Do you find the audio and information system in your vehicle frustrating? Does it have oodles of functions you never use, don’t want, and are not even sure you understand? Did you have trouble pairing your phone to the BlueTooth system when you got it, give up and now drive around in your luxury SUV with a phone glued to your head? If so, you are not alone.
Consumer Reports (CR) does an Annual Reliability Survey to not only find out which makes and models are the best and worst in terms of reliability, but to also watch for and report on trends in reliability. A few years back it became painfully obvious that those automakers brave enough to go long and try to catch a pass from Microsoft or some other big name geek-device company paid a very heavy price in terms of customer satisfaction and reliability. CR discovered that cars were getting much more reliable in almost every way. However, automakers have forgotten how to make a radio work, and can not seem to replicate the simplicity and reliability of a $90 TomTom or Garmin Nuvi system, despite adding a zero or two onto the price tag for such a system. Owners reported these defects and many automakers saw their reliability drop.
Consumer Reports singled out Infiniti’s Q50 techno-sedan for a tongue-lashing. Calling Infiniti’s system “the worst first-year infotainment offender in this year’s survey”, Consumer Reports said that one in five owners reported the system had a defect. This hurt Infiniti badly in the rankings pushing the company to the 20th position on the list. It is the worst drop of any automaker on the survey.
The Q50 competes head-to-head with Lexus IS 350 sedan. Lexus is the top-ranked automaker on the CR survey, yet even it can drive people crazy. In his long-term test report this month, Scott Evans at Motor Trend explains over a full five paragraphs why he dislikes the Lexus infotainment system. Nothing on the car was broken. It all worked exactly as designed, yet it so vexed this respected auto writer he published a full report on the car and only talked about his dislikes and frustrations with its infotainment system.
In my road test reports, I always report on two simple things. First, how quickly did my phone synch to the mothership. Second, what did I think of the infotainment system overall. What I have found is that price point makes absolutely no difference in ease of use and functionality. I have found that even within a brand these systems can vary wildly.
I recently tested a wonderful Hyundai luxury sedan that illustrated how things that are really not “broken” can result in a customer dinging a manufacturer on a survey. The car had two odd traits. First, when I synched my phone I checked the option on the phone menu that says “Do not download contacts.” Cars these days can pull in all your contacts from your list on your phone. It will then store them for you so you can say “Call Jane Doe” and it will do so using the number you have on file for that name. I never put them into any test car, nor into my own cars. I don’t make outgoing calls while I’m moving. After I had declined, I got a long message that would play every time I started the car telling me “Contact-synch failed.” It did not fail. I chose to say “no” when shown the option. The system is not designed for people to say no to that function. That vehicle also insisted that when I start the car I hear the satellite radio, which I do not prefer. No matter how I left the audio, in Pandora, on FM, or even off, the $50K luxury sedan insisted I hear some Sat Rad while it told me the contact synch had failed. Again, a wonderful car, and nothing broken, but many people would report these issues as defects.
There was a time when my VCR’s clock blinked all zeros, but I have come full circle. These days I am like Sandra Bullok in Gravity when she jumps from a Russian to a Chinese Soyuz, and she can make everything work despite not understanding the language or alphabet. I’m not afraid to look at a manual but I can usually make these systems do my bidding with no challenges based on instinct. Unfortunately, my instinct to yell curses at these screens and bang the wheel still also exists. That rarely helps.