Car buyers don't care what's under the hood. As manufacturers have learned, digital technology has become a key selling point – millennials focus on features like Bluetooth, not how many camshafts a car has, or what kind of suspension it rides on.
Infotainment has become the great automotive leveller, allowing lower-priced cars to compete with higher-end models for the hearts and chequebooks of young buyers. And when Consumer Reports (CR) weighed in on infotainment systems recently after extensive tests and reader surveys, the results weren't what you might have expected.
At the top of the heap, with a Standout rating, was Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Although FCA has ranked poorly in other areas (like reliability), its Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system won a Very Satisfied rating from 70 per cent of CR survey respondents. CR testers praised the 8.4 system's straightforward, intuitive design, which combines a touchscreen with traditional knobs and buttons. But not all was rosy: Chrysler's lesser Uconnect systems, with smaller screens and different design, had a satisfaction rate of just 49 per cent.
Hyundai came in second place, with 63 per cent of readers giving a Very Satisfied rating. This jibed with the findings of CR's team of professional testers: "Hyundai's quick-to-learn voice command and Bluetooth systems ranked highest for owner satisfaction," they said.
BMW was third, with a 60 per cent Very Satisfied rating. Considering the frustration drivers experienced with BMW's earliest infotainment systems (the decidedly non-intuitive iDrive, which debuted in 2001), this is a triumph.
GM, Kia and Audi all earned Very Good Ratings. Nissan, Volvo, Mercedes, Ford and Honda earned an Average rating for their infotainment systems.
Toyota may be the world's largest car maker, and top-ranked for reliability and build quality, but CR gave it a Back to the Drawing Board rating when it came to infotainment. Survey respondents complained about small screens, slow response times and clunky voice-command systems.
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