Car interiors have come a long way in recent years when it comes to technology, with the primitive digital displays and satnavs of the early 21st Century having been succeeded by systems that, by comparison, feel like supercomputers. The latest digital infotainment systems don't just present passengers with navigation and access to the radio and Bluetooth media, but now integrate internet services, intelligent journey planning and even car controls, removing the need for many buttons and controls.
But, like the world of smartphones and computers, car interior digital systems come in many forms - and with different intentions, depending on who made them, what type of car they're in and what the model's brand 'identity' is. As far as the driver using them is concerned, modern infotainment systems can dramatically transform the character of a car. And, no less significantly, alter whether a car is appealing to buy or not. So, which ones are best?
What makes a good infotainment system?
First things, first, let's get to understand the basics of what an infotainment system should offer. They should:
- Work consistently - Okay, so this one kind of goes without saying. If they’re not built to last and start failing a few years into use, they run the very real risk of making the car all but useless. Or at the very least extremely unappealing to buy.
- Be user-friendly - Most drivers will want a simple interface that’s a breeze to use while driving. It shouldn’t be like accessing a computer, a good system will be really easy to navigate and smartphone responsive.
- Have a clear screen - Chunky pixels or screens with glare are no good. A quality infotainment system has a screen which is sharp, well-lit and visible from everywhere in the car.
- Integrate well - The system isn’t standalone, it will work alongside your smartphone, satellites, the internet, a DAB radio, your A/C system and a whole bunch of other components in your car. It has to do all that quickly and seamlessly.
Our six favourite interior digital systems in cars right now:
The ‘MBUX’ - or ‘Mercedes-Benz User Experience’ - system is as good as you’d expect from the luxury car brand. You can control it via the crystal-clear screen, split into two displays stretched across the dash, by an excellent voice command function, via the steering wheel or even by a handily-placed touchpad. The best (oddest) feature? The voice command function engages you in conversation - of sorts. It even tells the odd one-liner joke! Oh, and the sat-nav uses augmented reality to help illustrate commands clearly. It's super helpful.
Jaguar Land Rover - which, as the company's name suggests, is the group in which Jaguar and Land Rover exist - made a big leap last year with the launch of its latest Pivi Pro infotainment system, which has integrated a swish curved touchscreen into its cars, with a real focus on aesthetics. The system is beautifully designed, the digital displays are sharp and clear, and the system reacts instantly to your inputs. JLR hasn't attempted to go overboard with its in-car digitalisation though, and has retained some manual controls that support the digital stuff. We like that.
BMW's iDrive system has evolved through several generations since the maker's first take on the system launched in 2001. Like the JLR system mentioned above, the eighth version of BMW iDrive uses a curved touchscreen, mounted atop of the dashboard. It features clean, nicely designed displays, and can be controlled either via direct touch or using BMW's rotary wheel just behind the gear selector. It's ultra-intuitive to use, and the menu designs feel authentically BMW.
The ‘Multi-Media Interface’ from Audi is a dual touchscreen system that does all you’d expect via its two touchscreens, but also allows control to be gained via a satisfying-feeling click wheel. Intuitive, plainly laid out and fast, there’s nothing to dislike about Audi’s MMI system. There is something to really like, though. There’s noticeably good ‘haptic feedback’. That’s the fancy name for the little clicks, vibrations, pips and tones you get from technology to let you know you’ve selected an option. Vital for when keeping your eyes on the road.
The beauty of the Connect system from Mazda is its simplicity. Everything you need is there and it’s easy to find and use. It’s not loaded with options you’ll never use, and it can be learned in minutes. The clickwheel by the gear stick is incredibly easy to use and isn’t distracting. Even in the small Mazda MX-5, which by default of being a two-seater sports car is space limited inside, the small screen presents all of the essentials and the small controllers can be used without much thought. It's totally fit for purpose.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles UConnect
The fourth generation of Fiat Chrysler Automobile (the company in which Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Jeep, and more are contained) ‘UConnect’ is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, which you might expect, and comes in a 7-inch or 8.4-inch touchscreen. That's all fairly normal. What's most handy though, is the Uconnect system's smartphone-aping pinch-and-zoom capability, which is a handy touch. It’s clear, intuitive and super simple to use, which is all you can ask for.
Honda e infotainment
Last, but by no means least, is the Honda e's infotainment system. We've listed it at the bottom of our list because this is a model-specific system for now, but it's a brilliant one nonetheless. As a widescreen display that extends almost across the full width of the cabin, the digital tech displays driving information neatly, and in a lounge TV-like manner thanks to its wraparound shape. The widescreen touchscreen, which is flanked by digital door mirror displays, even has a setting that turns the display into an aquarium. Well, a digital one, anyway.
Now you know what to look out for in a good infotainment system, why not have a browse through our range of cars and see what tickles your digital fancy?
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