You're sorely mistaken if you think the best Android Auto head unit is reserved for those with enough cash to procure a brand-new car. Because there is now a busy marketplace for aftermarket head units that can quickly and easily be installed into most vehicles, refreshing the interior and bringing serious Android compatibility into the dash.
Much like the best sat navs and best dash cams, Android Auto units can be retrofitted into cars. Even those ancient vehicles with a thin sliver of a stereo system can now be finished with a large touchscreen that connects with an Android phone to offer hands-free Google Assistant interactivity, effortless navigation and on-the-fly entertainment.
Of course, there is a price attached to such luxury, and to enjoy the full Android Auto experience costs around £200/$200 for a basic model, escalating to over £500/$500 for some of the fancier systems on the market. But that's a small price to pay, as many modern in-car units also come with a DAB+ ratio, reversing camera compatibility and many other excellent features.
Best Android Auto head units to buy right now
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We have expensive taste because this top-quality Alpine unit sits towards the top end of the budget scale, but it is a lovely piece of kit. Its incredibly crisp HD screen is a joy to look at and massively out-performs some of the cheaper models on the market. It boots up quickly and offers seamless Android Auto integration as soon as a phone is wired in. There are inputs for reverse cameras and plenty of outputs for subwoofers and extra speakers.
Granted, it doesn't sit flush into the dash like some screens, but that's because it is designed to fit into a single DIN slot, which means it is compatible with a huge variety of vehicles, regardless of age. Oh, and the little strip of white ambient LED lighting at the bottom of the unit is a nice touch. Pure class.
The clever modular structure of this thoroughly modern unit means customers get all the benefits of a large touchscreen display that fits inside even the smallest single DIN car stereo spaces. Particularly good for older cars, the Pioneer boasts pretty much everything you could possibly want in an infotainment system.
The clear 6.8-inch screen is fast and responsive to touch, while the list of features is truly impressive, boasting DAB+ Digital Radio, both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as entertainment features such as Spotify, Bluetooth streaming, WebLink, FLAC file playback and much more.
Better still, it plays nicely with reversing cameras and easily hooks up with voice command functionality, so you can make and receive hands-free calls and make the most of your favoured voice assistant to control much of the functionality.
Those with large apertures for an existing stereo or infotainment system might find the way it seemingly ‘floats’ in front of the dash a little disconcerting, especially those with a bit of in-car OCD, but it is a superb piece of kit at the price and one that offers so many modern features for a huge array of older vehicles.
Although lacking the inches of some of the head units previously mentioned, this Sony number deserves high praise for its stylish looks and physical volume dial. Many others resort to separate plus and minus keys or commit volume functionality to the touchscreen, which can be very annoying.
The dial on this is a joy to use, as is the rest of the system, which proves fast and responsive, delivering seamless navigation, Spotify and other Android experiences. A built-in 4 x 55 watts Dynamic Reality Amplifier allows for tunes to be pumped at extraordinary levels, and it plays nicely with numerous other after-market sub-woofers and speakers, too.
Easy to install and boasting an extremely thin 75 mm installation depth, this double DIN unit from JVC is great for those with a cramped dash area. Granted, you'll still need a large aperture to house this, but the lack of heft means it can sit where other existing wires also reside.
Once set up, it is quick and slick to operate, with lots of control over menu functions, sound quality and much more. However, there's only one USB input at the rear, which means you'll have to run a wire into the glove box or out of the dash to plug in. This is fairly standard, but other head units mentioned here feature a secondary USB slot at the front, making charging additional devices a little easier.
Who needs a big touchscreen when you can simply attach your smartphone? Of course, fiddling with your device on the move is frowned upon (and massively illegal), so Pioneer offers four dedicated hard key buttons for your favourite app access.
This one-touch access to favoured apps (such as Waze, Google Maps etc.) makes it safer to use, while voice commands are arguably the best way to interact with the unit. Above all else, it’s a very affordable and clever way of achieving Bluetooth streaming, hands-free calls and neat phone charging on a slim budget. Sure, it isn't real Android Auto comparability, but it is a very cheap option for this on much tighter budgets.
How to buy the best Android Auto head unit for you
As previously mentioned, there is a new car stereo or head unit to suit most budgets and to fit most vehicles. So long as you have the existing wiring for some sort of stereo device, prices range from around £200 for the most basic unit with Android Auto compatibility, while the most expensive can easily tickle the £1k mark if you opt for built-in maps and other jazzy features.
This, in our eyes, is a little bit pointless because the whole point of this endeavour is to bring your smartphone into the car, meaning you can hook up and charge while using Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze to deliver you to a destination - much better than the ageing sat nav rubbish found on many infotainment systems. In reality, you shouldn't have to part with any more than £500 to get something utterly brilliant.
If you simply want a Bluetooth connection to play Spotify or listen to Podcasts, then it is very easy to shop at a much lower end of the budget (£90-£150). But true Android Auto requires a touchscreen, and that means parting with more cash.
On the subject of fitting, this can be done fairly easily for those with a bit of car-related knowledge, some tools and plenty of patience (check out the numerous YouTube How-To videos if you fancy a spot of DIY), but buy from Halfords, for example, and they will offer to fit it for you. This usually takes a couple of hours at the most, and costs around £70/$90, depending on how complicated the fitting process is.
What’s the best Android Auto head unit on sale?
It's a tough one, because this will all depend on budget, but we sort of fell in love with the Alpine iLX-F903D, purely because this monster 9-inch screen fits into a single DIN slot - that's the sort of space typically taken up by a slither of a CD player or, dare we say it, tape cassette unit.
This cracking head-unit boasts a crystal clear and rapid 9-inch touchscreen, DAB+ tuner built-in and three separate pre-outs for sub-woofers and other beastly in-car modifications.