- Modern cars have tons of features meant to calm their drivers, from nature sounds to mood lighting.
- But the Audi Q5 Sportback SUV’s “virtual cockpit” aced that assignment without even trying.
- Its navigation displays — of all things — were the most soothing road-trip feature I’ve ever used.
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Like many things, cars contain a lot of gimmicks. There’s ambient lighting with every color under the rainbow, just because. There are calming noise tracks like Hyundai and Kia’s “Sounds of Nature.” There are massaging seats so weak they might as well not be there. The whole idea is to make the car feel like a peaceful escape, but most of the time, they’re forgettable features hidden in a deep menu of other forgettable features.
But the 2021 Audi Q5 Sportback SUV had something that really, truly brought me peace: its navigation display, which could splash across both its main infotainment screen and the driver’s instrument cluster.
For most of my week driving the Q5 Sportback, nothing really jumped out at me about it. It’s an easy car to like.
Its interior and exterior design are simple enough to blend in with other cars and with the Audi lineup, its signature “sportback” slanted roof makes it look a little more agile than the normal Q5 SUV, and Audi’s four-rings logo — a universal sign, similar to that of BMW and Mercedes, that you’re affluent enough to drive an Audi — adds that extra level of fanciness that the car’s safe appearance somewhat lacks. The Sportback doesn’t ask you to think very hard about it, and that’s not a bad thing.
Then my spouse and I set off on a day trip in the car, which gave us time to fumble with all of its features. With the navigation up on the main infotainment screen, we flipped through Audi’s virtual cockpit, which lets users customize the driver’s instrument cluster. Your speedometer and tachometer gauges can be big or small, and, like with many modern digital cockpit displays, you can use the screen space in between to monitor anything from your radio settings to your fuel mileage.
Flipping through the screens, we found the navigation setting — a nearly full-screen display of our route, illustrated like a modern version of Google Earth. There’s a reason everyone loves screwing around on Google Earth: It’s peaceful, just like this setting on the Q5 Sportback was.
Spread across both of our main viewpoints in the front of the car, it was like a panoramic view of our route. There were no other distractions, only the green tint of nature and the little arrow showing us which way we were going.
It was as if we were getting a break from the monotony of the road in front of us, courtesy of watching the aerial scenery around us.
It felt starkly different from today’s driving experience. Modern cars are full of options, menus, settings, and alerts. Information displays tell you how low your tires are, how much fuel you’re using, when you need an oil change next, if you’re following the car in front of you too closely, if you veer out of your lane — in a time when everything is a computer, from your smartphone to your car, it’s hard to realize just how much information overload we experience these days until we get a break from it.
The Q5 Sportback’s display settings gave me that break, and my road trip was far more peaceful because of it.
—Alanis King (@alanisnking) June 18, 2021
As I scrolled through Audi’s photos of the virtual cockpit, I realized a pattern: Whenever Audi shows off this display, the carmaker makes sure to do it in a place where peaceful nature scenes show up on its displays and out of the car’s windows.
The photo setup is genius. It emphasizes everything I felt while rolling down the road with all of my displays covered in aerial views of the land around me: focused yet relieved, because I wasn’t bombarded with constant information about my vehicle or surroundings. I just got to take them in passively while our trip timer clicked down.
Sure, gimmicks can work. Ambient nature sounds, mood lighting, and massaging seats may be your thing, but at their core, they’re simply extra features meant to distract you from reality. Splashing the terrain around you across every screen in your Audi doesn’t distract you from reality; it reminds you of just how peaceful the world can be when you cut out the noise.
Sometimes, that’s the most valuable reminder you can get.