Tips and advice

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

The digital Audi Virtual Cockpit replaces traditional dials with a large configurable screen

Most modern cars come with a digital instrument cluster, either as standard or as an option. These digital dials replace the traditional analogue speedo and rev counter behind the steering wheel with a configurable screen.

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system was one of the first to appear on the market, setting a high benchmark for other manufacturers to meet. But if you find yourself speccing a new Audi in your local dealership and the salesperson suggests you upgrade to the system, should you pay the extra cash to go digital?

What is Audi Virtual Cockpit?

The Virtual Cockpit is a single screen that fits above the steering wheel where conventional analogue dials would be. It’s a configurable system - the driver can choose the information that’s displayed - that offers more complexity than the information offered by traditional dials, from sat nav instructions through to audio information.

There are plenty of layouts and, depending on the model and spec, it comes in sizes of either 10.25 inches or 12.3 inches across models including the A3, A4, A5, A6, Q3 SUV and Q3 Sportback. On versions that aren’t fitted with the system as standard, like the entry-level and mid-range Audi A6 saloon, Virtual Cockpit can be added as part of the brand’s Technology Pack, which costs around £1,500.

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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 has since trickled down to the rest of the range, so that even mid-range and tier-topping versions of the the brand’s smallest model, the A1, has the 10.25-inch Virtual Cockpit. In fact, the only models that don’t come with the option of Virtual Cockpit are the base model Technik variants of the A1 and Q2.

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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