BUYER’S GUIDE: What To Look For In An Infotainment System

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2017 All-New GMC Acadia Denali Infotainment

The whole idea of an infotainment system is still a new one. Not many years ago, there were simply radios where your biggest choice was whether you had FM or only AM. Later there were CD players, some of which featured multiple disc changers that were inconveniently located in the trunk.

These days, it’s not just entertainment, but information, which is why your new car comes with a complex infotainment system that combines it all. It sounds like a great idea, but these systems can be overly complicated, confusing, and frustrating.

The best way to make sure you won’t want to take a sledgehammer to that screen in your dashboard is to make sure you understand your options before you buy.

The Basics

Every automaker has a special name for their infotainment system. Toyota has Entune. Ford has Sync. Chrysler has Uconnect. They all essentially do the same things. The fancy names are just a way of differentiating the systems from each other to make them seem special and better than the other guys.

There are also different versions of each system offered within a model lineup. For example, the base model of the car that costs the least will have a simple system that might feature a smaller screen and fewer options. The mid-range version of the same car often increases the screen size and adds features like navigation. The highest trim levels get the largest screens and the most fully featured systems with options like navigation, apps, and better connectivity for your phone.

You don’t always have to get the top trim level of the car to get the higher end infotainment system. Often these are available as an upgrade, just like leather seats or special paint colors. Be sure to ask if you can simply pay for an upgraded infotainment system without having to move up to a more expensive trim level, too.

Looking for a new or used car? Check out BestRide’s listing search here.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Infotainment

What Do You Need?

It’s tempting to go for the most fully-featured system you can afford, but that’s not always the right choice. There’s no reason to buy it all if you only want to use a few features.

Think about what you like to have at the ready when you drive. Are you content to listen to the radio? Then there’s no need to shell out extra cash for a system that lets you stream music from your phone and puts a dozen different music apps at your fingertips.

Do you like disconnecting from the world when you’re behind the wheel? Then you don’t need the ability to dictate text messages and have your car read them to you when the arrive.

Just like cars themselves come with a huge number of features that not every buyer wants or needs, infotainment systems are the same way. Don’t end up paying for features you’ll never use.


Bluetooth connectivity is common on today’s cars, and it’s becoming increasingly necessary. Many states have hands-free laws. This means that you can’t use your phone at all, not even to make a phone call unless you’re doing it hands-free.

Connect your phone to your car via Bluetooth, which requires a one-time setup, and you can make phone calls without touching your phone. A simple button on the steering wheel activates your phone and lets you speak the name or number of the person you want to call.

Your hands stay on the wheel and your eyes stay on the road throughout the process. It’s easier and safer than picking up your phone and dialing a number. If you don’t make calls in your car, something many people are opting for in the interest of safety, then this feature might not be worth shelling out the extra cash.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Navigation


The days of popping a separate navigation unit on your dashboard are long gone. Today’s cars have their own navigation systems that do the job, but they aren’t always available on lower trims and they don’t all work the same.

If ever there was a system that you should try before you buy, then navigation is the one. Try inputting an address to see if the process is easy or complicated. Can you figure out how to switch states? Does the touchscreen respond well to inputs? Is the display large enough to be easily viewed while you’re driving? Test out the navigation to see if it’s something you’ll like and use or if it’s something so frustrating you’ll never give it a go.

Many people prefer their phones for navigation even if their cars come with their own systems. Features like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay let you car’s infotainment screen mimic what you see on your phone. This is far easier than what many automakers offer and it’s less distracting. You use your phone all the time, so having it come to life on that infotainment screen has no learning curve.

Looking for a new or used car? Check out BestRide’s listing search here.

Ease of Use

Infotainment systems are high on the list of things people complain about in their new cars. Sometimes it’s because they well and truly break, but often it’s because they don’t work well.

Make sure the touchscreen is responsive and that you don’t have to jab your finger at it multiple times before it registers. A poor touchscreen response is not only aggravating, it’d dangerous because it removes your eyes from the road for a longer period of time. It should respond quickly and easily to your touch.

Spend some time scrolling through the menus. Make sure it’s easy to program stations and find the settings you frequently use. Again, the harder it is to find what you want, the more your attention is pulled from the road and that’s a dangerous situation.

Lastly, try using whatever controller is provided to see if it navigates the system well, too. This might be a dial on the center console, a touchpad located in the same place, or some combination of the two. Try it out and see if you find it easy or frustrating.

The best infotainment system in the world is useless if it’s so frustrating that your blood pressure rises just trying to change the radio station.

onstar image from site

Emergency Services

One of the big benefits of a connected car is its ability to call for help when you’re involved in an accident. Again, depending on the automaker there are different options for emergency services and roadside assistance.

Many offer a base level of service with a button to call 911. Others offer more complex services that will automatically call for help if there’s a collision that sets off the airbag. One of the most well-known services is OnStar, which is only available on vehicles made by General Motors. Your options vary greatly depending on the company that built your car.

Often the higher level of service requires a monthly fee and includes the ability to call a human for all sorts of help from emergency services to finding the nearest gas station or restaurant. Inquire about what comes with your car as a standard feature and what’s available only with an additional subscription. Many times there’s a free trial that you can activate to test out these services before you decide to subscribe.