Brand-by-Brand Guide to Car Infotainment Systems

Our subscribers get real about their infotainment systems, which can be technological marvels that make driving a dream, or so difficult to use that they’re downright infuriating

The Standout

Fiat-Chrysler Uconnect 8.4: 70 percent very satisfied
Its straightforward touch-screen design, combined with a few traditional knobs and buttons, helps make Chrysler’s Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system a favorite with consumers. Satisfaction with Bluetooth and voice commands—often sore spots with drivers—ranked highly. Don’t confuse the 8.4 with Chrysler’s lesser Uconnect systems, which have smaller screens, less capability, and a much lower satisfaction rating of 49 percent. With an infotainment system this good, it’s too bad very few Chrysler models are recommended by Consumer Reports.


Very Good Systems

Hyundai Blue Link: 63 percent very satisfied
Hyundai specializes in making intuitive systems. A 2015 Hyundai Sonata owner says he’s “amazed at how easy it works.” Other owners appreciated that the Genesis incorporates both a touch screen and controller knob. Hyundai’s quick-to-learn voice command and Bluetooth systems rank highest for owner satisfaction.

 



BMW iDrive: 60 percent very satisfied
BMW’s iDrive employs a console-mounted controller knob, although the latest version adds a touch screen and is easier to use than earlier iterations. Still, mastering iDrive takes some time. It’s super-reliable, with good Bluetooth connectivity. Owner satisfaction with Bluetooth and call quality is very high, as is the system’s thoroughness: “It is very comprehensive and tells me everything about my vehicle,” an owner says. An X3 owner added, “The learning curve is fairly steep, but the system is not bad once you get the hang of it.”

 



GM (Chevrolet, Buick, GMC) MyLink/IntelliLink: 57 percent very satisfied
These high-ranked systems from Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC closely mirror Chrysler’s design. Screens are intuitive, most fonts are large, and there are multiple traditional knobs and buttons. Steering-wheel remote controls are comprehensive. Owners generally like using the OnStar system, which can call a live GM concierge for roadside assistance or to download directions straight to the navigation system.

 



Kia Uvo: 57 percent very satisfied
Like sister company Hyundai, Kia has infotainment systems that use knobs and buttons along with a touch screen. We suggest splurging for the optional navigation system’s larger screen; a 2016 Sorento owner complains that the basic screen “is way too small, and the messages on it are even smaller.”

 



Audi MMI: 57 percent very satisfied
MMI uses a controller knob, buttons, and a screen. The system is complex, but many agreed with the 2013 Q5 owner who said it “takes getting used to. Once mastered is intuitive.” The latest Audis feature the optional Virtual Cockpit—which replaces normal instrument gauges with a big digital screen that can display Google Maps and phone calls straight ahead of the driver.

 



Lexus Remote Touch: 56 percent very satisfied
This system uses a trackpad or mouselike joystick, and a high-mounted display screen. A Lexus RX owner reports that “using the mouse-based system is cumbersome but manageable.” Owners like that the touchpad is easier to reach than a faraway touch screen. Lexus also won praise for easy-to-use Bluetooth audio streaming.

 


Average Systems

Nissan NissanConnect: 54 percent very satisfied
Pairing a bright screen with knobs and buttons, Nissan’s info­tainment systems are intuitive to use, with Bluetooth audio streaming that works well.

 



Infiniti Infiniti Connection: 54 percent very satisfied

Most Infiniti models are relatively long into their market cycle, which explains the dated-looking graphics of their info­tainment systems. But Connection, which combines a touch screen with a controller knob, works better than the newer, slow, and glitch-laden Infiniti InTouch system that rolled out first with the 2014 Q50 sedan. A worrisome note: The InTouch system, when separated from the overall Infiniti brand, finished dead last in our rankings—with only 38 percent very satisfied—because of its frequent software crashes and slow startup.

 


Volvo Sensus Connect: 52 percent very satisfied
Most current Volvo models use familiar-looking radio knobs and buttons to control a center screen. Winding your way through the menus isn’t intuitive or easy. The new generation of Volvo infotainment, launched with the 2016 XC90 SUV, uses a large iPad-like touch screen that requires a lot of fingertip swiping to navigate.

 


Mercedes-Benz Comand: 51 percent very satisfied
Comand pairs a center knob controller with a display screen. Earlier iterations were relatively easy to use, especially for a German luxury brand known for having complicated engineering. But though many rivals are simplifying, the latest versions of Comand have grown more complex, losing familiar knobs and buttons, and gaining a protuberant touchpad and more involved menus.

 



Subaru Starlink: 50 percent very satisfied

For years, Subaru’s infotainment systems were antiquated. Recent models finally have a modern touch-screen system combined with knobs and buttons. Although clearly improved, the new system remains decidedly average. Voice commands and Bluetooth satisfaction are average as well. Owners complained that the glossy screen “reflects bright sunlight, making it hard to see.” Many owners complained that the navigation system cannot be programmed when the car is moving.

 



Ford MyFord/MyLincoln Touch: 49 percent very satisfied
Ford was an early innovator in infotainment. But owners of MyFord Touch report reliability problems, with the system “constantly rebooting” and sometimes requiring replacement. Subsequent years have had fewer problems, but the screen design remains cluttered and unintuitive. Certain models replaced buttons and knobs with touch-sensitive flush buttons that were “overly touchy.” A 2013 Fusion owner writes, “MyFord Touch is a wonderful idea that was mostly implemented but was never really finished.” Ford is rolling out the new Sync 3 system, which responds quicker and is easier to use.

 



Mazda Mazda Connect: 49 percent very satisfied

One owner sums it up well: “Mazda still has some work left to do.” Mazda’s latest system uses a large central controller knob to select from a display screen. Another owner says, “I’m not impressed. It’s difficult to get through all of the steps to get what I want.” Owners were frustrated that the touch screen works only when the vehicle is stopped and that the voice-­recognition system often misunderstands commands. One owner complained that the Bluetooth was “incredibly flaky and crash-prone.”

 


Honda HondaLink/AcuraLink: 49 percent very satisfied
Honda and Acura info­tainment systems come in several designs, none of which make owners happy. Many were dissatisfied with voice-command quality­—the lowest-ranked among all brands. One owner found it “very difficult to use the commands because they must be said in ‘Acura-speak,’ not commonly used English words.” Our tests found the onscreen buttons and menus to be unintuitive.

 


Back to the Drawing Board

Toyota Entune: 44 percent very satisfied
Toyota’s system combines a touch screen and regular knobs and buttons, but the “whole thing is hit and miss,” one owner says. Complaints include small screens and slow system response. Voice commands often proved to be frustrating to use. The Entune app capability seems “clunky compared to phone apps.” Many respondents voiced frustration that the navigation system cannot be programmed while the car is in motion, preventing even passengers from entering a destination.

 



Cadillac Cue: 40 percent very satisfied
Owners criticize Cue for being “sluggish” and trouble-­prone, findings backed up by Consumer Reports’ reliability data. Some owners report having difficulty using Cue for months, even years, after purchase. A typical complaint: “This car REALLY needs a co-pilot with an IT degree.” Many criticisms focus on capacitive-touch buttons that are overly sensitive; one consumer noted that you “barely wave your hand in front of the Cue system and you change radio stations.”

 

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited – Snow Day

David Zenlea

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Front Three Quarter 02

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — One of the surest symptoms of the onset of soulless adulthood is hoping that an approaching blizzard won’t actually affect your life. Another is driving a boring crossover. I have to pilot our 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited some 50 miles to a photo shoot Monday morning, so as I go to sleep Sunday night, I pray we won’t get the predicted 6-12 inches of snow.
My prayer is answered in the usual manner. I wake up to 18 inches. The University of Michigan has canceled classes on account of weather for only the second time in 37 years. But the photo shoot is still on, so I sleepily click the Cherokee’s remote-start button, make my coffee, shower, and brush my teeth. I spend 15 minutes clearing snow off the Jeep’s roof — it has clogged around our ridiculous aftermarket luggage rails — before pulling onto my unplowed street.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Front End 02
In place of the array of differential switches you’d find in a hardcore off-roader, our all-wheel-drive 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited has a simple rotary selector denoting various conditions. Um, let’s try “snow.” It works. I keep my foot on the throttle, and the four driven wheels, shod in Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires, chew through the porridge of snow, sand, and rock salt. (You may be thinking winter tires are superfluous when you have four-wheel drive and plenty of ground clearance. You’re wrong.) The snow setting smooths out throttle inputs and starts off in second gear, which is fine since the nine-speed transmission is normally too jerky shifting at low speeds. The Cherokee’s traction control system knows better than most when to intervene and when to let the wheels slip to build momentum.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Front Three Quarter 01
Maybe it’s confirmation bias, but I notice that many of the other vehicles picking through the snow-covered roads are Jeeps. I start to wave to an old Cherokee on monster tires and think better of it. If Jeeps are one big family, this Alfa Romeo-based crossover is kind of like that sixth cousin who comes up to you at your bar mitzvah, drink in each hand, and informs you that she saw you last at your bris.
Not that I want to switch Cherokees. I’m guessing the older one doesn’t have a heated steering wheel. What would happen to my delicate fingers? I plug my destination into the Jeep’s ergonomically friendly touchscreen infotainment system and make for the highway.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Rear Three Quarter 03
The interstate is slick with packed snow and glare ice, yet I feel comfortable enough to phone design editor Robert Cumberford, who comes through loud and clear via Bluetooth. He is about to enjoy lunch in his home in France, but he commiserates by recalling the time he drove a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 on summer tires through a snowstorm in Geneva.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Rear End 01
I arrive at the studio 15 minutes early. Guess what? Shoot’s canceled after all. Our office in nearby Royal Oak is likewise snowed in. Now I have eight free hours, which I should use to catch up on all my writing assignments. But who ever gets work done on a snow day? I drive back to Ann Arbor and, rather than fetch the old Flexible Flyer from my basement, I turn off stability control on the Jeep Cherokee and charge into an unplowed parking lot. The Cherokee bogs for a second but then claws its way through, spitting a fine mist of powder in its wake.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Rear Window
As I dial in a bit of countersteer to catch a drift, I spot the little Willys Jeep silhouette at the base of the Cherokee’s windshield (see above). Maybe I’m not a soulless grownup quite yet. And maybe the 2014 Jeep Cherokee isn’t just another boring crossover.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Front Three Quarter 04

Jeep is the most relevant brand in the auto industry

Jon Alain Guzik

Jeep Cherokee

The RideApart/DriveApart office is located smack-dab in California—not just California mind you—but Southern California.

This is where outdoor and surf culture hold a powerful sway on the psyche of the entire region, even here from our landlocked office in the middle of Hollywood.

While you could say the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Tesla Model S could be the official cars of some parts of LA (looking at you Beverly Hills), there are only a handful of cars that stand out for the sea, surf, and outdoor set— and I’m not looking at you wrongly named Chevy Malibu.

It’s the outdoors that drive people to California—or, at least, to live the California lifestyle. And if you’re looking for something that does a little of everything—such as a veritable Everyday Carry for the car set—then look to the iconic Jeep brand to fill your needs.

But first, some history: Back in the halcyon days of the 1950s, you had your idealized version of the surf car with the Ford Country Squire, aka “The Woodie,” and it’s now seen on the backs of corpulent men wearing Hawaiian shirts on vacation the world over.

A decade later, in the Endless Summer of the 60s, it was the VW Microbus—usually in a sun-faded orange color—loaded for bear, ready to hit the waves while billowing clouds of weed stank putted along the highway. If you were really cool in the same era, you’d had a late 60s/early 70’s Ford Bronco with the roof off and a bikini-clad girl beside you. Not a bad life if you could get it.

vw van

But truly, in the 70s and 80s, there really was come summertime, come hell or high water, come big waves and tasty sets, come camping in Yosemite and rafting down the South Fork of the American River. There was no better vehicle to take up and down the Golden State than a Jeep—preferably a CJ-5 with the doors off, bikini top, big old Mickey Thompson wheels , a sick lift kit, and the interior sticky with sandy grit from Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax. The CJ-5 was the vehicle…no scratch that…still is the automotive grail for a lot of people.

Back when I was a kid, there was something transcendent about a Jeep, especially when it came to those iconic early CJ models and the now cooler-than-thou Jeep Grand Wagoneer (preferably in navy blue over tan, with the faux wood sides. A Prepsters dream car.) The Jeep—like a pair of Khakis—symbolized military garb gone civilian: cool. And in SoCal, we couldn’t get enough of it.

Jeep Grand Wagoneer Breaking Bad Skylar

Jeep, like much of the automotive industry, fell onto some serious hard times a few years back. We had a worldwide economic collapse that rippled into slower car sales, a general automotive malaise, and multiple automotive bankruptcies. The cars? They were not so good. The brands? They did suffer and lo, times were dark.

Flash-forward to now and it’s a whole lot better. The Jeep division is now part of Fiat Chrysler America and the brand has roared back to life thanks to some pretty sweet product like the Grand Cherokee (the smaller Cherokee), the awesome and totally covetable Wrangler, and the new 2015 Jeep Renegade—a tiny “cute-Ute” with a beating heart of dirt.

2015 Jeep Renegade

Ah, it’s the Renegade that stole my heart recently on a first drive through the rutted dirt trails of the Hollister Hills SRVA—about an hour outside of San Jose, CA. I loved the little Renegade, from its Lego meets cartoon “Ute” design, all the way up to the way it drove. It’s a perfect little attempt at modernizing the brand and connecting to the next generation of Jeep buyers.

On the day out with the Jeep, I had a chance to drive both the upmarket and fancy limited model. I also drove the off-road ready Trailhawk version, which I took up and down the hills of the SRVA for hours on end. I liked them both.

The Renegade has a lot of neat features like an ingenious “My Sky” sunroof package, a plethora of engine and transmission options—a six-speed manual mated to an I-4 four cylinder turbo engine—and a really well-designed and thought-out packaging outside and in.

Aside from a smallish 2000-lbs towing capacity, the designed in the US of A and built in Italy Jeep Renegade is a total win, especially at its $17,995 starting price. Also, did I mention I loved the way it looks? If we had it at our RideApart/DriveApart offices to customize, I think we could make the perfect outdoor weekend warrior mobile.
It’s not just the Renegade that has us more lathered up than Seabiscuit after running a mile and a half in the rain—the whole dang Jeep lineup is great.

To wit: The Grand Cherokee was fully refreshed for the 2013 model year and if you’re in the market for a full size SUV, you can do no wrong. We REALLY like the nutso-crazy and superfast $64,595 SRT model (who doesn’t?) with its 470 horsepower engine and more power than you really know what to do with. It’s fast, looks great and is as much fun as a barrel of monkeys racing go carts off road. Or try the diesel-powered version with some of the best gas mileage of any SUV on the market. These two models are the Yin and Yang of the line up: fast and gas-guzzling; or not as fast, but awfully fun to drive. The all-new and smaller Cherokee is a great smaller alternative, especially in the rock-crawling capable Trailhawk guise, and it was one of our cars of the year in 2014.

jeep grand cherokee

If you really want something to shout “surf’s up, man,” then choose the real sweetheart of the Jeep lineup, the Wrangler. If you want four-door sunshine, select the Wrangler Unlimited. To us, nothing screams outdoors like a Jeep with a soft top, so throw the surfboard in the back, and away you go…all the way up to the ‘Bu to catch some cool waves, brah. We’d also opt for the top of the range Rubicon version, in a black on black configuration with a hard shell top.

Seriously though, the Wrangler Unlimited gives you Mercedes Benz G63 looks at less than a quarter of the price. Imagine having surf, sun, sand, and looking good in the outdoors on a major budget. Who could ask for anything more?

2014 jeep wrangler

15 Best Family Cars: 2015 Ram 1500

It might seem strange that we don’t have just one pickup truck on our Best Family Cars list for 2015; this year, we have two. That shows not only how far trucks have come, but it’s also our way of acknowledging that families come in many shapes and sizes, and that not every family needs the same thing from their vehicle.

The Ram 1500 may be the most civilized truck on the market today. When it comes to buying a family car, that can go a long way. Many families are looking for more than just a kid carrier, or something that offers easy installation of a car seat. While the Ram can serve as official munchkin mover, it can also do a lot more. Its versatility makes it easy to carry an ATV or dirt bikes, and the Ram-exclusive RamBox allows you to tote small gear on your next camping trip.

As Comfortable as a Sedan

The Ram has the most comfortable ride of any truck. That it can work hard as well makes this an impressive all-around truck, one that can do just about anything. Thanks to a coil-spring rear suspension and available air suspension, a family can enjoy the comfort of a midsize sedan while on a road trip. Also adding to that cruising America appeal is the modern interior, with optional amenities like heated leather seats and steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, Uconnect with wi-fi hotspot, nav system and SiriusXM with real-time traffic. There’s also an available clean diesel V6, for a fuel range that ensures you don’t need to stop nearly as often, saving both time and money.

The Ram is a truck that’s ideal for the great American road trip, that quintessential event that every family really should do. What better way to see America than in comfort, with all of your adventure gear in tow?

Review: 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is anything but bland

2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk (Dan Heyman)

Dan Heyman

You have to hand it to Jeep. Year after year, they manage to take models that have been around for a long time and inject new life into them by building a special edition or two.

Some of these work well, others not so much, but they tend to do a good job of adding some colour to an automotive landscape that seems to get blander by the year. I mean, how many times have you looked down a neigbourhood street and seen nothing but grey and white cars? (Overall score: 7.8)

Walkaround

First of all, you can imagine how that dreary neighbourhood would get a shot of life if you had one of these babies parked there, in all its Mango Tango Pearl paint glory. Somewhat questionable name aside, that paint is one of the juicier ones you’ll find on the dealership floor today. If it’s too much for you, you can always select one of the more sedate colours: “Anvil,” “Billet,” and “Viper GTS Blue”.

Other Trailhawk-specific exterior additions include a 25-millimetre bump in ride height, 17-inch off-road wheels and tires, front and rear tow hooks, red Trail Rated badging, LED taillights, fog lights and contrasting grille surrounds. The black wheels and hood decal are optional.

And it looks fantastic. You’ve still got that wacky front end, but when you factor in all the gaudiness of the rest of the Trailhawk conversion, it all works rather well.

Plus, it fits rather well with the Jeep’s rough n’ tumble, nothing-can-stop-me-no-matter-what-colour-I-am ethos. Really, there are few other manufacturers that could pull off something like this. (Score: 8.3)

Interior

The interior additions aren’t quite as marked; you get leather/cloth seating with red stitching as standard, which were upgraded to an all-leather, ventilated set-up on our tester. It costs a combined $1,595 for both features ($800 for leather, $795 for ventilation and memory seating, plus power fold-away mirrors) and while on one hand a cloth set-up is more “Jeep,” the leather is actually easier to clean. So if you’re planning on hawking some muddy trails in your Cherokee, then you may want to consider the leather. Skip the other fancy stuff, however, and you get to keep the neat underseat storage found on the passenger side, which you lose one you add ventilated seats.

In-cabin storage takes another hit on our tester thanks to the addition of a remote CD player, which takes up a healthy portion of the centre console’s storage bin. Leave it out, save $225, and stick with your satellite radio and streaming Bluetooth.

The front seats are a great place to sit, providing a generous view forward and plenty of space for legs, shoulders and heads. It’s a little more snug in back, but isn’t any more crammed than any mid-size crossover you’ll find on the market today. The optional panoramic sunroof, meanwhile, really opens things up. (Score: 7.5)

Tech

Also standard is a 7-inch customizable display set between the two main gauges. It may be a bit anti-Jeep in its ultra-techiness, but it’s still nice to have considering the vast array of info it displays in gorgeous full-colour, from infotainment, drive mode, and navigation.

Then there’s the standard—and massive—8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment screen, as well as standard XM satellite radio and Bluetooth. The Garmin-based navi system will run you an additional $600, however. (Score: 8.5)

Driving

Two engines are on offer: standard ‘Hawks come with the 2.4L MultiAir I-4, while $1,590 will get you a 3.2L version of the company’s award-winning Pentastar V-6 engine. It’s money well spent.

The V-6 makes 271 hp and 239 lb.-ft. of torque, and while those aren’t sky-high numbers, it works well with the nine-speed transmission to keep things copacetic. I’ve driven the Cherokee with the four-banger, and I found it had a hard time getting along with its transmission (the nine-speed is your only option). The V-6 is much better at this, keeping progress smooth if not quite as efficient as the four-pot.

Plus, you don’t get the way-cool dual-exhaust tips unless you select the V-6.

Of course, this is a Jeep and smooth progress may not be what it’s all about for many buyers, especially buyers of an off-road special like this.

In that light, the Trailhawk comes standard with Jeep’s Active Drive II 4WD tech. It adds both rock-crawl and neutral modes for the drivetrain, in addition to the standard Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud modes.

When Rock mode is activated, you can pretty much let the Trailhawk do its own work (you can leave your feet off the pedals during descents, allowing you to focus solely on steering) over the rough stuff, as the locking differential and transmission, along with the hill descent feature, all do their part to keep things solid over the roughest, loosest terrain.

Of course, the offshoot of this is that progress over smoother surfaces is a little louder in the ‘Hawk than other Cherokees. Indeed, on the highway, those tires sound almost as loud as the colour looks. (Score: 7.9)

Value

With a starting MSRP of $31,595, the Trailhawk is quite a tantalizing option. All that 4×4 goodness, those eye-popping looks and some pretty good tech for under 32 grand? Not bad.

Until you look a little closer at the options list: a heated steering wheel and front seats will cost you $795; the fancy nine-speaker sound system, $400. And if you want rear cross-traffic alert and power folding mirrors, you’re looking at an additional $895. Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, power seats, even a tonneau cover come as part of various option packages, pushing the MSRP of our tester to $42,135 before taxes. (Score: 6.8)

Conclusion

Choose your options wisely and you’ll end up with an immensely capable crossover with neck-snap looks and a sense of adventure. It’s great, and we encourage Jeep to keep recalling the cool factor associated with its products ever since Daisy Duke’s white CJ-7 trailblazed through Hazzard County.

Driving the Renegade, Jeep’s little achiever