With huge touchscreens, a wealth of vehicle information and smartphone connectivity, infotainment systems have become increasingly important in new car buying decisions. But not all are created equal.
A top system should be easy to navigate, smartphone-responsive and not distract drivers with chunky pixels or screens that reflect too much glare. Here are six that have passed our high marks.
Apple CarPlay is an iPhone-based system that lets you use a variety of core apps in the car while keeping your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. It’s been around since 2014 and is available in cars from a wide range of manufacturers, including some that don’t make Apple products.
CarPlay mirrors your phone to the car’s infotainment system, with Siri voice controls designed specifically for driving. You can also swipe right from the main screen to access “dashboard mode” that displays several apps at once. Apple recently updated CarPlay to add features like improved calendar app organization, album art in Now Playing, and Siri Suggestions. It also added support for Apple Maps to let you see EV charging stations, plan your ETA, and more.
Apple also announced a new version of CarPlay called “New CarPlay” at WWDC 2022. It will be built into vehicles starting with Porsche and Aston Martin and let drivers control their car’s screens with the phone app.
Android Auto is a system from Google that mirrors certain apps on your smartphone to the car’s infotainment display, allowing hands-free operation and reducing distraction. It can play music, access apps like Google Maps, and use the voice command capabilities of your phone to make calls and send texts.
It’s supported by most car manufacturers, with the outliers being Mini and Rolls-Royce (who support CarPlay but not Android Auto) and Tesla (who have their own in-car tech suite). This makes it a common feature in most modern cars, and updates to the software happen fairly regularly.
For example, the January 2023 update added a new CoolWalk interface that creates on-screen tiles for apps and offers shortcuts to speed up replies and phone calls. This reduces driver distraction even further. For a more thorough infotainment experience you can also choose to drive vehicles with the Android Automotive operating system, which is built into the car from the start and works in a standalone fashion.
MINIs are known for their style and peppy driving dynamics but the tech in a modern MINI might just be more impressive. MINI Connected is a set of in-vehicle technologies and a mobile app that seamlessly integrate your iPhone with your car. Unlike BMW’s iDrive, the system doesn’t operate as a standalone and instead uses your phone as its brain.
Once connected, your music, iMessages/text messages, phone calls and select third party apps are piped to the dashboard display and can be safely navigated via Apple CarPlay. Advanced real-time traffic info can also be viewed, helping you avoid roadside snarls before they happen.
Other key features include remote services like eCall and Teleservice, as well as journey management. For instance, the system automatically sends your appointments and destinations to your car, while displaying charge-optimised route planning, address favorites and gas/charging station locators. It’s a comprehensive solution that’s available in both 6.5- and 8.8-inch displays and can be controlled via the MINI Connected app.
McLaren is a name that’s synonymous with world-class supercars and racing. But that doesn’t mean McLaren hasn’t made significant inroads into the mainstream with its line of road cars.
The 650S is no exception to the rule. Its bespoke interior architecture combines sophisticated sophistication with race-bred technology. A small steering wheel gives drivers matchless control, while the dashboard’s design was influenced by Formula 1 cockpits.
The central zone of the dashboard shows vital information, while a trip computer and engine operating temperatures are displayed in the outer sections. The information is prioritised according to driving mode, with a Race Car-style display activated in Track Mode for the ultimate experience of McLaren’s formidable power.