Infotainment systems have come along and changed car entertainment features and basic controls for the better, but which infotainment system is the best?
At one point in time, my old Dodge Dakota had an aux cord coming out of the cassette player to play music off my iPod, a Garmin GPS suction cupped to the windshield and plugged into the cigarette lighter, and I’d have to fiddle with the climate control dial to find the sweet spot in temperature based off red or blue color indicators. Today, my little sister’s car has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities, satellite radio, GPS, climate controls set to specific degrees, vehicle performance sheets, the ability to control a linked phone with voice commands, and it’s all built into a nice-looking touchscreen in the center of the dash. She’s got it so easy when it comes to functionality and features.
I know this comes off like the crotchety old person saying “Back in my day-” and then rambling about how easy kids have it nowadays, but modern infotainment systems really have made the controls and entertainment aspects of cars super intuitive. You have everything you could need for a road trip literally at your fingertips. These helpful infotainment systems have slowly become standard features on modern day vehicles making owners’ lives so much easier, but not all of them are as exciting or well-made as others. I’ve looked through all the infotainment systems available for the 2021 class and brought together a few that I felt are the best.
Volvo comes in with two infotainment models in their vehicles, the insignificant 60 Range Sensus and the all-around better 90 Range Sensus. Volvo’s 90 Range Sensus Connect infotainment system stretches vertically along the center of the dash creating a nice-looking portrait design. Below the screen you can find about 5 buttons and a turn knob that can be used in place of touch controls if needed.
The main screen navigation has active apps like GPS, media, phone, messaging, and climate control all stacked in a friendly manner creating a simple user environment. Simply touch the app you want to focus on and it fills the entirety of the touchscreen. There are also helpful side apps if you swipe to the left or right. In these side menus you’ll find car information, the car’s manual, weather, and other downloadable resources like Google or Yelp can be used while a phone is paired.
The Volvo 90 Range Sensus Connect infotainment system works well, the picture is crisp, and animations through the menus are smooth. The system also comes with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, voice commands functionality, available WIFI hotspot, and an available heads-up display so the driver can keep their eyes on the road. The 90 Range Sensus Connect can be found in XC90, S90, V90, and V90 Cross Country models for 2021.
Audi is all about luxury in their vehicles, and in today’s world that means an emphasis on technology. The Audi Multi Media Interface is a snappy, well designed, and nicely organized infotainment system available on all of Audi’s 2021 models, but the dual-screen option is only found inside the Q8 and e-Tron currently. This dual-screen experience leaves all of heating, air conditioning, and seat climate controls on a lower screen in place of knobs and buttons.
On the large upper screen your media, phone, navigation, car info, and any other apps are setup in an orderly manner. To the left side of the screen is a personalized control menu where users can setup their frequently used apps. The interesting thing on both screens is the haptic feedback while selecting and changing settings. Touching onscreen apps has a physical click and vibration when selecting them and sliding through items like temperature or volume has a click feedback as well.
The Audi MMI infotainment system isn’t just these two touch screens, it also includes the virtual cockpit. Audi’s virtual cockpit is a quality visual display that replaces basic instrument clusters with options like viewing the GPS map across the screen or a displaying a larger car information section. The system includes Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Audi’s natural language voice controls, and a handwriting function that works for quick search functionality.
Mercedes-Benz originally debuted their Mercedes-Benz User Experience back in 2018 for the A-Class. The MBUX design stretches from the center console over to the driver side with two displays, one for the driver’s information and the other for media and feature functions. Since then, the uniquely designed infotainment system has expanded into almost all other models across the Mercedes-Benz lineup for 2021.
The picture is crisp, the menus are customizable, and the speed while interacting with the interface is quick and seamless. While you can easily control the center touch screen with your hands, there is a handy touchpad found on the center console that can also be used so drivers won’t have to reach forwards to interact with the infotainment system.
There are some pretty cool features that come along with the MBUX that you don’t find on many other infotainment systems. You can customize your experience with different themes for your system and the gauge clusters, there’s an augmented reality feature that shows GPS turns like a video game using the front camera, and the MBUX will also recognize and suggest frequently called numbers or played radio stations on the home screen. Mercedes-Benz’s infotainment system comes standard with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and “Hey Mercedes” natural language voice controls.
Chrysler‘s Uconnect infotainment systems have been pretty well rounded for a company that isn’t considered to produce luxury vehicles like others on this list. Prior to 2021, the only options for the Uconnect 4C infotainment system were the 8.4-inch screen or the huge 12-inch screen found in RAM trucks.
Now going into 2021 and 2022 models, we’ll start seeing the all-new Uconnect 5 systems be introduced starting with the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica. The standard screen size has enlarged to 10.1 inches and the resolution has increased, meaning we can expect even larger screen experiences in the near future. The Uconnect 5 infotainment system also supports multi-screen displays, meaning that we can have centralized screen, a driver screen for instrument clusters, and even rear passenger functionality we’ve seen used in the new Pacifica.
The system itself is much faster than its predecessor and the menus pages are now customizable with the use of app widgets. Create a personalized page for GPS, media, and phone contacts while having multiple performance sheets setup and easily accessible with the swipe of a finger. The new Uconnect 5 infotainment system also comes with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa functionality, WIFI hotspot, and a new Uconnect Market that allows passengers to purchase fuel, parking, food, and many other services on the go.
When people think of infotainment systems, Tesla’s ground breaking system comes to mind. Tesla is the gold standard in the car industry when it comes to infotainment systems. Large, high resolution, and intuitive touch screen displays that come with supreme functionality, and the software just keeps getting better with updates from there.
The 15-inch displays found in the Model 3 and Model Y are leagues better than any other infotainment systems on the market, but the 17-inch main display and secondary rear passenger display found in the Model X and Model S take the cake. These Tesla systems are the ultimate in road trip entertainment too, as they’re jam packed with tons of music apps, TV and movie streaming apps like Netflix, and even video games.
Tesla’s software is full of fun customizations, great car settings, and even fun little easter eggs. My favorite highlights are Dog Mode, where it keeps the vehicle at a comfortable temperature for our furry friends, and the helpful functions controlled by the phone app like keyless entry and climate controls. If you want the best infotainment system around, go get a Tesla model. It’s as simple as that. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting awhile for the competition to catch up.