Connected Cars: A 2015 Guide to New Vehicle Technology
by John R. Quain Feb 27, 2015, 12:48 PM
Buying a car these days is about more than miles per gallon and horsepower. From elaborate infotainment devices with large touch screens to active safety systems, more and more shoppers are prioritizing tech over other features. The trick is making sense of all of the available options. Consider this guide your comprehensive navigation system to everything that’s available.
Based on a 2014 AutoTrader.com study, 69 percent of vehicle owners would rather a car have the technology features they want rather than the color they want. But it’s not just about being able to get the Pandora app on your dash. The same study says that 84 percent of vehicle owners prioritize safety technologies over infotainment.
Car manufacturers are increasingly featuring active saftey technology. Understanding all of these features is an important part of making the right buying decision — and keeping friends and family safe. Systems that automatically brake a car or warn of impending collisions can help drivers avoid accidents. A 2008 study by the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study found in 95 percent of accidents the critical factor was driver error.
Unfortunately, most of these options cannot be purchased separately. Instead, automakers typically offer them as part of a technology or safety package, with prices starting around $1,700 but easily reaching $3,500 or more as options on mid-priced sedans. Furthermore, some technologies are still only available on particular trim levels or special models, which generally cost even more because they include expensive features like sunroofs and 20-inch wheels.
Nevertheless, many of the technologies now available should be considered essential to new car buyers. To help you understand them all and determine which are the most important to you, here’s our guide to the safety features and technology available in current connected cars.
Connectivity: Built-in vs. Bring Your Own
A “connected” car refers to any infotainment in-dash system that can send and receive updated information wirelessly to the Internet. These systems usually have a touch screen and offer voice control, but vary widely in terms of capabilities and support for smartphone apps. Each automaker offers its own system, often several different infotainment systems within a single car line.
The primary differentiator between models is whether the car has its own built-in cellular connection or relies on the driver’s smartphone to connect to the Internet.
The dashboard infotainment system of the Volvo XC90. Connected cars with built-in wireless connections can take advantage of options like starting or unlocking the vehicle from anywhere, as well as tracking teenage drivers and enabling anti-theft features like remotely stopping a stolen car. After a free trial period, a monthly or annual subscription is usually required, starting around $15 a month.
Connected cars that rely on the owner’s smartphone to connect to the Web do not entail any additional fees but they also do not offer the remote control features. However, this less expensive approach does include live navigation and traffic information. Both types of systems now commonly include support to control popular Android and iOS smartphone apps, such as Pandora, on the car’s dashboard screen.
Apple CarPlay: Siri in the Dash
While iPhone owners can currently use selected apps in most infotainment systems, Apple is looking to offer a more seamless solution using an uber app called CarPlay. It is designed to make it easier for iPhone owners to connect to the dashboard and use a select number of apps (that Apple chooses), including maps, music and messaging. It will only work with iPhone 5 or later models using a Lightning cable. There’s no wireless option, and the phone’s screen will be locked while it’s plugged into the car.
Apple CarPlay tutorial
CarPlay is only available as an option on Ferraris so far but more than two dozen automakers have promised to support the software in future vehicles, including Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. CarPlay compatible in-dash systems will also work with Google Android phones. Aftermarket in-dash replacement systems from Pioneer and Alpine are also available with CarPlay.