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Thursday Throwdown: Best Infotainment Systems

In today’s Thursday Throwdown, we’re stepping away from the usual vehicle-to-vehicle comparisons and looking at infotainment instead. Every carmaker has their own system, for good or ill, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Some are better than others at some things, others at other things, and some just flop outright.

Our comparison here considers the latest version of each manufacturer’s specific infotainment interface as we’ve seen it in vehicles from the 2014 or 2015 model year. All are being compared in their “top shelf” form. In other words, these are the systems available in the highest trim levels of each automaker’s vehicles. We rate them on ease of use, available options, and usability by the driver while driving. Each is rated on a scale of 1-10, with one being the worst and 10 being the highest.

Side-by-Side Comparison Chart of Top Picks

Infotainment System Ease of Use Options Driver Usability
COMAND (Mercedes-Benz) 8 10 9
InTouch (Infiniti) 10 10 9
MMI (Audi) 7 9 7
MyLink (General Motors) 9 9 8
Starlink (Subaru) 9 7 8
Uconnect (Fiat Chrysler) 10 10 9

Top Infotainment Picks

Easiest to Learn: MyLink, Uconnect
Most Options: InTouch, MMI
Easiest to Use While Driving: COMAND, Starlink
Best Connectivity: InTouch, Uconnect

Audi – MMI (7)

As with most of the German automakers, Audi has centered its Multi Media Interface (MMI) around a control knob on the console. Newer, experimental, Audi systems employ a sort of combination of the previous-generation MMI interface and a new, underlying and connected modular infotainment platform (MIB) that is more easily updated remotely to allow the system to stay relevant as the vehicle ages. MMI can take some time to master, though its control knob is a saving grace.

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Strong Points: Powerful, easily updated, forward-thinking.
Weaknesses: Learning curve can be steep, driver control lacking.

BMW – iDrive (7)

2014 BMW 228i - interior 2 - AOA1200pxBMW’s iDrive system has been around for nearly fifteen years and is now standard in most upper-trim BMW vehicles. It uses a controller knob on the center console, which means there is a bit of learning curve in the beginning, but it’s easy for the driver to use while the vehicle is in motion. The recent addition of voice control has greatly aided shortening the learning curve for iDrive. The system is marked by a color-coding scheme for quickly finding major controls. Blue is communication, green is navigation, yellow is entertainment, and red is climate control.

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Strong Points: Powerful system once learned, easy for driver to use.
Weaknesses: Long learning curve, controller can be distracting.

Cadillac – CUE (7)

Cadillac CUEThe Cadillac User Experience (CUE) system is similar to the MyLink system found in other General Motors vehicles (see below), but with enough differences that it stands apart. CUE has a different user interface that’s tuned more toward Cadillac’s core audience of older, more well-heeled buyers. Most notably, CUE has slightly larger icons, and a standard OnStar 4G LTE connection in all Cadillac vehicles provides an available Wi-Fi hot spot, simplifying connectivity for owners.

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Strong Points: Easy to use, low learning curve.
Weaknesses: More advanced users will find it clunky.

Fiat-Chrysler – Uconnect (10)

Chrysler Uconnect 300COne of the best infotainment systems in the business belongs to Chrysler and its sub-brands, Dodge, Jeep and Ram. The Uconnect infotainment system is robust and easy to use. The large touch screens found in newer vehicles also make Uconnect easy to use while on the road. However, voice recognition could be a little better. This year, Chrysler is introducing a phone-syncing option that allows the Uconnect smartphone app to sync with the vehicle. This allows you to start the car remotely, and the app can provide alerts about pending or immediate maintenance requirements.

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Strong Points: Very easy to use, powerful, robust.
Weaknesses: Voice control can be clunky.

General Motors – MyLink / IntelliLink (9)

2015 Corvette Stingray InfotainmentMany Chevrolet vehicles are available with the automaker’s MyLink infotainment system, while Buick and GMC models are available with a similar system known as IntelliLink. Both are nearly identical and share a similar architecture to the CUE interface used by Cadillac. The on-screen menus for MyLink and IntelliLink are easy to navigate, especially when compared with many of the competing systems on the market. Voice control is also available on many GM vehicles. The learning curve is relatively low and the capabilities of the system are high, but using the system while driving is sometimes difficult without voice recognition.

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Strong Points: Low learning curve, high system capability.
Weaknesses: Can be hard to use while driving.

Infiniti – InTouch (10)

2015 Infiniti QX70 - AroundView - AOA1200pxThe latest rendition of InTouch from Infiniti is a huge leap forward from the previous-generation of the infotainment system, which was already pretty good as it was. The InTouch system is more than just the touch screen (or dual touch screens on some Infiniti Q50 sedans), it also features an Intelligent Key set (keys specific to a given driver) and Connection, the heart of the Infiniti connectivity capability. The InTouch system is very easy to learn, works well and Intelligent Key makes it easy customize for each driver.

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Strong Points: Strong user interface and smart controls with lots of personalization.
Weaknesses: Takes a moment to load, only available as an expensive upgrade.

Kia – UVO (6)

Most Kia vehicles offer the UVO infotainment system in their upgraded packages. UVO was released in 2011 and upgraded significantly in 2014 to appear in 2015 model year vehicles. The system is easy to learn and works well, but can be difficult to operate while driving. Additionally, its voice recognition system is often hit-or-miss. Many UVO updates are now automatic with an eService subscription, making it simpler for the owner.

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Strong Points: Low learning curve, easy to operate for most functions.
Weaknesses: Small buttons and controls on-screen make use while driving difficult.

Mercedes-Benz – COMAND (9)

With a name like COMAND (cockpit management and data system), the Mercedes-Benz infotainment setup promises to be top shelf. It supports everything from direct tethering of devices to full stand-alone online radio, which makes COMAND an outstanding system. The rotary controller also makes COMAND easy for the driver to use as well.

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Strong Points: Easy drive use, excellent capability, easy phone pairing.
Weaknesses: Submenus can become clunky.

Nissan – NissanConnect (8)

2014 Nissan Altima - interior 5 - AOA1200pxOne of the easier systems on the market, the new NissanConnect infotainment system features smartphone apps for both iOS and Android phones in an interface that is easy to use and quick to navigate. Voice control is good, though not always perfect, and use while driving is also relatively easy for a touch-screen system. Larger touch-screen interfaces fare better in Nissan vehicles, of course.

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Strong Points: Easy to learn, fast menu system, good capability.
Weaknesses: Occasional voice control “blips.”

Subaru – Starlink (8)

2015 Subaru Outback - interior 5 - AOA1200pxMany new Subaru models feature the automaker’s new Starlink infotainment system, which has taken Subaru’s tech offerings from mediocre to one of the better choices on the market. The new system focuses on mimicking common smartphone menus and adding physical “quick” buttons permanently to either side of the screen. This maximizes use from the screen and makes common uses while driving faster and less distracting. Starlink’s only major failing is connectivity, where it can fall short.

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Strong Points: Easy to use and learn, easy for driver to use.
Weaknesses: Connectivity can be clunky, apps are few.

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