Photo-illustration of car infotainment systems
Illustration: BEN SCMULEVITCH

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto allow your smartphone to serve as your car’s infotainment system, displaying the same apps you probably already use on your phone, such as Waze for navigation and Spotify for music. And they take advantage of your phone’s virtual assistant, either Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant, for voice commands. The features also optimize the interface for in-car use, resizing icons so that they’re easier for drivers to see and touch, and disabling some distracting features, such as onscreen keyboards.

Because smartphones are connected to the internet, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto feature up-to-date map and traffic data. By comparison, built-in systems often require subscriptions or expensive software updates to get similar real-time data.

We asked more than 73,000 CR members about their level of satisfaction with their factory built-in systems and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, if they used them. Our members said—and CR’s infotainment experts agreed—that using CarPlay is a great way to make a bad system less distracting and easier to use. For example, when Toyota drivers used CarPlay instead of the built-in Entune system, their satisfaction increased by 12 percent. The low-ranked Mercedes-Benz Comand and Volvo Sensus systems also benefited.

More on In-Car Electronics

“Being able to use familiar apps that are optimized can save drivers from distraction,” says Kelly Funkhouser, CR’s program manager for vehicle interface testing.

In our survey, we didn’t see the same increase in satisfaction with Android Auto. Funkhouser says this is probably because fewer vehicles were compatible with Android at the time of the survey. Also, our survey was conducted while Google was making upgrades to the software. “The now-updated software always puts important apps front and center instead of burying them in menus,” she says.

We also found that owners of BMWs who use wireless CarPlay connections were a lot less satisfied. That’s probably because of its spotty WiFi-based connection, says Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR. “We also observed it won’t always connect on startup,” he says. “Although it’s convenient to use WiFi and leave your phone in your pocket, it’s not as certain as a wired connection.” BMW didn’t respond to CR’s requests for comment. 

Features: Built-In Systems vs. Smartphones

We asked more than 73,000 CR members about their satisfaction with how well the built-in systems, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto performed certain functions, including making calls, giving directions, reading and composing text messages by voice, and playing audio. The chart below indicates the percentage of members overall who reported that they were satisfied with how well each function worked.

Voice Calls
Satisfied Overall

Built-In System

65%

Apple CarPlay

70%

Android Auto

64%
Navigation

Built-In System

61%

Apple CarPlay

64%

Android Auto

55%
Music, Podcasts 
& Audio

Built-In System

63%

Apple CarPlay

64%

Android Auto

55%
Voice-to-Text

Built-In System

58%

Apple CarPlay

65%

Android Auto

55%
Satisfaction for each system is a composite of the percentage of respondents who said they were “very satisfied” with how it handled phone calls, navigation, text, and media. It wasn’t calculated for systems with insufficient responses.

Satisfaction: Built-In Systems vs. Smartphone

We asked CR members how satisfied they were with their car’s built-in infotainment system and with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which can put a phone’s features and apps on a car’s built-in screen. The chart shows that CarPlay users reported higher satisfaction than with some built-in systems used without the smartphone interface. At the same time, survey respondents preferred the best built-in systems alone to either smartphone-based setup. Google made changes to Android Auto after our survey was completed. We’re looking forward to spending more time with the updated software. We arranged the survey results into three categories—most satisfied, average, and least satisfied—and put them in alphabetical order within their categories.

Most Satisfied
BMW iDrive
Built-In: Most Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Lowers system satisfaction
Android Auto: N/A*
FCA Uconnect4
Built-In: Most Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Improves systems satisfaction
Android Auto: N/A*
Ford/Lincoln SYNC
Built-In: Most Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Satisfaction equal
Android Auto: Lowers system satisfaction
Genesis Genesis Display
Built-In: Most Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: N/A*
Android Auto: N/A*
Hyundai/Kia Hyundai Display & UV03
Built-In: Most Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: Lowers system satisfaction
Porsche PCM
Built-In: Most Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Lowers system satisfaction
Android Auto: N/A*
Tesla IVI
Built-In: Most Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: N/A*
Android Auto: N/A*
Average Satisfaction
Audi MMI
Built-In: Average Satisfaction
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: N/A*
GM GM Infotainment
Built-In: Average Satisfaction
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: Lowers system satisfaction
Infinity Infiniti Touch
Built-In: Average Satisfaction
Apple CarPlay: N/A*
Android Auto: N/A*
Nissan NissanConnect
Built-In: Average Satisfaction
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: Lowers system satisfaction
Subaru STARLINK
Built-In: Average Satisfaction
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: Lowers system satisfaction
Volkswagen MIB 2
Built-In: Average Satisfaction
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: Lowers system satisfaction
Volvo Sensus
Built-In: Average Satisfaction
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: N/A*
Least Satisfied
Acura AcuraLink
Built-In: Least Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: N/A*
Honda HondaLink
Built-In: Least Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: Satisfaction equal
Lexus Remote Touchpad/Remote Touch
Built-In: Least Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: N/A*
Mazda MAZDA CONNECT
Built-In: Least Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: Satisfaction equal
Mercedes-Benz COMAND
Built-In: Least Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: N/A*
Toyota Entune
Built-In: Least Satisfied
Apple CarPlay: Improves system satisfaction
Android Auto: N/A*
*Apple CarPlay or Android Auto wasn’t available or we didn’t have a sufficient sample.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the September 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.