The model year comes to an early end in the auto industry, and many automakers are already showing off brand-new 2017 vehicles with brand-new technologies. Consider the Chrysler Pacifica, which went on sale as the first minivan in the segment to offer content like a hybrid powertrain, automatic “hands-free” sliding doors and Harmon Kardon premium audio. It also turned out to offer a sign of things to come for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: The automaker recently announced additional upgrades for the 2017 model year that will be offered throughout its domestic brands.
Fourth-generation Uconnect Infotainment System
This is a case of giving customers more of a good thing. After all, as Consumer Reports noted in June, customers rated FCA’s previous Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system as the No. 1 setup in the industry for 2016. The next-generation system keeps the traits that scored well in the Consumer Reports survey, such as a straightforward design for its 8.4-inch touch screen and highly rated voice recognition. It also welcomes increased processing power along with enhanced displays. The largest screen remains a generous 8.4 inches, but it will be more user-friendly since customers will be able to rely on typical smartphone pinch, swipe and tap commands. That same screen also gets increased resolution to help deliver sharper, more vivid graphics.
Certain Jeep models then will get a particularly brand-focused Uconnect benefit. Starting with the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee, trail enthusiasts will be able to add “Off-road Pages” to their Uconnect systems. With this technology, the status of the Jeep’s drivetrain and suspension hardware is displayed on the new Uconnect screen, allowing owners to monitor steering angle, transfer-case position, wheel articulation and more. Additionally, the system supplies virtual gauges for such things as oil temperature, coolant temperature, oil pressure and battery voltage, while also indicating the current modes for the Grand Cherokee’s Selec-Terrain drive technology and available air suspension.
The 2017 Uconnect system will boot-up faster as well.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Integration
Another notable advantage of that new Uconnect 8.4 system is that it will support the latest smartphone-integration technologies for both Android and Apple operating systems. With Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an owner’s compatible smartphone essentially becomes a part of the vehicle’s infotainment system: The phone’s home screen is displayed on the Uconnect touch screen, and Google Voice or Siri can be used to control many of the phone’s functions.
As a result, folks can enjoy the typical Android- and Apple-specific phone, messaging and music capabilities, all while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. They get access to a growing number of third-party apps, too. Perhaps the biggest boon for customers, however, is that they can connect to the Google and Apple mapping systems through Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which eliminates the need to pay extra for factory-installed navigation technology.
The first FCA products to offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for 2017 will be the Chrysler 300, Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger, with the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica likely to join the list in the near-term future.
FCA has showcased some eye-catching LED design cues in past vehicles (see the “race track” tail lamps on the Dodge Charger). Yet surprisingly, actual LED headlights have not been among them. That now changes, thanks to a further surprise: Despite the fact that it’s being redesigned again for the 2018 model year, the 2017 Jeep Wrangler will be the first vehicle from FCA’s U.S. lineup to offer LED headlamps.
Just don’t expect a major departure from the Wrangler’s iconic circular headlight shapes. The automaker is emphasizing performance over style in the new units, touting output increases of 97 percent for the high beams and 63 percent for the low beams (as compared with the halogen headlights from past models). Jeep also reports the Wrangler’s LED headlights will be more efficient than the comparable halogens, drawing 67 percent less power.
Indeed, the Wrangler’s new LEDs are probably as much a response to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) as they are to customer tastes in design. The IIHS, as readers may know, has begun testing vehicles’ headlights during its Top Safety Pick evaluations. The headlight scores aren’t factored into the Top Safety Pick awards at this time, but the IIHS does have a history of gradually introducing new, stricter award requirements in a similar fashion.
That’s what the IIHS did with its small-overlap, front-impact test, which evaluates occupant protection when a vehicle strikes a thin object, like a pole or tree, with the impact offset to one side. The test was introduced for the 2013 model year, but Top Safety Pick winners didn’t have to start passing it until 2014 vehicles were tested. The thing is, a variety of mainstream vehicles still struggle with that test, and that brings us to one final FCA advance.
Advanced High-strength Steel
Beginning with the 2017 model year, next-generation FCA vehicles will leverage an increased amount of specialty steel for added strength, which is something the automaker directly connects with the Top Safety Pick+ rating for the 2017 Fiat 500X.
Per FCA data, 74 percent of the body structure of the 500X is made from high-strength steel, which is up to 100 percent stronger than the conventional steel. Additionally, 28.3 percent of the 500X is specifically made from “advanced high-strength steel,” which is up to 300 percent stronger. The Chrysler Pacifica also provides an example of how the automaker is expanding its commitment here, with a body structure made of 38 percent advanced high-strength steel, which is the most of any FCA vehicle sold in the U.S.