How important is a car’s user interface? I don’t mean the physical switchgear, I mean the electronic system through which you connect your phone, choose your music, and generally make your car a personal haven.
I drove an Infiniti EX37 recently – my first experience of Nissan’s new premium brand. As well as thoroughly enjoying the drive, I was also amazed at how easy it was to connect all the essential gadgets.
It took less than a minute to get my phone connected via Bluetooth (search via the phone, put in the code on the car’s screen and you’re sorted), and then you just plug your iPod in and choose what you want to listen to on the touch screen.
When I got back in the car, my phone connected automatically and it took me marginally more time to plug in my iPod than it did to do my seatbelt up. Both connections are standard, simple and effective.
It was this ease of use, as much as the pungent leather and swanky analogue clock that really conveyed a sense of the Infiniti being a high-quality car.
So why in a Mazda 3 do I have to spend 15 minutes at the side of the road talking at a voice command system, going through various sub menus and shouting “pair phone” at the dashboard only to find that it finally connects, giving you a tantalising glimpse of the hands-free communication you’re hoping for, and then disconnects again. With no warning from the smug woman residing behind the radio fascia.
Would it not be easier for the car to display a message on its LED screen giving a code, which can then be tapped into the phone? You don’t need a six-inch sat nav screen to do that. The 3’s standard display would manage fine. There are better connections in plenty of similarly positioned rivals.
Of course, many people don’t care about this. Just select Magic FM and you’re there. But I don’t think manufacturers should underestimate the importance of this connectivity stuff.
The Lexus LS600h costs over £84,000. That doesn’t include an auxiliary input, let alone a USB connection. I realise that the typical LS buyer (or chauffeur) may not be that interested in MP3 players, but it’s very narrow minded to assume that someone who’s impressed by a car with a Mark Levinson sound system isn’t going to want to connect an iPod. To put it in perspective, remember that our Hyundai i10 has an auxiliary input as standard.
The car industry is slowly catching up with the iPod revolution, and for every impossible interface in production there is another that will impress.
Only if a car is designed for track days is it acceptable for it to not be able to my playlists.
With those few exceptions, I know that I wouldn’t buy a car that didn’t play my music and connect to my phone.