In the mid-80s, Buick introduced a system combined the idea
of “entertainment” and “information” with a 9-inch screen in its all-new Rivieras
luxury sedan. This futuristic amenity failed to stick at the time but was successfully
resurrected by Lexus in 1999 in its first-generation RX.
Although novel, the early infotainment system left a lot to
controls were organized haphazardly and were far from intuitive to operate. That
all changed once automakers realized buyers’ growing awareness of emerging
technologies, and they began to invest more into the integration of tech
Two decades later, even base trims and economy cars can be
equipped with advanced infotainment systems that can control vehicle functions,
perform advanced processing tasks like delivering turn-by-turn directions and
making restaurant reservations.
The variance in systems from different manufacturers can
make it hard to decide which one is best suited to a specific buyer’s need. The
most important element in a good infotainment system is how easy it is to use. The
quality of the images on the screen and how well it can integrate with functions
(satellite, internet, smartphones) also are top priorities. The industry as a whole
has come a long way in terms of evolving these systems, but there are still
some that rise above the rest.
Here are five best infotainment systems on the market in
Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect
Uconnect is used in a variety of vehicles, from Ram trucks to Chrysler minivans and from Jeep Wranglers to Dodge Chargers. The infotainment system is not only one of the most widely used bits of software in the automotive industry, it’s also one of the best. On a variety of screen sizes and in several different vehicles, Uconnect runs smoothly and offers a clean, intuitive interface. The system is capable of running Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and can utilize voice commands for many regularly used functions.
Since FCA’s vehicles run the gamut from family-friendly
minivans to hardcore muscle cars, Uconnect had to be flexible enough to work
smoothly in all applications. In some Jeep vehicles, Uconnect includes “Off-Road
Pages,” which is a series of controls and displays that allow drivers to
view critical vehicle information, such as transmission temperature, body
angles, and gearing. In SRT vehicles, such as the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat,
Uconnect has “Performance Pages” that gives drivers the ability to
customize driving modes and view information such as lap times and g-forces.
Kia created a winning infotainment system by leveraging simplicity over almost everything else. There are no cute animations and no extraneous frills when it comes to UVO’s screens and menus, but the system works without a hitch and does so with a commendable level of responsiveness. UVO runs on a variety of screen sizes that reach as large as the 12.3-inch unit found in the Kia K900 sedan and can support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in most cases.
Some Kia vehicles come with rotary controllers for the
infotainment system, but the touchscreen controls work just fine. Working
through the navigation screens is easy and intuitive, though many will find the
maps options with either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to be more in line with
what smartphone users are accustomed to.
Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX, is a relatively new
development in the world of automotive infotainment systems. The company
introduced MBUX with the release of the A-Class cars, which rolled out for the
United States in 2018. The system can be controlled in several ways, including
voice, touch, steering wheel controls and a touchpad. All of them work quite
well, but voice controls take the system to a new level with intuitive and
funny responses to common inquiries. Similar to the voice assistants from
Apple, Google and Amazon, MBUX’s assistant sometimes responds with a backhanded
comment or joke.
Mercedes-Benz took another cue from smartphone designers in
the way that MBUX learns over time. Everything from directions for a daily
commute to the driver’s favorite songs become part of the system’s memory and
will be offered to the driver as a shortcut the next time they drive the car.
All of that is on top of the fact that MBUX is quick, responsive and easy to
Ford’s Sync infotainment system is second only to FCA’s Uconnect system for domestic automakers. It’s colorful, cheery, and mostly simple to use. The company has just begun rolling out its newest version, Sync 4, in select vehicles, so we will focus on the new system’s feature set.
Moving from Sync 3 to the next generation, Ford built in several connected services that offer a smartphone-like experience for maps, weather and traffic. The new setup also boosts accuracy and speed for voice commands, and Ford says the system will offer up a better integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which enables more options for voice commands and other services.
The next-generation Sync system will also have the ability to wirelessly connect to a smartphone via Wi-Fi to access Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Like MBUX, Ford says that Sync 4 will learn the driver’s daily habits and deliver suggestions and shortcuts to make the day more convenient.
Volvo’s infotainment system, Sensus, operates on the company’s
tablet-like screens and provides granular control over the vehicles’ many
functions. Volvo vehicles have evolved to include large, portrait-oriented
touchscreens that fill a significant portion of the dash. If the software
running on those screens weren’t up for the task, it’d be a big problem, but
Sensus is more than capable.
Sensus is controlled with swipe gestures and offers a series
of menus that control vehicle settings for functions like the climate system
and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. It’s easily the most
complex system on this list, but Volvo has done an excellent job at making
Sensus responsive and usable while the vehicle is in motion.