Everyday, we carry around little mobile computers that quite literally put the (digital) world at our fingertips. And we’ve become so dependent on this technology that we now expect to be able to access it from anywhere, anytime. This is proving to be particularly true when it comes to our vehicles and their on-board infotainment systems.
“Where’s my phone?!”
According to media company Business Wire, consumer demand for auto infotainment shows no signs of slowing down. And while smartphones have always been “at the helm of any connected system”—mainly because we can’t seem to put them down—OEMs will be integrating mobile technology even more in the future. Already, the simple days of radio knobs and in-deck cassette players have been replaced by touch screens and internet radio. Aux cords and USB chargers are quickly being rendered obsolete by Bluetooth and wireless charging pads. Even the Jeep® Wrangler, one of the last no-frills spartan vehicles left on the market, now comes with your choice of three sleek and sophisticated Uconnect infotainment systems.
Basically, the data is telling automakers that they can have our smartphones when they pry them from our cold, dead, deftly-texting hands. And if OEMs want customers to buy their cars—especially shrewd little Millennials—they’d better be integrating that mobile technology into their on-board infotainment systems. So, with smartphone obsession in mind, and the knowledge that the technology we’re about to discuss will be obsolete by the time this article goes live, we’ve broken down some of the best OEM infotainment systems on the market today.
Across the board, Audi seems to receive positive reviews for its MMI All-in-Touch system. While older versions elicited some gripes among consumers, drivers seem to agree that the constant on-the-go access to broadband Internet that allows for very accurate and easy-to-read navigation is a major plus. In fact, Consumer Reports notes that “74% of owners said they were very satisfied” with the newest version. The luxury badge’s system has handwriting recognition, pinch-and-zoom capabilities, and a digital instrument cluster all displayed on large, clear screens. Add in the fact that it’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible as well as extremely easy-to-use and you’ve got a recipe for success.
Mercedes COMAND and MBUX
Interactive screens are distracting—period. It doesn’t matter how intuitive the menus are or how big the icons, most people need to look at a screen while they touch it. And that means eyes are off the road. As such, an aspect of the Mercedes COMAND infotainment system that seems to resonate with many drivers is that the automaker has long held on to using actual, analog buttons and a rotary knob for major car functions, making accessibility easier and safer.
Seeking even more simplicity, Mercedes has just released its new MBUX infotainment system for the A-class, featuring larger and more intuitive touch screens, as well as an AI virtual assistant. (We’ve mentioned Mercedes progressive attitude towards AI before.) For the A-class, drivers can expect a signature classy look, as well as voice recognition, mobile integration, head-up display, mood lighting, and downloadable updates to on-board tech. Like anything new, there’s sure to be bugs. But we think it’s safe to say that this is the direction in which future infotainment systems are heading.
We know, another luxury badge. But let’s be honest, money buys a lot of nice things, superior tech being one of them. BMW’s iDrive technology debuted back in 2001, making it one of the first automakers to delve into infotainment. Early versions were unpopular and considered unintuitive and slow. BMW persisted though, and their recent infotainment systems are considered the best on the market.
BMWBlog points out that one reason their system is so successful with consumers is because it offers “several methods of interactivity.” Users can access controls through a rotary dial, voice control, the touchscreen itself, and Gesture control. Like Mercedes, the automaker recognizes that analog knobs and buttons still have a place in even the most tech-savvy societies. BMW’s system also smartly offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, 360˚ cameras, and easy-to-use navigation.
Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s UConnect
Finally, something for us plebs. FCA’s UConnect system is considered one of the best on the market today for non-luxury rides. While the top version offers the best array of tech, the lower tiers still provide a user-friendly and interactive experience. With easy mobile integration, software updates, pinch-and-zoom technology, and a host of optional subscription services, UConnect has a little something for everyone.
FCA also cleverly offers model-specific versions of the system. For example, the Chrysler Pacifica minivan’s infotainment links to the rear-seat entertainment headrest screens. With a Blu-ray™ player, wireless headphones, streaming options, and built-in interactive games and apps, you’ll never have to speak to your children again. Hurray!
Ford’s foray into the infotainment realm had an admittedly rocky start. But the automaker seems to have made amends for its dreaded MyFord Touch systems with the new Sync3 technology. In fact, Consumer Reports praises it as one of the least distracting systems on the market. They applaud its “large, well-labeled icons, quick responses, natural voice commands, and large volume and tuning knobs.”
Other smart developments on Ford’s part were to add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, in-car WiFi, and access to the always-listening Amazon Alexa. And in a truly clever business move, Ford has recently paired with the very popular and useful app WAZE to beef up its navigation. Not only does WAZE direct users via traditional map services, it crowdsources information on traffic conditions, road work, accidents, and even police vehicles.
So, there you have it. Five of the ten best OEM infotainment systems available today. Check back soon for our breakdown of the other five contenders. Who knows? Maybe it’ll help you next time you decide to buy or lease a car.