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Car Tech Spotlight: Google Earth maps in the 2014 Audi Q5

Navigation system benefits from realistic, constantly updated maps, although it comes with a constant price.

By Douglas Newcomb Dec 13, 2013 7:23AM

Audi Q5 Google Earth mappingA car’s navigation system is only as good as its maps. The prevailing model in most cars is mapping software stored on physical media such as DVDs, hard drives or SD cards. Although the map detail has gotten better and can include 3D renderings of buildings to provide landmarks, the data is outdated as soon as it’s burned onto physical media, since roads and other transportation infrastructure constantly change.

An Audi Q5 TDI I recently tested has what the automaker calls “standard” map data stored on the vehicle’s onboard hard drive. But the Q5 also had the MMI Plus navigation system and Audi connect with 3G cellular connectivity. One feature this combo provides is Google Earth’s realistic satellite views for the navigation mapping.

This means that drivers get accurate and constantly updated maps, and a level of detail that other nav systems can’t match. But it also means that the system needs a data connection, and the car owner has to pay a monthly subscription fee.

While most navigation systems allow zooming out to a scale as wide as 500 miles or more, in the Audi Q5, Google Earth allows zooming out until you can see the entire Earth (as seen above). And like other systems, the Audi Q5’s nav can zoom down to a scale of 30 yards (as seen below), and at this and other levels it provides realistic detail through satellite images. And it also offers something other systems can’t: Street View.

Audi Q5 Google Earth mappingAs you can see in the photo below, zooming down to Street View gives you a satellite image view of a destination so that it’s easier to find if you’re unfamiliar with the area. The navigation system also uses Street View to display thumbnail images of a destination during the final two directions to better help locate, say, a business or building.

Audi Q5 Google Earth mappingWhile the vehicle is parked, Google Earth can be used to display Street View images, as well as rotate and zoom in and out, traverse along streets, and even tour select POIs (such as museums),” according to owner's materials provided with the car. You can do this all from the comfort of the Q5, and without driving around wasting time and gas.

But to get Google Earth mapping on the Q5 requires adding the $3,350 Audi MMI Navigation Plus, which also includes a CD/DVD player with HD radio, a color Driver Information instrument panel display and the Parking System Plus with a rearview camera. And an Audi owner has to pay $30 a month (or $324 for 12 months, $600 for 24 months or $450 for 30 months) for Audi connect’s T-Mobile cellular service after an initial free 6-month trial. This also includes other cloud-based services such as Google online search, live weather reports and forecasts, gas price data, travel info, local events and even the ability to find and pay for parking in advance at a destination.

If you drive into an area without cell service, 2 GB of map data is cached on the Q5’s onboard hard drive, which Audi says is enough for an almost 2,500-mile route. And if you let your Audi connect subscription lapse or decide you don’t want to pay for the service, the navigation system in the Q5 also offers standard mapping — on a hard drive — as a backup.

Dec 14, 2013 4:15AM
There's absolutely no question that the next 36 months in #ConnectedCars like this are going to be awesome! Any link to the constantly updated Google Ecosystem has to be a no-brainer, PROVIDING T-Mobile is a good service around your base-location. What do you think?
Dec 14, 2013 7:39AM
While that's quite cool, it's worth noting that the normal Google Maps navigation on your phone will integrate Street View a bit as well.
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