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Car infotainment technology: valuable in the real world?

By raccars Published

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Manufacturers are increasingly selling to us based upon the car infotainment technology in new models - but does it really help?

Modern techy gadgets are supposed to make our lives easier, but all too often it seems that owners fail to really get to grips with new technology or to exploit it to its full potential. Recently published results of a survey showed that almost three quarters of car owners in the UK do not understand how all of the modern technology in their vehicle works. And this despite the fact that more than half of survey participants claimed to have bought the car at least in part because of its impressive gadgets.

The best car infotainment systems

It's all very well having a clever car, but it's important to be able to use the functionality it offers. Of ten of the most popular car brands in the UK, here is how their infotainment systems measure up when tested for features such as user friendliness, connectivity, performance and price. The systems studied include sat nav.

Audi's MMI

Recent updates to the Audi MMI infotainment system have made it easier to use than ever. The main features are controlled by a rotary knob, reprogrammable buttons and a touch screen that allows you to use your finger to write letters instead of a QWERTY keyboard. Navigation is via Google Earth so the graphics are great and there's lots of detail depicted. The screen itself is of good quality with very clear images, and the same goes for the sound system, at least until you reach the upper registers.

BMW iDrive

A similar user interface controls iDrive, with keys, a control wheel and a touch pad. The system is intuitive and highly customisable so you can set it up to access your most used functions quickly and easily. This makes the daily routine easier and means fewer driving distractions as you attempt to load and reload information. The system also works fast and screens load quickly. Sat nav now comes as standard across the whole BMW range and is very efficient indeed, directing you to the least congested route even on well-known and regularly repeated journeys.

Ford SYNC 2

SYNC 2 is available on most of the brand's current models and comes in the form of a touch screen. This allows control of four different areas: entertainment, phone, sat nav and climate, each of which appear in their own corner of the screen. This makes it quick and easy to switch from one area to another, although the satellite navigation interface is a little crowded and ungainly.

SYNC 2 offers excellent connectivity functions, with two USB ports, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity via phone tethering. Unfortunately, as a whole, the system performs slower than MMI or iDrive. Response from the touch screen is often delayed and list scrolling is slow, while the screen itself lacks colour. On the other hand, audio performance is very good.

Vauxhall Intellilink

Vauxhall is using Intellilink as a strong selling point for the new Astra. Even the entry level version includes a seven inch touch screen, Bluetooth, Android Auto or Apple CarPlay and DAB radio. Premium versions are available for an extra £700. The interface takes the form of a touch screen with a row of four buttons underneath, which is fairly easy to use. The sat nav is accurate and reasonably intuitive. There's also the cost option of the OnStar system, a concierge feature offering Wi-Fi connectivity and 4G web browsing. Overall Intellilink compares well with the systems offered by premium brands.

Volkswagen Discover

VW's central Discover touch screen features eight buttons around a central screen with an easy to read display. The system performs quickly and offers smartphone connection via Bluetooth or USB. The sat nav works in its own mysterious ways but is actually very accurate and up to date.

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