Least distracting car infotainment systems

We put 20 cars’ infotainment systems and air-con controls to the test 
to see how distracting they are for drivers to operate on the move...

Infotainment test Mazda 3

Even though Audi has ditched its dial-controlled infotainment system, the replacement in the Q3 Sportback proves that touchscreens don’t have to be horribly distracting, as long as they’re quick to respond and combined with a range of other ways to access the car’s various functions.

Likewise, the Porsche Panamera’s combination of a responsive touchscreen and dial controllers impresses. However, it’s BMW’s iDrive that remains the benchmark for ease of use, particularly now that it’s backed up by one of the most effective voice control systems in any car.

Mercedes-Benz, meanwhile takes the runner-up spot, with its voice control system being every bit as good and its touchpad interfaces requiring only slightly more of your attention than the BMW’s control dial.

As for the systems in non-prestige cars, Mazda’s is the clear winner here, offering similar functionality to iDrive; only its voice control is significantly less sophisticated.

Infotainment test Neilv

It’s also interesting to see the difference between infotainment systems that look broadly the same. The Skoda Kamiq is more distracting than the Volkswagen Passat GTE, because it requires the driver to use the touchscreen to alter the fan and the voice control doesn’t extend to selecting a destination and starting navigation. 

Similarly, the Peugeot 508 has a large touchscreen and a high-resolution map, but the menu buttons aren’t easy to see and you have to use the touchscreen to adjust the climate control, so it finished well behind the Vauxhall Corsa, even though they’re from the same stable. 

Read more: Most distracting infotainment systems

Although the Skoda Citigo doesn’t have an infotainment system and instead requires the driver to use a smartphone in a dock, it didn’t prove as distracting as the worst systems on test. That said, it is reliant on you having a phone with a large enough screen and all the appropriate apps. 

The cars that are rated poorly either have unresponsive screens or systems that make it difficult to navigate around them or require too many steps to carry out tasks. The MG ZS and Citigo also lost marks because neither has an integrated voice control system, This technology will be crucial in making distracted driving a thing of the past.

What about smartphone integration? 

Infotainment test smartphones

Most car buyers own a smartphone and will want it to work with their car. So most new cars are now offered with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which migrate functions from your phone to the car’s infotainment system so you can use them via the touchscreen and voice control system. There are two notable exceptions to this among the brands in our test: BMW and Porsche offer only Apple CarPlay, not Android Auto.  

If you own an older car, or one with a poor infotainment system, using the apps on your phone for navigation, music, phone calls and text messages can be less distracting than using the built-in system. However, not all systems work seamlessly with the smartphone mirroring technology, so it’s worth trying it out before you buy.



1. BMW 3 Series with Live Cockpit Professional

Score 28/30

Infotainment test BMW 3 Series

The 3 Series has small buttons for temperature and fan control that aren’t quite as easy to use as knobs, but in pretty much every other respect, it sets the standard.

As in the Mazda 3, you access the infotainment by turning and depressing a large control dial between the front seats that’s surrounded by handy shortcut buttons. Zooming in and out is done by twisting the dial, or you can use pinch and swipe actions on the screen itself – preferably when the car is stationary. Ending guidance, meanwhile, requires just one click or touch.

One of the shortcut buttons takes you to the main radio menu, then the control dial lets you quickly scroll up and down the list. Voice control also works well for changing stations. This is activated either by pressing a button or saying “Hey BMW” and recognises natural speech.

 Save money on a BMW 3 Series with What Car? >> 

2. Mercedes-Benz CLA with 10.25in touchscreen

Score 27/30

Infotainment test Mercedes CLA

If you want to zoom in and out on the map, you can use a large touchpad between the front seats, a smaller one on the steering wheel or the touchscreen itself. The latter is a bit fiddly to use on the move (although great when stationary), but the user-friendly touchpads solve the problem. Cancelling route guidance can be done via all three interfaces and requires a single action.

Scrolling through the radio station list takes an age, but you can use voice control to get around this problem. The voice control system is really good at understanding speech and is activated by you saying “Hey Mercedes”. Among other things, it will provide a list of service stations, and you can choose one verbally.

Large rocker switches for controlling the temperature and fan complete a thoroughly impressive package.

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3. Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid with Connect Plus and Porsche Communication Management

Score 27/30

Infotainment test Porsche Panamera

The two toggle switches for the heating on the centre console are really easy to use. What’s more, the infotainment touchscreen is very quick to respond to inputs, while you press a single icon to end guidance and you can zoom out on the sat-nav map with your fingers or by using a user-friendly dial below the screen.

Sadly, while the screen itself is large and quick to respond, shorter drivers have to stretch to reach the top left corner. And some of the icons are difficult to hit accurately; for example, when searching for a radio station, you can select the letter of the alphabet it starts with from a pop-up menu to reduce scrolling, but this is tiny.

The voice control system understands natural speech and will provide a list when you ask for nearby service stations. You then simply tell it the number of the one you want.

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4. Audi Q3 Sportback with Virtual Cockpit Plus

Score 26/30

Infotainment test Audi Q3 Sportback

This is probably the most responsive touchscreen system around, so the map zooms in and out quickly and smoothly. There’s also an overview icon on the screen for when you want to see the whole of your route. Alternatively, you can zoom using a steering wheel controller, and a press of one icon ends route guidance.

Changing radio stations on the touchscreen isn’t as easy, because there isn’t a handy scrollbar at the side, but you can use the steering wheel controller to do this. You can even change radio stations using voice control, with this working well.

The voice control understands natural speech and lets you choose an option at any time instead of forcing you to wait until it’s finished listing options. The only slight niggle is that you need to say “line one” instead
of just “one” when selecting a radio or service station. Save money on an Audi Q3 Sportback with What Car? >> 

5. Mazda 3 with 8.8in colour display and  Mazda Connect

Score 25/30

Infotainment test Mazda 3

Instead of a touchscreen, the Mazda has a rotary controller between the front seats for accessing the infotainment, backed up by shortcut buttons to the key menus. This allows the screen to be placed higher on the dashboard, near your line of sight – although the screen is quite shallow. Plus, you just have to twist the dial to zoom in or out and click it twice to cancel guidance.

Radio stations are grouped in ensembles rather than alphabetically, but the combination of the rotary controller and high-set screen minimises distraction. You can also change stations using voice control, but this isn’t foolproof.

The voice control is better when asked to find fuel stations, coming up with a list and letting you select one verbally.

There’s a dial for temperature and buttons for the fan; these are easy to reach and use. 

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6. Volkswagen Passat GTE with 8.0in Composition Media system

Score 24/30

Infotainment test Volkswagen Passat

This system looks similar to the one in the Skoda Kamiq (which is from the same group), but it has some different features that make it easier to use.

For a start, you control the fan speed via a dial rather than through the touchscreen. And the voice control system – which understands different ways of saying commands – quickly provides a list of fuel stations, which you can then select verbally instead of having to use the screen.

Ending guidance does require two taps of the screen rather than the one of the Kamiq, but the Passat is still better overall.

The radio stations on the main list are in alphabetical order and it takes a long time to scroll through them, while doing it via the steering wheel takes even longer, so it’s definitely worth setting up favourites.

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7. Ford Fiesta with Sync 3 navigation and FordPass Connect

Score 23/30

Infotainment test Ford Fiesta

The Fiesta has chunky dials for adjusting the air-con temperature and fan, while its touchscreen infotainment system has large, clear icons that are easy to see. It’s also fairly easy to zoom out on the map using on-screen icons or your fingers, because the screen is reasonably responsive.

Cancelling the guidance via the screen takes just two steps, or you can do it via the steering wheel; this takes longer, but you look at menus in the instrument panel, so your eyes aren’t so far from the road. The radio stations are grouped in ensembles and it’s time consuming to scroll through them, although this is much easier once you’ve added favourites, and you can switch between them using the steering wheel controls. 

It takes four steps to find a fuel station using voice control, starting with ‘points of interest’.

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8. Hyundai Ioniq with 10.25in touchscreen and Bluelink connectivity

Score 22/30

Infotainment test Hyundai Ioniq

You need to use the touchscreen to zoom in and out of the sat-nav map, but it’s responsive enough to minimise distraction, while ending route guidance involves just two steps on the screen. 

Similarly, the only way to scroll through radio stations is via the screen, but you can move through the list swiftly without it glitching. Set your favourites and you can also scroll between these using the steering wheel controls. 

The ‘buttons’ for adjusting the temperature and fan speed are actually touch-sensitive areas of the dashboard rather than proper buttons you depress, so you still need to look at them, but they aren’t overly distracting.

The voice control system understands the command to find the nearest service station, provides a list and asks you to say the number of the one you want to navigate to.

Save money on a Hyundai Ioniq with What Car? >>

9. Vauxhall Corsa with 10.0in Multimedia Navi Pro

Score 22/30

Infotainment test Vauxhall Corsa

While the Corsa’s infotainment software is very similar to the related Peugeot 508’s, you get conventional buttons for switching between menus, and these are more user-friendly than the 508’s ‘piano keys’. In addition, you get separate buttons and knobs to adjust the temperature and fan speed, making these tasks quicker and less distracting. Cancelling guidance is a fairly simple two-step process, but the Corsa is also like the 508 in that the map won’t zoom out enough to see the whole route.

Scrolling down the alphabetical list of radio stations can be frustrating, because the system is a bit laggy. However, you can access favourites quickly via the steering wheel controls. 

The voice control is good at understanding an initial request to find nearby service stations, but it only found one and didn’t resize the map to show it.

Save money on a Vauxhall Corsa with What Car? >>

10. Skoda Kamiq with 9.2in touchscreen, voice control and Amundsen sat-nav

Score 21/30

Infotainment test Skoda Kamiq

Sharp graphics make the screen easy to read at a glance, and there are large, physical buttons to access the sat-nav. The screen could be more responsive when you’re using your fingers to zoom the map, but you can also do this via the steering wheel controls, and guidance can be ended by pressing just one icon. 

To change radio stations on the main list, you have to scroll through them, but there’s a scrollbar at the side that speeds this up and, as in most cars, setting up favourites makes things easy.

The voice control system works pretty well, taking just two steps to find the nearest fuel stations. However, you have to select the station you want from an onscreen list and then press
‘go’ to start the guidance. 

The temperature is controlled by a dial, but you need to use the touchscreen to adjust the fan; that’s more distracting.

Save money on a Skoda Kamiq with What Car? >>

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