BUYER’S GUIDE: Know Your Connectivity Options

Posted by

If you are shopping for a new vehicle, chances are that you have already decided what you like in regard to exterior appearance and color, interior comfort and options, as well as engine performance and fuel efficiency. But many of today’s modern automobiles — even at the low end — offer standard equipment that used to be reserved for the highest luxury level. The differentiator today is in-dash technology and connectivity features. It is important that you understand your choices in order to make an informed decision that could save you thousands in the future.

Decades-Old Connectivity

Embedded connectivity was introduced by GM more than 20 years ago, when it first introduced OnStar. GM utilized an onboard cellular radio to deliver telematics services like automatic collision notification, stolen car relocation, and lock out protection. As drivers have grown to require their automobiles to perform like giant smartphones and tablets, automakers have been forced to provide data packages with increased capacity.

For example: Prior to the 2016 model year, GM and Audi introduced a limited number of vehicles that were equipped with a more potent telematics package that included AT&T 4GLTE connectivity. This system effectively transforms certain vehicles into a wifi hotspot. The faster connection can download various informational and navigation apps that are instantly available when the vehicle is in operation (and they work whether your smartphone is onboard or not). Unfortunately, this type of plan requires some type of subscription or a separate data plan and if you stop paying you don’t have any more connectivity.

mercedes benz mbraceThe Mercedes-Benz MBrace system also fits into this category. Keep in mind that some automakers are currently offering years of connectivity free as part of their buyer’s incentive package so make your best deal before signing on the dotted line.

Brand New Connectivity

The newest wave of automotive connectivity systems was originally pioneered by Ford with what is called Sync. Sync had its fair share of problems (which they have apparently worked through) and most of the other automakers are now on board with telematics that require you to use your smartphone to link to your auto. Toyota, for example, has the Entune system tat provides an extensive range of apps that are displayed on the vehicle’s in-dash color touchscreen. Apps include iHeartRadio, Pandora, Bing, Yelp, and OpenTable (allows you to secure restaurant reservations from your car – hands-free!) in addition to various step-by-step GPS navigation apps.

In most of these systems, when the smartphone is placed into the vehicle, the connection is made automatically (after the phone is initially introduced to the system). This is accomplished wirelessly via Bluetooth. Other models require that the smartphone be connected to the vehicle using a USB cable (called a lightning cable in some vehicles).

As far as pros and cons go; there are typically no additional subscription fees for this type of system (other than those charged by your wireless carrier). The disadvantage is that your connection is only as good as your cellular signal and if your phone is fully discharged, you are out of luck.

There are also some models that feature a combination of both these systems. Make sure of your system requirements before purchasing a vehicle.

S.M. Darby

S.M. Darby

I am a freelance author with over 25 years of experience as a professional, ASE certified automotive technician and shop owner, muscle car enthusiast, avid street racer, and classic car restoration specialist.