Infotainment Systems have become the heart of the modern car, performing a large variety of functions. We took a look at our favourites.
Different people find different things to appreciate in new cars. Some appreciate a great engine, measuring a car’s true worth by its performance. A family man might be more interested in the safety features. The environmentally conscious might look for a car which emits low emissions. For the tech junkies, however, infotainment systems are the heart of every modern car.As it is with every other aspect, manufacturers strive to create the absolute best infotainment systems possible, each offering new and exciting features. Infotainment systems are still relatively new on the scene, though, and how they’re performing on this front depends on the consumer and their brand, features or entertainment preferences.For these reasons, it’s difficult to determine exactly which system is best. But, we’ve come up with a few strong contenders.
How Did We Choose Our Favourite Infotainment Systems?
A modern, premium car should offer the best technology available. The interfaces need to be slick, the software responsive and the system should be easy to use.This is where all the core electronic functions come together. For instance, we recently reviewed the new Ford Fiesta. Ford fanatics may remember how cluttered the earlier Fiesta dashboards were – dotted with an unnecessary amount of buttons and knobs and dials. It looked like a 1970s switchboard.In the new model, most of the functions these buttons performed have been moved over to the infotainment system instead. This allowed for a neater, cleaner cabin.So, what are we looking for in a great system? First and foremost…The demands of driving on South African roads these days require that we do nothing else but watch the road and pay attention to what we – and others – are doing. This is something which car manufacturers haven’t always taken into account when engineering these systems. The ease of use, while driving.So, this is going to play a major part in which systems we recommend.Another is, of course, the kind of functions which can be performed. Can it play music? How is the navigation system? Can it control the heating, ventilation or air conditioning?It’s worth mentioning that many of the features offered on any given system aren’t always factory standard. Buyers should inquire with dealerships when shopping around for a new car.
iDrive – BMW
In the iDrive, BMW delivered one of the very first comprehensive infotainment systems. Back in the day the performance was still quite rocky and awkward, but the auto giant has learnt through trial and error and these days it’s one of the best around. The system has evolved into a sophisticated, smooth user experience.The design and organisation is now quite user-friendly. Newer versions feature larger Head-Up displays in front of the driver, with the X3 crossover even allowing users to customise the interface by moving tiles around. The graphics are clear and crisp with legible texts and icons to minimize distraction.Overall, there’s very little fuss in doing what you need to do.Most of the BMW models offer many other features. These include:
Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Remote services through the BMW Connected App, which allows you to locate your vehicle, unlock your doors or turn on ventilation.
A satellite navigation system with real-time traffic reports.
A reversing camera and parking assistance.
Support from Alexa.
Control wise, the iDrive has a joystick-type rotary controller knob, coupled with a few handy shortcut buttons. This makes it a little easier for the driver to pilot the system menu, as opposed to continuously tapping away at a touchscreen. Should you choose not to use your hands at all, there is also an intuitive voice control option.The really big thing here is the gesture control, which first appeared in the 5 and 7-series. It allows drivers to perform a variety of functions via simple hand motions, such as answering or rejecting calls or adjusting the volume. An added benefit is the ability to programme your own customised gestures.
SYNC3 – Ford
And the winner of the most improved award goes to…Here’s a system which will resonate with far more people. Now, Ford’s previous attempts at touch screen systems were legendarily terrible. Luckily, that’s no longer the case. The SYNC3 system has addressed many of the harsh criticisms reserved for older units, vastly improving on the lagging system, slow response times and lack of intuition.There are now larger on-screen buttons which are easier to hit on the move, well-labelled icons and bigger volume and tuning knobs. Navigation of the 8-inch screen interface is similar to a smartphone, with pinch-to-zoom and swipe functions. This screen can also be split into different sections in order to display multiple sources of info at the same time.Adding to that, there is also a voice command system which allows the driver to communicate more naturally.Other features found in certain vehicles:
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Support from Amazon’s Alexa.
Adaptive cruise control.
Satellite navigation and 3D mapping.
Rear parking camera.
Electric heated seats and steering wheel.
In terms of graphics, the SYNC3 doesn’t quite measure up to BMW’s iDrive, but it’s still not too bad. The only real criticism could be aimed at the location. The system may become bothersome to use due to the fact that, in many vehicles such as the Kuga, it is set firmly into the dash. Shorter drivers may find it a bit of a reach.
COMAND – Mercedes-Benz
Our final pick simply had to be COMAND by Mercedes-Benz, and this is why…COMAND is an acronym for Cockpit Management and Data – and it prefers to think a little further than the touchscreen. The system controller features a touchpad, rotary knob and a few buttons for the major functions. In the E-Class sedan, Mercedes also introduced steering wheel micro-touchpads to aid you in performing functions safely. All of this makes for a strong alternative to all the tapping and swiping found in other vehicles.Newer versions have wider, high-contrast displays and the menus work really well.Features available include:
A hard-drive music register as well as internet-based audio services.
Harmon / Kardon premium audio system.
Dual screen rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
WiFi hotspot and iPad docking station.
Voice recognition and control.
One of the problems is that with all this innovation, it may take a while for drivers to learn exactly how to operate the system. This isn’t the only criticism which can be levelled at the COMAND, though. It’s been around since the early 2000s and truth be told, it’s a little long in the tooth. The graphics are slightly outdated and the scrolling tile system is a little bit awkward in most applications.What sets the COMAND apart is also one of its biggest disadvantages – the lack of a touchscreen. This is only because functions such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been designed around just such an interface.Despite all of these snags, it’s still very decent.All of the vehicle’s systems are integrated – which is mightily impressive – and access to these is quick and easy. Small little things, such as muting other audio when accepting a call, are executed without a hitch.
Infotainment Systems Of The Future
Honourable mention must go to fantastic infotainment systems such as Kia’s UVO3, Audi’s MMI, Jaguar / Land Rover’s Touch Pro Duo and Hyundai’s Bluelink. All of these have evolved, learnt and delivered far beyond expectations. In them, we see the future.Even the aforementioned COMAND by Mercedes will soon be replaced by a better system. The new MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) was announced earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, due to be rolled out in the new A-Class arrivals.We’re beginning to see a future of infotainment systems – and perhaps even cars themselves – operated by AI assistants such as Alexa.Nissan, for one, is even developing what they call B2V – Brain To Vehicle – communication. The system will essentially detect your brainwave activity via a headband-like device, and prepare the vehicle for any action you intend on taking. If you’re not happy with the way the autonomous driving is going, the car will adjust the way it is driving for your comfort. It’s a bit of a play on autonomous driving, really, because in the end we’ll never truly be happy with it, and an interesting concept.One thing is for sure. The cars of the future will be sleek, savvy and infinitely customizable.