Expensive optional systems
* The best and worst value systems * Expect more standard functionality * as smartphones take control...
Infotainment. It's one of the fastest developing and most exciting areas of car technology. Boil it down to its constituent parts and what we're talking about is navigation, connectivity and playing music and videos.
In the past, we were all reliant on manufacturers to supply the necessary hardware that would be integrated with our dashboards. However, that has changed in recent years, as smartphones have started to offer more than just the ability to talk to one another. A reasonable Apple or Android device incorporates a music player (which may store its files locally or stream them via the mobile phone network) and some form of navigation. Usually these options won't cost you a penny more than your monthly contract cost, either.
With that in mind, it's all the more frustrating that the availability and prices of car infotainment varies wildly between manufacturers - and even between individual models in one brand's line-up.
At one end of the scale, you can now get fully functional infotainment systems complete with Bluetooth, voice control, navigation and more for under 300. At the other, some car makers are still charging as much as that for just the Bluetooth connection, nearly 1000 for a TV tuner or several thousand pounds for a full navigation and media system.
You can add plenty more to those figures if you start to explore the depths of options lists and trim levels; keep your wits about you.
Part of the explanation for all this is that the car industry finds it harder to react to rapidly developing consumer electronics. Slick interfaces on smartphones, tablets and computers can make the kit we get in vehicles look old hat within 18 months - but while trendy phones come out every year, it can take a car manufacturer three or four years to fully upgrade the technology in a dashboard.
Ones to watch out for
Pricey optional systems...BMW 114i SE
List price 17,990
Target Price 16,902
Media Package Professional USB BMW Assist, 6.5-inch LCD, enhanced Bluetooth, Navigation System Business
Option price 1995
Mercedes-Benz A180 SE
List price 20,150
Target Price 19,339
Comand Online Six-disc CD changer, 7-inch display, HDD nav, voice control, 10GB capacity
Option price 2300
Mini Cooper 1.6
List price 14,900
Target Price 14,161
Mini Connected Navigation Bluetooth, 6.5-inch screen, smartphone integration, USB, music streaming, navigation
Option price 1345
Porsche Boxster 2.7
List price 37,589
Target Price 37,589
Porsche Communication Management DVD-compatible CD drive, 7-inch WVGA colour touch-screen, HD nav, USB
Option price 2141