Infotainment in 2017: It’s More Than Just a Stereo
Modern infotainment systems have evolved to be the hub of many vehicle functions, and are no longer just a way to control the stereo or navigation system. In many vehicles, they also handle telephone and data communications, plus vehicle setup and HVAC control.
However, infotainment systems are not all created equal, with some excellent systems out there, some that just get the job done with little flash, and some that are truly arduous or distracting to use. When you’re shopping for a new car, you can see how each vehicle’s infotainment system rates by checking out the interiors sections of our new car rankings and reviews.
In terms of ease of use, many manufacturers now support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which allow you access your smartphone’s functions with a look and feel that is similar to the phone itself.
On the following slides, you’ll see 12 of the best systems available. Many of the systems listed are offered on several of the brand’s models, though others are available only on the top trim levels of certain models.
2017 Audi A4
MSRP: $34,900 (Details Below)
Even base models of the 2017 Audi A4 come standard with an easy-to-understand and capable infotainment system. Audi's MMI (Multimedia Interface) comes with a 7-inch infotainment display, plus the ability to integrate your smartphone using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Add the MMI Plus package, however, and the A4’s infotainment system goes from being good to outstanding. Using the Audi Connect vehicle data connection, Google Earth information is streamed to the vehicle so that you can see an aerial image of the area around your location. The MMI Touch interface allows you to use your fingertip to write out instructions for the navigation system. You can also use voice recognition or a dial on the dash to input information.
On upper trim models, the infotainment system streams data to a 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit, which replaces the traditional instrument cluster with a customizable display screen showing the speedometer and your choice of other types of information. The 2017 A4 is the top-ranked car in our rankings of luxury small cars.
2017 Volvo XC90
MSRP: $45,750 (Details Below)
The 2017 Volvo XC90 comes standard with a 9-inch touch-screen infotainment system display. Unlike most, the screen is situated vertically, rather than horizontally. Not only does it look like a large smartphone, it acts like one with support for pinching, swiping, and zooming motions.
With most infotainment systems, once you activate Apple Carplay you can only see its functions on the screen. With the XC90’s vertical screen orientation, you can get to a number of other on-screen controls while the CarPlay interface is displayed.
Volvo has just announced support for Skype for Business in its XC90, S90, and V90 cars so that they can join conference calls while on the road without interacting with their smartphones. The XC90 is currently tied with the 2016 Land Rover Range Rover Sport for the No. 10 position in our rankings of luxury midsize SUVs.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
MSRP: $28,995 (Details Below)
Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s UConnect infotainment system is widely regarded as one of the most intuitive in the industry, and versions are included in many Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge vehicles. In the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid minivans, the UConnect system also links to the available rear-seat entertainment system’s dual 10-inch screens.
Kids wondering how long it will take to get to the destination? One of the built-in entertainment apps talks to the optional navigation system to display that information in a kid-friendly way. The system also supports UConnect Access, a subscription-based data connection that provides a rolling Wi-Fi hot spot.
Pacifica’s equipped with the top-end UConnect 8.4N system, which includes one year of SiriusXM Satellite radio, plus five years of Sirius XM Travel Link and Traffic. The Pacifica holds the No. 2 spot in our rankings of minivans, while the Pacifica Hybrid holds the No. 3 position.
2017 Dodge Charger and Challenger
MSRP: Charger - $27,995 // Challenger - $26,995 (Details Below)
As great as the UConnect infotainment system is in the Pacifica, it is missing one key feature – support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. However, the company is starting to include it in new models, and the first three to get it are the 2017 Dodge Charger, Challenger, and Chrysler 300.
The system has also been updated with smartphone-like gestures such as swipe, tap, and pinch. In Charger and Challenger SRT models, the UConnect system also features SRT performance pages, where you can view performance, timing, and g-force information. UConnect also allows you to customize performance features including steering response, throttle response, and transmission shift points.
2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
MSRP: $52,150 (Details Below)
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class was designed to be a technical tour de force, and the central feature of that electronic wizardry is a 12.3-inch infotainment screen. On upper trim models, the instrument cluster can be replaced with another 12.3-inch screen, creating a sweeping display that covers two-thirds of the dash.
Though Mercedes doesn’t use touch-screens, the COMAND infotainment system can be controlled with a dial on the center console, through a touchpad, or with voice commands. Unlike the typical steering wheel-mounted buttons, the E-Class also employs small touchpads on the wheel, which act like smartphone touch controls with swipes and taps.
In our rankings of luxury midsize cars, the E-Class is in a four-way tie for the top spot.
2017 Ford F-150
MSRP: $26,730 (Details Below)
Over the last couple of years, Ford has been jettisoning the problematic MyFord Touch system, replacing it with the much more stable, intuitive, and functional SYNC 3 infotainment system. This year, they’re rolling Apple CarPlay into all of their vehicles, including our top-ranked full-size pickup, the 2017 Ford F-150.
Some F-150 models still come standard with an older SYNC system, but the SYNC3 upgrade is worth it if you looking for the latest in connectivity, touch-screen usability, voice control, and system responsiveness. SYNC3 can use an onboard data connection to link to the FordPass application on your smartphone. From there, you can check the fuel level, unlock your F-150, or start it up so the cabin is just the right temperature when you’re ready to go.
2017 Nissan Murano
MSRP: $29,470 (Details Below)
The 2017 Nissan Murano is tied with the Toyota Highlander Hybrid in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of midsize SUVs. One of the reasons that it rose to the top is its simple to use infotainment system, NissanConnect, which is included on all but the base model.
NissanConnect includes an 8-inch touch-screen and supports Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto). You can access a number of apps using the system, including Pandora, iHeartRadio, Facebook, and Twitter. Even the base Murano S features Siri Eyes Free, which allows you to interact with your iPhone by voice command without taking your eyes off the road.
Murano prices start at $29,740.
2017 BMW X1
MSRP: $33,100 (Details Below)
With the base BMW X1, you get an iDrive infotainment system with a small 6.5-inch screen and a seven-speaker audio system. However, if you add the Technology package, you’ll get a much more capable iDrive system with and 8.8-inch screen, a touchpad controller, and a full-color head-up display.
iDrive was once the poster child for infotainment systems run amuck, but with each new generation it has improved, while at the same time picking up new skills and features. The newest generation is responsive to voice commands, as well as those given through the easy to reach console-mounted touchpad controller. The 8.8-inch screen can be split to display information from multiple vehicle systems.
The 2017 BMW X1 holds the top spot in our rankings of luxury subcompact SUVs.
2017 Tesla Model X
MSRP: $80,000 (Details Below)
Hop into a Tesla Model X and the first thing that you’re likely to notice is the massive, crystal-clear central information screen. There aren’t many physical buttons in the Model X, as most every feature of the car can be managed through the 17-inch touch-screen.
Last fall, Tesla upgrade the software in their cars to version 8.0, but owners didn’t have to visit Tesla to get the update. That’s because the Model X supports over-the-air updates, where software enhancements can be sent straight to the car through a cellular or Wi-Fi data connection.
The Tesla Model X has a base price of $80,000 and can seat up to seven with the optional third-row installed. It's our top-ranked luxury midsize SUV.
2017 Chevrolet Malibu
MSRP: $21,680 (Details Below)
Not only does Chevrolet offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on most trim levels of many of its models, they also offer a 4G LTE data connection that can feed data to and from the infotainment system. It even supports an on-board Wi-Fi hot spot that mobile devices can link to.
In the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu, the top-ranked model in our rankings of midsize cars, the infotainment system also supports Teen Driver, an in-vehicle report card that allows parents to see how their kids are driving, and mutes the audio system until safety belts are fastened.
Unlike some manufacturers, Chevy left a number of traditional switches in place, so you don’t have to wade deep into the touch-screen’s menus to find basic functions.
2017 Buick Encore
MSRP: $22,990 (Details Below)
The 2017 Buick Encore comes with a host of standard infotainment features, including an 8-inch touch screen, Siri Eyes Free iPhone connectivity, plus support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a standard 4G LTE data connection with available OnStar data subscriptions supplying an on-board Wi-Fi hot spot.
In our rankings of subcompact SUVs, the Encore holds the No. 3 position. It was refreshed for the 2017 model year, gaining a new exterior look and a redesigned interior. Encore prices start at $22,990.
2017 Kia Sportage
MSRP: $23,200 (Details Below)
Infotainment systems can be cumbersome and complex to operate while driving, but Kia’s taken the pain out of theirs with an easy to use and intuitive interface. They’ve also taken the pain out of your wallet, with the subscription-free UVO eServices suite of infotainment features.
UVO eServices is optional on the base 2017 Kia Sportage and standard on upper trim models. By using a free smartphone app, you can manage your car’s maintenance, have it help you remember where you parked, and contact emergency services if you are in an accident. Support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard on all but the base trim level, where it is optional.
The 2017 Kia Sportage is tied for the No. 2 slot in our rankings of compact SUVs. Prices start at $23,200.
More Shopping Tools From U.S. News & World Report
If you’re an iPhone user, be sure to check out our list of the best cars with Apple CarPlay before you head to the dealer. Likewise, Android phone owners can find a list of best cars with Android Auto on our site.
Check out the interiors sections of our new car reviews to compare infotainment features between cars, and see how the vehicles that you are considering stack up against one another in our new car rankings. When you’re ready to buy or lease, you can save thousands by studying our new car deals and using our Best Price Program, where buyers save an average of $3,279 off MSRP.