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The claim that one infotainment system is superior to any other is inherently a subjective matter. You can look at quantitative benchmarks like input response times and different screen loading times, but if you ask a room full of people what they’ve all tried the most, you’re likely to get a lot of different answers.
Some people prefer a full touch system with a simple user interface. Others may prefer a touchless system where you can navigate using the scroll wheel. You can compare it to the phone OS wars. In the same way that some people prefer Android phones to iPhones, we all have our own opinions about what makes the best infotainment interface.
However, our cumulative experience tells us that some infotainment systems are at least better than others. We have narrowed it down to five systems and their respective subcategories are highlighted for us. Read on to see our picks below, and feel free to make your own arguments in the comments.
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If there’s one infotainment system we all think is great, it’s UConnect. This recognition includes both UConnect 4 and the latest UConnect 5 software. It has many qualities that make it great, but most importantly, UConnect is simple and easy to use.
Ease of operation is one of the most important, if not the most important part of any infotainment interface. If you want to be able to tap the touchscreen while driving and still keep your eyes on the road, a sophisticated infotainment system will take your attention away from your primary task: driving. UConnect uses a simple interface that puts all the key features in clearly visible lines at the bottom of the screen. Click on any of them and it will immediately open this menu. We love the radio/media interface – it’s so easy to change stations or sources. The menu structure is easy to understand and of course Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is available as needed.
UConnect 5 is a big visual improvement over UConnect 4, but thankfully retains the same ease of use as the previous system. We’d also like to point out that Stellantis was able to adapt the UConnect to a variety of screen shapes and sizes with great success – it worked great on Ram’s 12-inch vertical screen. The software makes good use of the extra screen real estate and has its own split-screen options that are not available on more traditional screens.
Whether it’s a Maserati or a Jeep, the UConnect is versatile, easy to use and beautiful. It’s a high-tech system that doesn’t blind you with unnecessary features and complexity, and it’s our favorite infotainment system.
To do this, we have to designate “iDrive 7″ because, unfortunately, the just released iDrive 8 is a step backwards. Set aside the new infotainment system for the time being, however, and focus on the goodness of iDrive 7. BMW has been using the iDrive handle for years, and iDrive 7 has done it best – perhaps as good as ever.
Infotainment systems from luxury brands, especially European ones, tend to be more complex than those from non-luxury brands. It’s no different from BMW iDrive. You can scroll through numerous settings, menus and displays. However, BMW makes it all manageable with a logical menu structure that you can navigate quickly and efficiently with the handy iDrive knob. This knob is also the key to the infotainment system of our favorite luxury brand. It keeps you fully seated, with your hands in a natural position, and requires less body movement than using a touch screen. This is a great benefit of using the system safely while driving. Alternatives like the touchpad or the old (and terrible) Lexus mouse require too much precision and attention to work. The iDrive knob simply spins, shakes and clicks, making it a natural way to navigate the big bright screens of today’s BMWs.
but! If you want a touch screen, any car with iDrive 7 will do. In addition, the touch screen itself is a very good touch screen, responding instantly to our touches and movements. We’d like to say the same about iDrive 8, but so far our experience with the system has been disappointing. The previously easy-to-use menu structure was a patchwork of small icons, the system as a whole got slower/slower, and BMW removed the physical climate/radio buttons, integrating them all into the touchscreen. It takes multiple taps to complete tasks that used to be easy with a single tap.
For all the praise we’ve given to the iDrive 7 here, there are some criticisms that point to substandard radio customization options. If you’re the type who surfs random radio stations on a regular basis, BMW’s tuning controls aren’t easy or quick. However, anyone who tweaks their own radio settings or simply listens to music from their phone shouldn’t have any problems. Speaking of phones, BMW now offers wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto in vehicles with iDrive 7, and that’s the key to our favorite. Not so long ago, BMW didn’t support Android Auto, which would immediately eliminate any infotainment system from the “best” list.
UConnect would be the most natural choice here, but since we gave it a “Best Overall” rating, we thought it would be best to highlight other infotainment systems from our favorite non-luxury manufacturers. We cheated by including both Kia’s UVO and Hyundai’s Blue Link, but considering they’re pretty much identical in terms of branding and minor aesthetic differences, they both should be here.
Like UConnect, Hyundai and Kia’s infotainment systems have received our accolades for being easy to operate, ultra-fast and visually uncomplicated. The menu structure makes it easy to select any application you want to use. Its air interface is easy to navigate and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is always supported. We’re disappointed that wireless CarPlay and wireless Android Auto aren’t universally supported – it depends on the trim/screen size you choose on some models – but it’s not that hard to get connected anyway.
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Neither Hyundai nor Kia have loaded their infotainment systems with redundant features and complicated menus, so you won’t miss five menus. However, there’s a weird Sounds of Nature feature that lets you fill the cabin with a random soundtrack of busy cafes, falls overboard, and more.
Most Hyundai and Kia have hard buttons for many of the infotainment controls, although their newer offerings tend to use touch-sensitive tactile “buttons” rather than push buttons. We definitely prefer non-tactile controls, but thanks to Hyundai/Kia, at least it’s still appealing to those who prefer to operate important vehicle controls outside of a single central touchscreen.
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Mazda, like many other things, has a particular philosophy when it comes to infotainment systems. On the one hand, the company has serious complaints about the touchscreen. Even on Mazda vehicles with touch screens, the touch functions are disabled as soon as you start driving. Instead, Mazda prefers the driver to operate the screen using a knob much like the BMW iDrive knob. If you haven’t figured it out yet, we like this line of thought.
Our nod to Mazda here only extends to the latest version of Mazda Connect, which is available on almost every new Mazda model but will make its debut in the Mazda3. Mazda has placed the screen deep in the dash, mostly farther than in any other new car, to reduce the driver’s gaze from the road to the screen and back. This allows your eyes to train and adapt to the road better than others, which is the main key to safe use of the infotainment system.
In addition, the system interface is broken down into an ultra-simple and clean layout. Most of the screen is filled with black space, and Mazda always displays only the information you absolutely need. The system is navigated in the same way as in BMW iDrive 7, with knobs that rotate, shake and click. It is very intuitive and the menu structure is set up to make such navigation easier.
Those who want the latest gadgets and gadgets may be disappointed by the lack of a fancy user interface with colors and animations, but anyone who wants to get their job done as simply and easily as possible will love Mazda’s software.
Our biggest complaint comes from the radio setup. This will be difficult if you like to scroll sites a lot. The lack of presets, non-existent tuning knobs, and little-functional radio menus make it intimidating. But if you route all your media through your mobile phone or a few radio stations, you shouldn’t have any problems. Using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is also easy, as you can quickly switch between apps using the hardware buttons on either side of the handle. Press the navigation button and you will open Google Maps. Click the Music button and Spotify (or whatever music app is currently playing) will appear. Normally, using CarPlay or Android Auto without a touchscreen can be frustrating, but Mazda has figured out how to make it better than a touchscreen by using the old-fashioned buttons.
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This is for tech geeks who want to be at the forefront. It’s not the easiest to use or the most pleasant to the touch. However, it has more functionality than any other and the user interface is the most visually appealing/futuristic. MBUX is also home to some of the best voice assistants in the business, and it really helps make things easier when you have as many features and content as the latest MBUX software.
Also, MBUX has a caveat on this list. We are referring to its latest version, which debuted on the S-Class, which offers a “single screen” approach to the home screen, now in portrait orientation. The old MBUX (which is still used in many new Mercedes products) was much worse because you couldn’t see all of your most used apps on the screen at the same time. Instead, they are in a kind of carousel and you have to scroll through them to find what you are looking for. For the new MBUX UI, everything is there and easy to find and click.
Its responsiveness, accompanying animation, and full customization are all just as good as the built-in software. On-screen haptic feedback is a welcome feature, and while it’s easy to get lost in the menus, Mercedes gives you a customizable “Quick Access” tab that displays commonly used settings for quick toggles. Yes, Mercedes knows it’s complicated, but at least work has been done to make it easier to use. Don’t look for it if you don’t want to take the time to learn how it works, but once you stretch out the learning curve, MBUX has many benefits.
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Post time: Sep-19-2022