This is the first in a series profiling each of the 2017 Wards 10 Best UX winners.

Audi attained unqualified interior-styling leadership a little more than a decade ago with its minimalist, form-follows-function approach, a design philosophy peaking in 2011 and 2012 on the A8 and A7, just as automakers were rediscovering the importance of an expressive cabin.

Now the German automaker seizes command of the user experience with the ’18 S5 Sportback just as the industry begins emphasizing a smart, safe and connected interaction with the vehicle.

“This UX is a benchmark for autonomous functionality, graphics, user-friendliness and infotainment,” WardsAuto editor Tom Murphy says of the technology-rich S5, a 2017 Wards 10 Best UX winner.

The latest iteration of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit lies at the heart of the S5 user experience. The entirely digital instrument panel, with its richly detailed, 3-D imagery and astonishing clarity, leaves WardsAuto judges gape-mouthed. The 12.3-in. (31-cm) TFT display is powered by a quad-core Tegra 30 processor from NVIDIA rendering up to 60 frames per second to deliver precise imagery.

Clicking to navigation mode minimizes the speedometer and tachometer to the corners of the IP and colorful Google Earth maps fill the screen with the drama of a trapeze act. Two other views are available on the system, and each puts vital information into logical groupings.

“The combination of Google Earth maps and the CGI roads is great and makes Audi’s navigation and maps among the best in the industry,” says WardsAuto editor Christie Schweinsberg.

The S5 user experience is enhanced further by the automaker’s suite of advanced driver-assistance technologies. The adaptive cruise control system features Traffic Jam Assist technology, which at speeds below about 35 mph (56 km/h) gently guides the car through bumper-to-bumper traffic.

If this early piece of semi-autonomous driving is even just a short glimpse of the fully autonomous world down the road, we’re all in on the technology.

Blindspot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic forward emergency braking, traffic-sign recognition and automatic high-beam control complete the safety cocoon enveloping the S5.

 

The Wards 10 Best UX test car also was outfitted with an optional Bang & Olufsen 3-D sound system for concert-like sound, whether the selection is Beethoven or Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

The S5 boasts a solid Wi-Fi connection and fast smartphone pairing, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, upscale interior materials such as Carbon Atlas inlays, tranquil ambient lighting and a center-console mounted rotary controller that seemingly gets easier to use with every new Audi model.

Rival automakers spent years trying to match Audi interiors and recently have pulled alongside Ingolstadt’s designers and engineers. The Audi S5 Sportback shows the automaker wants to regain that lead.

jamend@wardsauto.com