What is Apple CarPlay?

We explain Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring and all its best features, plus the cars and iPhone models that support it...

Skoda smartlink wireless connected to apple carplay

Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring allows you to use your iPhone’s features – including messaging, calling, music services, and navigation – through your car’s infotainment screen. 

Services such as Apple CarPlay are essential for staying connected on the move because it’s illegal to use a phone while driving in most cases. While Bluetooth functionality can let you pick up calls on the move, CarPlay allows access to a lot more features, in a more convenient way.

Here we take a deep dive into how you use CarPlay, how you can check whether your car and phone support it, and what apps you can use with it.

How do you use Apple CarPlay?

You can connect your iPhone to your car’s infotainment screen using either a USB port or a Bluetooth connection.

Apple CarPlay is controlled in the same manner as your car’s infotainment system, using its buttons, a rotary dial, or a touchscreen. Alternatively, your iPhone’s Siri function can be used to control it by speaking – for example, by dictating a text message. 

Volvo XC60 carplay

Can I add Apple CarPlay to an older car?

Yes. You can buy aftermarket infotainment systems from Pioneer, Kenwood, Sony and other brands to effectively add a modern system to an older car. Some units include additional features, such as a rear-view camera.

Expect to pay from £280 to £1000 to purchase one. You may also need to factor in the cost of professional installation.

Sony Apple CarPlay infotainment system in Kingsley Cars ULEZ Reborn

How do I start Apple CarPlay?

You can use Apple CarPlay over a wired connection with a USB-to-Lightning cable (as supplied with most iPhones) or wirelessly using Bluetooth.

To connect using a USB cable, first connect the Lightning end to your phone, then plug the USB end into the appropriate port on your car. The port is usually located below the infotainment system at the base of the centre console. 

Once that’s all hooked up, a message should appear asking if you want to start Apple CarPlay. Simply press ‘yes’ and the service will start.

If your car allows the use of CarPlay with Bluetooth, you’ll receive a prompt on your iPhone to enable the wireless connection with your car for future journeys.

Juke apple car play

If you do not have a Lightning cable, or if your car does not support wired CarPlay connections, don’t fret. In most new cars, you can set up CarPlay using just Bluetooth.

There are two ways of connecting via Bluetooth.

The first is to use your car’s ‘voice command’ or ‘call’ button on the steering wheel – you’ll need to press and hold it for a few seconds. 

The second is connecting via the ‘settings’ or ‘CarPlay’ app on your infotainment system then enabling the pairing mode.

Once either of those steps is complete, go to the ‘settings’ app on your Apple device and select ‘general’. From there, select ‘CarPlay’ then ‘available cars’, and select your car. Your car’s infotainment screen should then prompt you to begin Apple CarPlay.

What apps have Apple CarPlay functionality?

All the Apple services that come pre-installed on your iPhone support CarPlay, as well as a large number of third-party apps. These include Spotify, WhatsApp, Google Maps, Waze and many more. To help you decide, we have a best sat-nav apps page. 

Electric car drivers will also be glad to know that Zap Map, a popular option for locating charge points, also supports CarPlay if you have a Premium subscription.

ZapMap mirrored using Apple CarPlay in Renault Zoe

Are there any alternatives?

If you use an iPhone, your only choice is Apple CarPlay. However, alternatives are available for users of Android phones: Android Auto and MirrorLink. Android Auto offers very similar functionality to CarPlay, with the ability to display navigation, audio, and messaging on your car’s infotainment screen.

Which cars support Apple CarPlay?

Most new cars support Apple CarPlay as standard, but there are some notable exceptions where you have to pay extra for it. For example, Dacia, Nissan and Suzuki charge extra for CarPlay compatibility on entry-level trims of their more affordable cars, or they may require you to upgrade to a more expensive trim level to get it.

These car models do not support Apple CarPlay or limit it to certain trims:

Bugatti – If you are, somehow, in the market for the £2.5 million Bugatti Chiron sports car, you might be surprised to find that it doesn’t even come with an infotainment system – let alone one with Apple CarPlay support.

Caterham – In keeping with its philosophy of being a stripped-back, no-compromise sports car, you can't get Apple CarPlay factory-fitted to a Caterham Seven.

Citroën – As you might expect from a car that's likely to cost less than £10,000, the Citroën Ami doesn’t come with an infotainment system so it doesn't support CarPlay.

If you’re interested in the outgoing Citroën C1 but also need CarPlay, avoid the entry-level Touch Trim, which doesn’t come with a modern infotainment system. All other trim levels do have one, and they support CarPlay.

Dacia Sandero 2022 front cornering

Dacia – Although the Essential versions of Dacia's lie-up come at tempting prices, we’d recommend straying away from them because they only come with a DAB radio, which doesn't support CarPlay.

Ferrari – You might think that spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a sports car means you’ll get lots of tech, but you’d be mistaken. The Ferrari F8 Tributo, the PFerrari Portofino and the Ferrari 812 Superfast all require you to fork out extra for CarPlay functionality.

Fiat – Fiat’s current line-up requires you to upgrade to its 10.25in touchscreen infotainment system to get CarPlay support. In the electric Fiat 500, this means opting for the more expensive Red trim or higher. The Fiat 500 Hybrid and the Fiat 500L require the mid-level Lounge trim or higher for CarPlay functionality.

Ford vans– If you’re buying a Ford Ranger pick up, you’ll need to upgrade to Limited trim or higher to equip it with an Apple CarPlay-compatible touchscreen. This is because the utilitarian XL trim only comes with a DAB radio, and although the XLT version does have an 8.0in touchscreen, it doesn't support CarPlay.

With the Ford Tourneo Connect you need to upgrade to Active trim to get CarPlay.

Honda Jazz 2022 front right tracking

Honda – One of the main knocks against Honda’s cars over the past few years has been its sub-par infotainment systems, so it’s a good thing you can bypass its software using CarPlay.

With that in mind, avoid the Honda CR-V in S trim, the Honda Civic in S or SE trim, and the Honda Jazz in SE trim – none of those versions support Apple CarPlay.

Hyundai – Our favourite small car for the city, the Hyundai i10, offers fantastic value for money. However, the entry-level SE version doesn’t come with an infotainment system, so doesn’t support CarPlay. Our recommended i10 trim – SE Connect – resolves this by adding an 8.0in infotainment touchscreen with CarPlay support.

Kia – Siblings often suffer from the same foibles, be it bad knees, a receding hairline or something else. The same is true of the Kia Picanto (the sister car to the Hyundai i10), which – below Shadow trim level – doesn’t support Apple CarPlay. Elsewhere in the line-up, the Kia Rio requires you to upgrade to the ‘2’ trim, which adds an 8.0in infotainment touchscreen, to gain Apple CarPlay support.

Mercedes-Benz – If you’re shopping for a Mercedes, check that the version of the car you’ve chosen has either an ‘Executive’ or ‘Premium’ suffix. That’s because these versions add CarPlay support to the Mercedes A-Class, the Mercedes EQV, the Mercedes GLA, the Mercedes GLB and the Mercedes GLC.

However, that's not the case for the Mercedes EQC – CarPlay is only included under the ‘Smartphone Integration’ option. 

Nissan Juke long-term tracking

Nissan – Low-end Visia trim models in Nissan's line-up have no touchscreen infotainment system or Apple CarPlay support. Therefore, if you’re buying a Nissan Juke, the Nissan Micra or the Nissan Qashqai you should opt for Acenta trim (Acenta Premium in the Qashqai) to ensure you get the touchscreen with CarPlay functionality.

Skoda – The Skoda Scala offers a lot of car for the money. However, its low price comes at a cost – and that cost is Apple CarPlay. If you want the feature in your Scala, ensure that you opt for an SE L version, or that you tick the SmartLink option for every other trim level.

The same applies to the Skoda Kamiq – in entry-level S trim it doesn't have CarPlay.

Ssangyong – If you’re shopping for a Ssangyong SUV make sure you buy one in Ventura trim or higher because the entry-level versions don’t offer Apple CarPlay support. Alternatively, if the Ssangyong Musso pick-up takes your fancy, you’ll need to go for Rebel trim or higher to get an infotainment system compatible with CarPlay.

Suzuki – Some entry-level Suzukis don’t come with Apple CarPlay. This affects the entry-level SZ3 trim on the Ignis and the SZ-L trim on the Swift (they don’t come with modern infotainment systems). This can be rectified by choosing SZ-T or higher.

Tesla Model 3 2022 front right tracking

Tesla – Considering Tesla’s focus is to offer cutting-edge electric cars packed with entertainment features, it’s something of a surprise that its entire line-up lacks Apple CarPlay support.

Toyota – As with most pick-ups, the Toyota Hilux is offered in a low-price, sparsely-equipped specification called ‘Active’. This does away with the 8.0in infotainment touchscreen (which supports Apple CarPlay) that you’ll find in the rest of the line-up. You’ll have to opt for an Icon trim Hilux or better to get CarPlay functionality.

Vauxhall – The van-based roots of the Vauxhall Vivaro e-Life shine through in its practical interior. However, you do have to opt for the range-topping Elite version to get a touchscreen infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay. 

Volkswagen – The VW T-Cross small SUV and the VW Touran MPV both come with 8.0in touchscreen infotainment systems as standard, but if you want to use Apple CarPlay you’ll have to choose at least an SE version of the T-Cross, or an SE-L version of the Touran.

The VW Up canot be specified with Apple CarPlay support. Even the most expensive GTI version only gets a smartphone cradle and an old-school colour screen for displaying track listings or the rear-view camera. 

Volvo – Most Volvos, including the Volvo C40 Recharge, the Volvo S90, the Volvo V90 and the Volvo XC60 can get Apple CarPlay support with a software update. Ensure that your car has had the appropriate update installed. If you’re shopping for the Volvo S60 or the Volvo V60, you’ll have to pay extra to have CarPlay added as an option.

Which devices support Apple CarPlay?

Every Apple iPhone fitted with a Lightning connector port supports CarPlay. That includes the following models:

iPhone 13 Pro
iPhone 13 Pro Max
iPhone 13
iPhone 13 mini

iPhone 12 Pro
iPhone 12 Pro Max
iPhone 12
iPhone 12 mini

iPhone 11 Pro
iPhone 11 Pro Max
iPhone 11

iPhone XS
iPhone XS Max
iPhone XR
iPhone X

iPhone 8
iPhone 8 Plus

iPhone 7
iPhone 7 Plus

iPhone 6S
iPhone 6S Plus
iPhone 6
iPhone 6 Plus

iPhone SE (1st generation – 2016-2020)
iPhone SE (2nd generation – 2020-present)

iPhone 5S
iPhone 5C
iPhone 5

If you own one of the listed iPhones, ensure that it has been updated to the latest version of its operating system to guarantee its compatibility with Apple CarPlay.

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read more: What is Android Auto? >>