* The best and worst value systems * Expect more standard functionality * as smartphones take control...
Car makers aren't standing still; several of them have joined forces and are developing a common 'back end' that can then be updated more easily and quickly. In the meantime, though, anomalies will continue to catch out unwary buyers.
Take the new Volkswagen Up. Our 2012 Car of the Year is a tiny city car with a list price to match. Its range starts from just 8095, but for a mere 300 you can equip any Up with the Maps and More removable touch-screen navigation and media device, complete with Bluetooth, European maps and voice control.
Compare that with the all-new Mk7 VW Golf. All models get at least a 5.8-inch touch-screen media system complete with DAB, Bluetooth, SD card reader and more.
However, to get even the possibility of a factory-fit navigation system for the new Golf, you must upgrade from the 16,285 Golf S to the 18,990 Golf SE. Only then can you tick the 735 box for the basic Discover Navigation System. If you fancy the Discover Pro system, with its eight-inch screen, European maps and 64GB storage, you'll need to find 1690.
Volkswagen is not alone. It's not uncommon to find a new entry-level hatchback offers more infotainment functionality for considerably less money than a larger sibling. The usual model range hierarchy doesn't apply.
In fact, the smaller and newer the car, the more likely you are to find reasonably priced infotainment options. After all, there's little point offering a 2000 navigation system on a city car if no one ticks the box. The question is, for how much longer will buyers of more upscale models will put up with punitive infotainment price structures when they get greater functionality every time they upgrade their phone (a move that happens at least twice as regularly as a change of car)?
It can be tricky comparing technologies on offer between manufacturers, too. Nearly all the big players have their own branded control systems, from BMW's iDrive to Fiat's Blue&Me. Taken as a whole, it's a very broad spectrum of technologies and formats. From touch-screens to input wheels or fully integrated systems to others that rely on smartphones to provide functionality, there are some very different approaches on offer.
Great-value optional systems...
Audi A3 1.4 TFSI SE
List price 19,205
Target Price 18,251
MMI with navigation 5.8-inch QVGA screen, Audi Music Interface, USB, Bluetooth, MMI radio, voice control, SD card nav
Option price 495
Ford B-Max 1.4 Studio
List price 12,995
Target Price 11,493
SYNC Bluetooth & Voice control, USB port, Emergency Assistance
Option price 250
Vauxhall Adam 1.2 Jam
List price 11,255
Target Price 10,844
Intellilink USB & Bluetooth, 7-inch touch-screen smartphone system, media playback
Option price 275
Fiat 500 1.2 Pop
List price 9960
Target Price 9566
Blue&Me Bluetooth, voice recognition, steering wheel controls, USB, digital audio file
Option price 270
Volkswagen Up 1.0 Take Up
List price 8095
Target Price 7814
Maps and More Bluetooth and voice control, 5-inch removable navigation with Euro maps
Option price 300