Best car infotainment systems: From UConnect to MBUX, these are our favorites

Declaring one infotainment system the best over any other is an inherently subjective matter. You can look at quantitative testing for things like input response time and various screen load times, but ask a room full of people that have tried all car infotainment systems what their favorite is, and you’re likely to get a lot of different responses.

For the most part, the various infotainment systems available all share a similar purpose. They aim to help the driver get where they’re going with navigation, play their favorite tunes via all sorts of media playback options and allow folks to stay connected with others via phone connectivity. Of course, most go way beyond the basics these days and offer features like streaming services, in-car performance data and much more. Unique features are aplenty when you start diving through menus, but how they go about their most important tasks vary widely.

Some of our editors prefer systems that are exclusively touch-based and chock full of boundary-pushing features. Others may prefer a back-to-basics non-touch system that is navigable via a scroll wheel. You can compare it to the phone operating system wars. Just like some prefer Android phones over iPhones, we all have our own opinions for what makes up the best infotainment interface.

All that said, our combined experience tells us that a number of infotainment systems are at least better than the rest. We’ve narrowed it down to five total systems in their own subcategories that stand out to us. Read on below to see our picks, and feel free to make your own arguments in the comments.

Best infotainment overall: UConnect 5, various Stellantis products

If there’s one infotainment system that all of us agree is excellent, it’s UConnect. It has numerous qualities that make it great, but above all else, UConnect is simple and straightforward to use.

Ease of operation is one of the most (if not the single most) vital parts of any infotainment system interface. If you’re expected to be able to tap away on a touchscreen while driving and still pay attention to the road, a complex infotainment system is going to remove your attention from the number one task at hand: driving. UConnect uses a simple interface that puts all of your key functions in a clearly-represented row on the bottom of the screen. Tap any of them, and it instantly pulls up that menu. We like the radio/media interface — it’s super easy to swap stations or sources. The menu structure is easy to grasp, and of course both Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (wired or wireless) are available if you want them.

We’ll also point out that UConnect 5 is a big visual improvement over UConnect 4 (the previous version that is only found on the outgoing Charger and Challenger at this point), but thankfully it retains the same ease of use as the outgoing system. We’ll also point out that Stellantis is able to adapt UConnect to different screen shapes and sizes with great success — it works stunningly well in the vertical 12-inch screen of the Ram, but is just as enjoyable to use in a more traditional layout as seen in the Grand Cherokee directly above. The software takes full advantage of the extra screen real estate no matter the shape, and in the big Ram screen, it comes with its own screen-splitting capabilities that aren’t possible on the more traditionally-shaped screens.

No matter the application, whether it’s in a Maserati or a Jeep, UConnect is flexible, easy to operate and aesthetically pleasing. It’s high-tech, but doesn’t slap you upside the head with unnecessary features and complications, and it’s our favorite infotainment system of all.

Best luxury infotainment: Volvo with Google Built-In

2023 Volvo XC40

Google Built-In infotainment systems are sweeping across the automotive industry, and they’re quickly finding favor amongst our editorial staff. Volvo’s been on a crusade of getting this Google-based infotainment into all of its models, and for good reason: It’s really great to use!

The key with Google Built-In systems is that you get to use many of the apps you’re accustomed to from your phone natively through the infotainment system. For example, Google Maps is the native navigation system in all Volvos running this software. You can log in to your Google account, and it will function and appear exactly like the Google Maps app on your phone. The integration with every screen in the car is especially impressive, as Google Maps not only appears in the central touchscreen, but you can also have a full map and turn-by-turn directions in the digital instrument cluster. That way you can prioritize the central display for tasks other than navigation such as music playback and more.

2023 Volvo XC40

And we do mean more, because having Google Built-In means you have the Google Play Store to select apps to download to the car. Login to Spotify, podcasting apps and more directly from the infotainment system, and then enjoy what’s easily one of the best interfaces for music playback out there. Either tap through the intuitive menu structures within or use the Google Assistant voice control (another excellent feature), and you’ll have audio going with very little effort.

One of the nice aspects of Volvo’s Google Built-In software is that you can also completely ignore it if you so choose. Maybe you have an iPhone and don’t want anything to do with Google? Go ahead and plug it in, then use whatever apps you typically do via Apple CarPlay. It’s that easy. It’s also easy to control the rest of the car via this interface that should prove familiar to most recent Volvo owners. While a lot changes with all of the Google apps, the same layout we’ve grown accustomed to remains. Your climate and seat controls are stickied to the bottom of the screen, and any remnants of lag on initial startup (a longtime hangup in older Volvos) are vanquished.

A “home screen” of sorts is easily navigated to where all the various apps present themselves in tile format. And man, it sure is great that Volvo’s kept the physical push-button to go straight to the start-up screen with the most-often used controls selectable straight away. Volvo’s really raised the game for others as of late, and we’re convinced it’s one of the best infotainment systems out there.

Best non-luxury infotainment: Google Built-In, various GM products

2023 GMC Canyon

Most of what we said about Volvo’s Google Built-In system applies to GM, too. It uses Google Maps as its native navigation system, takes advantage of the voice control from the Google Assistant and allows you to download a huge number of apps from the Google Play Store. You can also, again, completely ignore this interface and just use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto the way you’re accustomed to. However, we’ll note this won’t be possible with GM’s Ultifi system

debuting on its various EVs like the Blazer EV and Equinox EV. Those systems go all-in on the native Google experience and delete Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality. We like choice, so right now our favorite GM systems are the ones that still give you smartphone mirroring capabilities.

Beyond the Google Built-In features, GM’s interface is an easy one to navigate with easily understood stickied controls on the left side of the screen. We’re particularly big fans of the radio interface GM has designed that makes it one of the easiest in the industry to find the station (or game on Sirius XM) you’re looking for. The tile interface and split-screen capability makes moving about the system and keeping tabs on multiple things at once a breeze. And just like the Volvo infotainment, we appreciate the continued presence of a hard volume knob and in some cases, a physical home button that’ll bring you back to square one from anywhere within the system.

Honorable mentions: 

Connected Car Navigation Cockpit – Hyundai and Kia

2024 Hyundai Kona

We’re halfway cheating here by including both the Kia and Hyundai versions of its infotainment systems, but seeing as how they’re mostly the same with branding and slight aesthetic differences, they both deserve to be here. We’ll also note that the system highlighted here – Connected Car Navigation Cockpit – is the latest from the Hyundai Group and is only launching in a few models to start. However, Hyundai and Kia says it will make its way into lots of other new models via over-the-air updates, and you can expect it in refreshed and new models going forward.

Just like UConnect, the Hyundai and Kia infotainment systems gain our recognition by being easy to operate, super quick and visually uncomplicated. The menu structure offers easy selecting of whatever app you want to use. Its radio interface is easy to navigate, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is always supported. Wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto updates are coming for this version of the system, but needing to plug in isn’t such a hardship anyway.

Neither Hyundai nor Kia load their infotainment systems up with superfluous features and menus that complicate, so you can’t get horribly lost five menus deep. However, there is the weird “Sounds of Nature” feature that lets you fill the cabin with random soundtracks of busy cafes, falling water and more.

Hard buttons for many infotainment controls are present on most Hyundais and Kias, though its newer products are trending toward using touch haptic “buttons” instead of pressable ones. We definitely prefer the non-haptic controls, but appreciate that Hyundai/Kia are at least still appealing to those who prefer to operate vital car controls outside of a single, central touchscreen.

Honorable mention two: 

MBUX – Mercedes-Benz

This one’s for the tech geek who wants to be on the bleeding edge. It is not the easiest to use, nor is it the most sensical to use. But, it has more features than any other, and the UI is the most visually enticing/futuristic of all. MBUX is also home to the best car-controlling voice assistant in the business, which genuinely helps make things easier when you have as many features to find and things to look at as the latest MBUX software does.

Also, there’s a caveat to MBUX being on this list. We’re referring to the latest version of it that offers a “one-screen” approach to the home screen with the now portrait-oriented displays. The old MBUX (still in new Mercedes products today) is considerably worse in that all of your most-used apps can’t be seen on the screen together. Instead, they’re in a carousel of sorts, and you need to scroll through them to find what you want. For the new MBUX UI, everything is right there, easily findable and easily clickable.

The speed at which it reacts, accompanying animations and sheer customization are all as good as it gets for in-car software. On-screen haptic feedback is a welcome feature, and while getting lost in menus is easy, Mercedes gives you a customizable “quick access” tab of sorts that brings up oft-used settings to quickly toggle. Yeah, Mercedes knows this thing is complex, but at least work has been put in to make it easier to use. Don’t seek it out if you don’t want to spend the time to learn how it works, but once you scale the learning curve, there’s a whole lot of good in MBUX.

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