This article also appears in
Subscribe now »

Audi's Dr. Andre Ebner says that the virtual cockpit of the new TT does not overwhelm the driver with information or too many buttons, and he/she can give conversational orders to the voice control system.

Audi TT designed for the digital age driver

The all-new Audi TT sports car poses a crucial question: Is it too clever by half?

Dr. Andre Ebner, who heads the company’s development of onboard systems, argues very strongly that it is not, despite the fact that its digital dashboard presentation and its information capability look initially as if they should be under the control of a military jet fighter pilot. Even the top of the dashboard has been styled to hint at the configuration of an aircraft wing, and the air vents are described as being reminiscent of aircraft gas turbine engines (fortunately without afterburners). Audi refers to the whole as a “virtual cockpit.”

In fact, insisted Ebner, it is all about reducing driver workload: “I think we have achieved a very good symbiosis between technology and design. It does not overwhelm the driver with information or a great many buttons.” But at first experience for a majority of people over 18 years of age it may be challenging, even daunting.

In terms of both technology and design, the car’s virtual cockpit overshadows the rest of the generation three TT’s salient aspects. These include making clever use of the Volkswagen Group’s increasingly ubiquitous MQB modular chassis architecture; materials mix to help save weight; new engines; fresh suspension configuration; revised quattro all-wheel-drive system, and an evolution of the aesthetics of generation one and two TTs.

There is no doubt that Ebner and his team have come up with a very impressive infotainment solution, one that VW Group boss Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn regards as indicating the digital course that the company’s technology is taking.

Gone are the analog instruments so beloved of old-school sports car aficionados, now replaced by a whole raft of virtual sources of information that may or may not be necessary and that are very much of the computer rather than the automotive industry. But of course, the two increasingly cross over each other, so the result in the TT’s case is a can-do cockpit. But it is bound to raise the questions: Is it necessary, and do customers really want it? Audi’s corporate answer is a positive: Yes.

In front of the driver is a 12.3-in (diagonal) TFT (thin-film transistor) screen with an impressive high resolution of 1440 x 540 pixels. In effect what the driver can look at is a mix of vehicle and safety centric information and infotainment. Audi’s partner in its dashboard revolution is Nvidia, manufacturer of GPUs (graphics processing units) and with major involvement with production of SOCs (systems on chips). Its Tegra chip 30 from the Tegra 3-series is singled out by Audi as a highly significant element in the virtual cockpit’s capability.

Audi claims to be “the first automotive manufacturer in the world to use the fast graphics processor.” With a clock frequency of more than 1 GHz, the quad-core chip, working with a special 3D graphics program, is able to execute 8 billion operations per second.

Unlike rev counters of a few decades ago that might move round a dial in stiff jerks or hover tremulously in an imprecise attempt at accuracy, the new TT’s rev counter is calculated at some 60 fps (frames per second) to provide exceptional accuracy. Ebner is plainly pleased that “Fresnel effects” (instrument glass reflection caused by particular viewing angles) are “realistically recreated;” in other words, what a driver usually expects to see. Scrolling through lists is given similar attention, so there is a translation again into user expectations with regard to inertia, damping and elasticity.

Audi has designed the virtual cockpit system to enable a driver to switch between two user interfaces via “view” control, positioned on the steering wheel, itself a multi-function device.

If the driver wishes, almost the whole screen ahead of him can be taken up by the navigation display, with, in small round instrument guise, the rev counter and—perhaps surprisingly as it is a major safety element—the speedometer (which incorporates a digital read-out) tucked away on each side of the screen.

Porsche, a member of the VW Group, has long had the rev counter as the dominant instrument in the 911’s dashboard. If required, the TT driver can select this configuration in the Audi, too.

This will appeal to those sports car aficionados, and so will what Audi terms the “classic” instrument presentation with virtual instruments looking distinctly analog, with red needles and white numerals.

The display changes color according to base menu selection. Fixed displays include ambient temperature, time, odometer, fuel level, coolant temperature, and warning lights.

The sophistication and choice of information and infotainment available includes a subtle voice input capability that provides for conversational orders by the driver. Ebner gives as an example: “You may say, ‘I have to talk to Peter.’ The system will respond by asking if you’d like to call Peter now and the answer is simply, ‘yes.'”

Audi cliniced 400 drivers to ensure that users would be comfortable with the new system.

Testing was a very significant part of the virtual cockpit program. It uses a “fiber-reinforced supporting structure that provides the foundation for the high level of robustness” of the cockpit. Shock resistance was checked out using fully installed instrument clusters, shaken and vibrated in three axes.

Separate test were carried out on the semiconductor elements. One involved some 1000 hours of operation at more than 100°C (212°F), and electric components were subjected to “hundreds” of temperature cycles from -50° to +105°C (-58° to +221°F).

Cognizant of possible customer concern about the longevity and reliability of such a radical system as the virtual cockpit, Audi stated that it “realized an intelligent management system” to ensure that the large display and integrated graphics chip from Nvidia would have a long service life. Supporting that is the use of an active air circulation system supplying the display and relevant electronic components, with cooling interior air “as and when required.”

As for the rest of the TT, Audi Project Designer for the Exterior, Dany Garand, stressed that the new TT had the focus more on its sporting character than had been the case with the earlier generations. It is a traditional sports car, he stressed. Although restyled, the new TT carries over strong visual cues from both generation one and two models, and it includes a huge single-frame front grille. Headlight technology will soon include a Matrix LED system (see

Initial engine choice covers one TDI diesel and two gasoline (TFSI) 2.0-L engines with a power output range spanning 135 to 228 kW (181 to 306 hp). The TFSI unit uses “additional” fuel injection for partial load operation. Fuel is injected at the end of the intake manifold close to the tumble flaps. According to Audi, it is swirled around intensively along with the air. The improved mixture preparation reduces fuel consumption and lowers particulate emissions.

The new TT is up to 50 kg (110 lb) lighter than the second generation, with a best unladen figure of 1230 kg (2710 lb).

Continue reading »