THR Test-Drives Audi's A3 in L.A.'s Silicon Beach (Video)

3:39 PM PST 06/06/2014 by Michael Walker

Audi claims its all-new $30,000 A3 is a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot with enough bandwidth to allow five devices to stream Netflix movies -- yes, simultaneously.

At the Detroit International Auto Show in January, Audi of America president Scott Keogh vowed "to make a lot of noise in the entry-level luxury market," which Audi predicts will grow five fold in the next four years. Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are fielding new compact sedans that seat five, start at around $30,000 and are aimed at aspirational millennials who, it's hoped, will later trade up to more expensive models, like Audi's flagship A8.

Audi is wooing this most tech-savvy generation with the 2015 A3, which has features that won't be available on the A8 until later this year -- a reversal of traditional automotive marketing, where premium features debut on premium models and slowly trickle down to less exalted vehicles.

Introduced in April, the A3 is for now the only U.S. car with 4G LTE connectivity baked into its infotainment system, which effectively turns the car into a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot that transfers data up to 10 times faster than 3G networks. (Cadillac is introducing 4G LTE -- as with Audi, provided by AT&T -- across its 2015 models.) In the A3, the AT&T connection is free for the first six months, then $99 for 5 GB over six months or $499 for 30 GB over 30 months.

STORY: THR's Silicon Beach Power 25

Audi claims the system allows simultaneous wireless streaming -- think Netflix movies -- for up to five devices: tablets, smartphones, laptops, anything with a Wi-Fi connection. Additionally, the new Audi Connect interface supports smoother and more detailed Google map navigation on the infotainment stack's screen, with Google Earth in 3D, plus access to hundreds of web-based radio stations. Incoming Facebook and Twitter messages are read by a Siri-like female voice.

The coolest feature: wirelessly upload a geo-tagged photo into Audi Connect (virtually any photo taken with a smartphone or similar device), and the navigation system determines the location of the photo and provides directions -- invaluable when friends send hilarious selfies but are hazy on directions to the party.

To see how all this connectivity plays out in real-world conditions, The Hollywood Reporter drove an early-build 2015 A3 around the streets of Culver City, epicenter of L.A.'s Silicon Beach tech community, and shot an accompanying video. THR fired up a brace of laptops, iPads and iPhones and got down to business, running speed tests, streaming movies, making multiple voice calls, sending pointless emails and initiating mortifying FaceTime video chats.

Conclusion? Audi's 4G LTE connectivity worked pretty much as advertised -- there was only one instance where the car dropped the signal, and that was restored a block later and probably had more to do with AT&T's coverage. What's missing for now is integration with Apple's CarPlay and its Google equivalent, which allows control of a tablet or smartphone directly through the Audi Connect interface.

With GM scheduled to launch 4G LTE connectivity across much of its cars by the end of this year, look for the integration between autos and our personal tech to grow ever closer and more robust.

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