It's hard to name a new car these days that doesn't have some form of infotainment, large or small. In fact, we can't think of a single car sold in America that doesn't have one. That being said, some are good, some great, and then there are those that are just infuriating. Trust us. We've driven a ton of cars and tested infotainment systems from almost all mainstream carmakers. It seems that the Korean automakers make the best ones. Translation: they're the easiest to use, even if they're not the most beautiful.
At the end of the day, it's not simply about which infotainment systems look the best. Hell, if that were the case, then BMW and Volvo would win, hands down. Both of those systems, iDrive and Sensus, are visually stunning, and their screens are the most vivid and eye-catching. The Volvo system is brilliant in that it tries a new approach, but it does have some hiccups and may rely too much on screen input rather than physical controls, which are minimal. BMW's iDrive 6.0 (below) is significantly better than when it was introduced on 2001 7-Series, but it still needs work. Every BMW we've tested in the past couple of years has a visually stunning screen but functionality is far too layered and has glitches.
BMW seems to have mastered the visuals, at least. And now that iDrive has an actual touchscreen versus just physical controls, it's certainly better and easier to use than before. But we ran into numerous issues while using the system. Bluetooth pairing isn't always reliable, and we found that our phones unpaired with the system much more often than systems by the Korean automakers. The COMAND system from Mercedes-Benz was similar in terms of hiccups. And both systems lacked the intuitiveness of the Korean systems, taking far too much time to navigate menus.
And it's all about speed and ease-of-use when it comes to these systems because you still have to keep your eyes on the road, and not all voice commands work well or perform all functions. The more time you spend trying to find a function through your car's complicated infotainment system, the higher likelihood you'll get in an accident, and that's not the least bit convenient. And anyone who has used a good-looking but labyrinthine system can tell you the appeal wears off quickly.
Until all the carmakers figure out that you can't replace functionality with artfulness, there will be confounding systems that are hard to use. Sure, we expect that premium brand customers want their systems to look fantastic, but if it's at the expense of safety and daily usability and the Korean automakers continue to go upscale, those customers may eventually migrate brands. We'd love to see systems by the Germans follow the Koreans' act.