Manufacturers K Through R
Kia's optional infotainment systems are about to go through a sea change. Currently, Kia offers UVO, a Microsoft-powered system with voice recognition similar to Ford and Microsoft's Sync, albeit with an entirely different user interface.
The 2014 Sorento will be the first Kia to get UVO eServices, which allows for Google Maps integration, including directions and location search. It will also feature crash notification. At launch, it's expected only to work with an Apple iPhone.
The new Soul will feature a different platform entirely, and it runs Android. We saw it at the New York Auto Show, and though we only got a few minutes with the new Kia in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system, it sure looked impressive. There's an app store and smartphone connectivity, and Kia decided to ditch the CD player in favor of a larger screen. We'll be sure to give a full report when we've had more time to spend with it.
Aside from a cool off-road GPS system, Land Rover and Jaguar get similar navigation setups. Both are functional, but neither is as polished as the luxury competition.
Where Toyota has Entune, Lexus—Toyota's luxury division—has Enform for smartphone connectivity. Bing, Pandora, Yelp, OpenTable, and other apps are available in a user interface that's very similar to Entune. You need to have your Enform smartphone application registered and running first, and after the first year it gets fairly expensive.
Lexus also offers the SafetyConnect telematics suite for roadside assistance, emergency response, and crash notification. We unfortunately had the chance to try it out after some debris dropped by a truck punctured a tire on the GS we were driving, and found it a lot more pleasant than calling a tow truck directly. Bundled with Enform, the service costs $264.90 per year. It's $139.95 on its own.
While the software behind the two systems is extremely similar, one big difference between the Toyota and Lexus system is that Lexus vehicles feature a user interface called Remote Touch. Instead of a touchscreen or jog wheel, there's a sort of trackball in the center console that gives haptic feedback, vibrating and "locking" on to on-screen buttons. It requires less of a reach than a touchscreen and allows the screen to be set deeper in the dashboard. In the case of the new GS, it allows for a much wider split screen. We just wish Lexus hadn't done away with the physical "back" button, as the system now forces users to touch an on-screen back arrow instead.
As Ford's luxury division, Lincoln—er, the Lincoln Motor Car Company—gets a Lincoln-specific version of Sync and MyFord Touch called MyLincoln Touch. There's also the same available suite of active safety features, such as cross-traffic alert, blind spot detection, and lane-departure warning.
The Mazda infotainment systems we've tried out are fairly basic, with navigation from TomTom and an optional touch screen. There's one cool feature on the CX-5, though: As long as your car has the LCD screen in the center stack, you can upgrade to navigation even if your car didn't originally come with it.
Mercedes vehicles come with several optional infotainment and telematics systems. COMAND is the entire user interface, which relies on a clickwheel and buttons in the center console and a large LCD screen in the dashboard.
mBrace2 is Mercedes current telematics and connectivity setup. The hardware comes standard on all 2013 and up model year cars aside from the S-Class and CL-class. For $280 a year, you get safety services, such as collision notification and emergency assistance. For $20 a month more, you also can access a real, live concierge if you need help from a human being. For another $14 a month, you can also connect your data-enabled smartphone for access to apps such as Google Local Search, Yelp, and Facebook. That's $314 a month for the whole shebang. Keep in mind that those features come at a lower cost or even free on other vehicles.
There are also available active safety controls, such as collision-mitigation braking that helps to apply maximum brake force in the event that a collision is unavoidable, active cruise control, and blind spot warning.
We drove the 2013 GLK 350 crossover and used them all, even some of the active safety features.
Mercedes has also announced an iPhone-based navigation system for the upcoming CLA and C-Class. It mirrors a navigation app that uses the iPhone's GPS and processing power, but on the car's LCD screen. We're looking forward to testing it out.
We have yet to drive a Mini with an updated infotainment system. However, Mini does offer a Mini Connected iPhone App that appears to be quite similar to corporate parent BMW's ConnectedDrive. There's also an iPhone app called Mini Link that's meant as a driver-focused social network for Mini owners, including a parking spot finder and restaurant recommendations.
We haven't driven a recent Mitsubishi product that features an infotainment system.
Nissan's current optional infotainment and navigation systems are straightforward and simple, and lack internet connectivity. Many feature a jog wheel in addition to a touchscreen and a D-pad, for multiple entry methods.
On the 2013 Altima, Nissan debuted NissanConnect, which uses a phone's voice connection — not a data plan — to access Google POIs for navigation, among other features.
Recently, Nissan announced a partnership with Intel to build an entirely new infotainment platform. We're looking forward to testing it.
Just because you're driving a performance car doesn't meant that you don't want to listen to a playlist from your smartphone or find a restaurant. In fact, we'd argue that both are more important on a long road trip than on a daily commute.
We spent some time with Porsche's Porsche Communication Management (PCM) infotainment system, and came away impressed. It's quite simple, but also extremely straightforward, with solid-feeling knobs and buttons that click into place when you turn or push them. Our favorite feature: You can decide whether to look at audio, navigation, and vehicle functions on the center stack screen or on an LCD in the gauge cluster.
Ram is Chrysler's truck brand, and its models can feature the parent company's Uconnect system.
Range Rover and Land Rover share navigation systems.