The heart of most infotainment systems is a touchscreen in the center console. In many systems, some information can be sent to the gauge cluster in slightly redacted form – stripped-down navigation commands, basic audio info, that sort of thing. To get the full story, the driver has to take their eyes off the road and look to the middle of the dashboard.

Audi's Virtual Cockpit, in essence, ditches the center screen and places all that information in the gauge cluster. The high-resolution TFT screen is just over a foot wide, and it has two main modes: Classic view, and Infotainment view. Classic looks like many other traditional TFT gauge clusters, with large traditional gauges and the ability to display a decent amount of information in the space in-between. Go into Infotainment view, and the gauges shrink and head to the lower corners, freeing up a much larger amount of real estate for, say, the nav system map. The gauges also get out of the way when utilizing the menu, entering a destination, or that sort of thing.

The four main modes are standard stuff. Virtual Cockpit will show you navigation, media, phone, and trip computer information in large or small formats. You interact with Virtual Cockpit with a familiar MMI wheel-type controller in the center console, like in many other Audis, or with buttons and a scroll/push wheel on the left side of the steering wheel. Climate control functions are handed by physical controls cleverly integrated in the center three vents.

It takes a lot of processing power to make all this work as well as it does, and that's handled by NVIDIA's Tegra 3 processor – a quad-core processor usually seen in tablets and smartphones. The system is quick and responsive, and we found the high-resolution screen to be impressively sharp.

If there's a downside, it's that Virtual Cockpit doesn't leave an opportunity for a passenger to step in and, say, enter a destination or change the radio station without altering what's right in front of the driver. It could be inconvenient at best, distracting at worst, to have the nav system directions you're trying to follow suddenly be superseded by the audio menu. Adding a small secondary screen for the passenger could be one fix; a connected companion smartphone app another. In the meantime, it's an impressive implementation of a clever idea.

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