Year after year, smartphones come out smarter and smarter. Yet even the best infotainment systems lag far behind our most common technology – and understandably so. A smartphone isn’t expected to last ten years while outdoors and in all sorts of weather, it’s also not connected to thousands of pounds of heavy machinery that is replaced frequently. Anything built into a vehicle should last through quick stops, poor weather conditions, and a decade of use. But those are all expectations that come with any other part of a vehicle, and the engineering to accommodate those expectations creates computer systems less than what we’re used to, and leads us on a difficult path to finding the best infotainment systems at a used car dealership near me.
The Criteria for a “Good” System.
- Easy usability while driving, voice/motion activation, and otherwise convenient design to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.
- Great aesthetics, something you want to look at because you’re going to have to on a very regular basis.
- Mechanical functionality; this sounds obvious, but how well things do what they’re meant to is essential. Even in top-end newer models, touchscreens are laggy, phone calls aren’t clear, etc.
- Considerable features, what all does it include? Are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard?
- Intuitive and user-friendly. How much you have to learn to be able to use it? Do you have to think about how to navigate menus or operate multiple interfaces in the middle of driving?
With 70% of customers very satisfied, the 2015 Chrysler-Fiat Uconnect has the most popular system you’re likely to find in a used car. Its graphics aren’t flashy, but that’s a good thing: they’re clean and simply not distracting. It has a simple touchscreen panel with a couple of knobs, which is the general recipe for success currently when it comes to interfacing with infotainment systems.
It’s impressive voice command options also help put it at the top in terms of usability. What sets it apart from other systems is the option to connect to your smartphone even when your vehicle is not in use. You can locate the vehicle and the best path to it, lock or unlock your ride, and control some features of your car all from your phone, even when you’re not around it.
The Not-So-Best (But Still A Top Contender)
On the other end, the Mercedes-Benz Command system has a complicated set of menus and controls that you have to watch a poorly executed 15-minute video to understand – and after you still might not understand the system.
If you bother to learn the overcomplicated controls and how to push all the right buttons for the system, it otherwise seems to work well and can provide you several different ways to find your music or see what traffic is like. And, it has voice controls for a number of functions, so you can bypass the clunky combination of touchscreen, control knob, touch controller, and various buttons and knobs. So, among the best, it’s the worst, but it’s still part of the pack at the front.
If you’re looking for a good car with a good infotainment system and you’re not looking for an infotainment system to pick your car around; Hyundai’s Blue Link is a fan favorite. The graphics do look a little cheap, and you need to interface through your phone to have voice commands. However, it’s got a pretty optimal interface, and a really cool SoundHound feature that lets you look up information on a song playing, including the lyrics, along with the standard conveniences you expect in the best systems. One of those features includes controlling your car from your phone, similar to Chrysler’s Uconnect system.
One of the nice things about Hyundai’s sister company Kia is that their infotainment system will diagnose problems with your car for you. Their app also has a large focus on vehicle maintenance, such as providing recommendations for maintenance as you pass certain mileage markers. With the combination of factors they offer, they meet the same standards as other systems and fall in about the middle of the leading pack of infotainment systems.
GM did well with their system overall, but with a noticeably laggy touchscreen, and fewer of the special features that other systems offer, they fell towards the end of the leading pack. However, a lot of drivers appreciate that simplicity and the ability to monitor and control several features of their vehicle remotely. This is extremely popular for parents of teen drivers.
Ford’s system, on the other hand, is cluttered, unintuitive, and malfunctions regularly. Like the rest of the technology competition, different competitors take the lead for best infotainment system at different points in the race, but for 2015 era systems, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Toyota and Honda’s systems had uncharacteristic technical performance issues also. Additionally, too many frustrations were introduced by interfaces that aren’t intuitive in the way they combine their buttons and knob commands with touchscreens, have too small of screen sizes, or their voice commands don’t function well with the way people actually speak. Other issues included limited functionality, such as being locked out of features while driving, such as choosing a new destination while using navigation.
When it comes to exotic cars, the differences in quality between mechanics and circuitry become slightly more pronounced, especially considering the added emphasis on aesthetics. A big difference is that in these cars, there’s more desire to have the display raised off the dash to avoid looking away from all the cars you’re passing, making it a far and awkward reach for a touchscreen.
This, in turn, leads to less user-friendly interfaces, coming in a variety of forms with touchpads, control knobs, joysticks, button and knob combinations, which all become very convoluted very quickly. BMW’s iDrive has the highest customer satisfaction, placing right behind Chrysler and Hyundai systems, but it’s not raised off the dash.
Audi’s MMI has been received as slightly less popular, but it has the screen raised. Not only that, it rises in and out of the dash and gives you a digital display that allows you to exchange your traditional gauges for Google maps. Considering the extra features Audi’s system gives you, like being able to adjust the way the transmission shifts, Audi has the best infotainment system, even if it doesn’t have a touchscreen and generally can be more difficult to use.
Putting the pieces together
In the end, more and more quality infotainment systems that actually exist (and not what’s expected to come out) are doing their job best by connecting with your phone and letting you use voice commands. The best let you have an app that connects you to your car when you’re away from it. The older the model you choose from, the more you’ll notice the disparity between what you’re used to and what was new a decade ago. A good FM transmitter/external Bluetooth device that you connect to your phone and is probably going to be worth it with older vehicles, and it won’t provide a lot of the same features you want. But it allows you to have an older vehicle while using some of the basic features you love.
No matter which of these manufacturers you chose, one of them has a great infotainment system for you. Don’t choose your vehicle based solely on its infotainment, but if the ability to stay connected is important to you, look into these manufacturers, you’re bound to find something you love.