Using Google Earth in the 2014 Audi Q5 TDI makes navigating via your smartphone seem shockingly primitive (as well as distracting). You can zoom from seeing the entire globe to finding yourself on a map. You can pull up a view that is only 30 yards above your location. You can find an alleyway behind a house, the delivery door for a FedEx building, or even map out the parking spaces at a stadium.
You may be willing to stay a few steps below the state of the art given its price: The touchscreen, 3D mapping, and audio features in the Q5 are part of the $3,550 MMI Navigation Plus package, on top of the crossover's base MSRP of $37,300. You also need a 3G data connection in the car, which is free for six months and $30 per month thereafter.
But let's pretend for a moment that we don't have a mortgage or college tuition taking precedence over this snazzy navigation system. Just watch what it can do.
Google Earth does not provide a real-time view of your travels, but the map or picture based on the company's vast trove of data is still a big step up from other navigation tools. In a recent test, it was easy to see specific intersections and streets in a small town. The map also shows larger buildings and shopping malls in a city. You can pull up a Street View mode when stopped.
According to Audi, the Street View mode even lets you "walk" inside public buildings like a museum or civic center (using the arrows provided by Street View). Unfortunately we couldn't find any locations that offered this insider view.
In 2014, car companies will start experimenting more with "bring your own" mapping technologies. Already, the Honda Civic that hit dealers in January, and the upcoming 2015 Honda Fit, will let you sync your Android or iPhone to the car and display the HondaLink GPS app in the touchscreen. The app costs about $60 and does not require a monthly subscription. It's not Google Earth plus Street View, but it's more affordable for many.
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