Unlike measurements of engine performance like fuel efficiency or carbon emissions, the comparison between a touch-screen, such as Jaguar's Dual-View system, and Audi's wheel- or pad-based MMI is very subjective. The same goes for features like voice control. Some people love it; others simply can't get on with it. Making matters worse, there are no conventions regarding pricing and how infotainment options are offered or packaged. Some manufacturers break down functionality into enormous lists of individually available options. Sometimes complex combinations of options are required to unlock certain features, turning the process into a bizarre puzzle game; it's often necessary to spend thousands acquiring trim levels just to unlock access the infotainment features you fancy.
The good news is that you don't need to buy a flagship model to get the best in-car features. The tricky bit is working out who offers the best deals. In reality, there probably isn't a single car manufacturer that gets it quite right across the range. Instead it's a case of picking out the gems.
If the Volkswagen Up is an example of how to do it right, Vauxhall's new Adam is another small car worthy of praise. It's also an interesting example of a new approach to providing in-car features. Available even with the most basic Adam is the new Intellilink system, yours for just 275. That buys you a seven-inch touch-screen, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and app support via iPhone and Android mobile handsets. Intellilink also uses the GPS hardware in your mobile phone handset to power the BringGo navigation app.
Mercedes-Benz offers a similar feature in the new A-Class, known as Drive Kit Plus. Hook up an iPhone and you can drive a range of apps from navigation to social networking and internet radio. However, at 548 plus two hours' labour (it's actually a dealer-fit accessory), it's pretty steep for a technology that essentially allows you to access functionality you already have in your smartphone. You'll also need to option at least the Audio 20 system for 390 to provide a screen for Drive Kit Plus to do its stuff. Alternatively, you can combine it with the full 2100 Comand Online system and end up with two different infotainment and navigation platforms in a single car.
If that seems odd, it's symptomatic of the fact that the industry as a whole has a lot to work through before it settles on the best model for providing the latest in-car apps and services. BMW and its sub-brand Mini charge quite a lot for infotainment. A basic Mini 1.6 First hatch, yours for 11,870, comes with almost nothing as standard. Even Bluetooth and USB connectivity costs 295 - a lot for what, in reality, is less than 50 of electronics. Or you can go for the Tech Pack; for 895 you get that Bluetooth and USB kit, a multi-function steering wheel, a radio and CD player and passenger airbag deactivation - but no Mini Connected and no navigation.
No need for options
Standard infotainment systems
Hyundai i40 Tourer 1.6 GDi Style
List price 20,450
Target Price 18,911
Touch-screen navigation system with USB and Bluetooth
Mazda 3 1.6 Venture
List price 17,495
Target Price 17,495
Bluetooth, voice recognition, USB, aux-in, 7-inch touch-screen Media Centre
Range Rover Evoque 2.2 eD4 Pure
List price 28,695
Target Price 28,695
Bluetooth, USB, aux-in, DAB radio, 8-inch touch-screen
Jaguar XF SE Business
List price 31,490
Target Price 28,323
Bluetooth, DAB radio, USB, 7-inch touch-screen, HDD navigation
Toyota Avensis Tourer 1.8 TR
List price 22,095
Target Price 20,542
Toyota Touch and Go Navigation, USB and Bluetooth