In the blindingly fast pace of technological life today, going off the grid is just plain foreign. Staying connected to our information — whether that means access to music, social media, restaurant reviews, or navigation — is essential, even when on the road. But this tech in cars doesn’t necessarily mean another blow to our attention spans; the best connected cars boost both productivity and the traditional driving experience. These smart cars range from an affordable hatchback to a racy new minivan and all the way to one of the most luxurious rides on the planet; be a smart driver and take a look.
Best Electric Connected Car: The Tesla S is one of the most forward-thinking cars on the road, with its slick design and its electric powertrain. So its center stack makes sense: it’s essentially one giant tablet, making connectivity a priority. In addition to web connectivity, the huge 17-inch touchscreen puts all navigation, in-car media, climate controls and vehicle data at your fingertips. The Premium Center Console adds a nifty flip-up deck with USB and power ports along with an optional iPhone 5/6 Micro-USB phone dock.
Best Sporty Connected Car: What’s performance hybrid technology without the cabin features to match? The Q50 Hybrid delivers Infiniti Connection, which allows you to use your smartphone to lock and unlock your door and quickly contact emergency services after an accident. InTouch, their app suite, provides you with just about all of the in-car information your heart desires such as navigation, satellite radio, and even a team of personal assistants at your beck and call to answer questions, provide directions and perform tasks like making dinner and movie reservations.
Best Off-Road Connected Car: Who says you have to go off-grid to go off-road? The Grand Cherokee is as great on the outside, with its rugged-but-refined sheetmetal, as it is on the inside: features include voice-controlled Garmin navigation and Bing-powered local search, plus the Sirius Travel Link app for gas prices, movie times, your sports team’s scores and weather data. You can even use the voice command feature to request songs by name from an iPhone connected to the USB port. Even more options will be available in the future through the Jeep’s nifty Uconnect app store.
Best Affordable Connected Car: Mazda’s reputation for driver-focused, affordable vehicles is unquestioned. But sometimes downtime is as important as wheel time, and the new 3 delivers both in a big way. It’s their first car with Mazda Connect, which provides a host of features such as vehicle status and mileage apps, access to social media, contacts (up to 1,000 can be imported from your smartphone), all displayed on a dash-mounted 7-inch color touchscreen with center console hand controls. Phone calls and navigation entries can be voice activated; the 3 will also read incoming text messages aloud, to which you can respond by voice or by hand. Pandora, Stitcher and Aha Radio streaming are available alongside HD and satellite radio, in addition to Bluetooth connectivity with your iPhone via Mazda’s Host Controller Interface.
Best Family Connected Car: If you’re hauling a full set of screaming rug rats and groceries, hands-free connectivity can only help. The brand new (and quite fetching) Kia Sedona’s UVO eServices include voice commands, vehicle diagnostics and repair guidance, Pandora, iHeart Radio, Siri Eyes Free, and Google Local Search from the Google Play and Apple iTunes stores via your smartphone. All controls can be accessed through the Sedona’s touchscreen. Just keep your kid’s jumbo soda away from all of it.
Best Millennial Connected Car: Nissan finally dressed up the Juke in racy Nismo garb — a small bit of comfort for those of us who pine for the Juke-R. And inside there’s plenty more excitement for the youthful set, like the new NissanConnect telematics system. It syncs with your smartphone and the navigation system to provide gas prices, weather, handy TripAdvisor access for restaurants, hotels and other travel needs, along with good old Yelp. You can also tap into Google apps and send your trip destinations from your web browser directly to the car, a handy feature that cuts out time otherwise spent futzing with a GPS.
Best One-Percenter Connected Car: The ultimate connected vehicle is a British bespoke beast, which comes as a surprise since the Bentley name evokes wood, leather and gray hair. Though the rich heritage is clearly there, the average age of a Bentley customer is now in the 30s; accordingly, their flagship Mulsanne is their first car that’s a rolling Wi-fi hotspot. The big 8-inch screen tucks away behind a veneer panel when it’s not in use. Deploy it with voice activation for navigation, phone, audio, iPod or other media device. But if your self-imposed arrangement is being driven rather than driving, you’ll be able to access navigation from the backseat and make productive use of the optional Entertainment Specification — which features beautifully incorporated dual electrically deployed tables that unfold in balletic fashion from the seat backs, revealing concealed iPads and keyboards. It’s a technological boardroom on wheels.
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