appeared on the 2014 Audi TT and then a rebranded version of it was used in the Lamborghini Huracan. Early iterations suffered some tech glitches and weren’t always legible in bright sunlight, but the software has been improved with bug fixes and steps to ensure the system is visible in all conditions. The current system is much more reliable, so it’s worth making sure the car you’re looking at has the most up-to-date system.

The Audi Virtual Cockpit used to be reserved for the company’s more expensive cars, including the Q5 and Q7, and S and RS models, but the technology is now trickling down to the rest of the range, so that now even the entry-level Audi A1 has the 10.25-inch Virtual Cockpit. Although the current Audi A3 (the oldest model in Audi’s range) doesn’t offer it, most other Audis do.

Each brand in the VW Group now has its own digital instrument cluster, with brand-specific graphics and functions, and, in some cases, slightly different names. Volkswagen calls it the Active Info Display and SEAT calls it Digital Cockpit, whereas Skoda follows Audi’s naming convention.

Many other car manufacturers have also developed their own systems; you can get a digital instrument cluster in various Mercedes, Peugeot, Kia, Renault and Volvo models, among others.

Audi MMI and Virtual Cockpit

Audi MMI is the company’s ‘multi-media interface’ system, which controls all of the media and infotainment functions. Where the Virtual Cockpit is fitted, the MMI system works alongside it and gives you lots of information and sat nav mapping on the central screen. Depending on the car you have, this is usually controlled by a touchpad and scroll wheel mounted on the centre console or the steering wheel.

The Audi MMI system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto across most models.

Read our reviews of all the current Audi models for more information.

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