By Ben Barry
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto: incoming fast
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto turn your car's infotainment and navigation into an extension of your smartphone, and vice versa.
Plug in your phone, select CarPlay or Android Auto, and a selection of apps appear on the car's touchscreen: Phone, Music, Maps and Messages for CarPlay, while Android Auto is built around Google Maps and Google Now.
Third-party apps are also offered – Spotify, Skype, Stitcher; the list is gradually expanding – and in both cases functionality is pared back, providing access only to the apps you might need while driving, without introducing unnecessary distraction.
CarPlay and Android Auto got off to a slow start. One year after CarPlay's debut at the Geneva Motor Show, March 2014, only Ferrari offered CarPlay-equipped cars.
That's all changing now. As the covers came off new models at this September's Frankfurt Motor Show, most car makers promised to get one or both systems into showrooms within six months.
From supercars to people carriers, here's how to get your iOS and Android fix on the go…
Vauxhall's new Astra gets both CarPlay and Android Auto from January 2016 as standard. You'll interact with the systems via the standard-fit Intellilink capacitive touchscreen or voice control activated at the press of a button; a 7-inch touchscreen is standard, an 8-inch extra cost and bundled with sat-nav.
OnStar is also available; it directs the emergency services to your location in the event of a shunt, and triggers a stolen-vehicle alert should light-fingered types strike. The biggest boon for tech heads, though, is OnStar's 4G functionality, turning the Astra into a wi-fi hot-spot for up to seven devices.
The British-built Golf rival should be pretty good to drive too: it's up to 200kg lighter than before, new engines include a punchy-but-frugal 1.4-litre petrol turbo with 143bhp, and reps on long schleps might be tempted by the optional massage seats.
Pretty much every car maker said they'd offer CarPlay, but Ferrari got there first. It isn't cheap at £2,400, but if you're splashing at least £239K on a set of wheels, what's an extra 1%? No amount of cash will get you Android Auto in a Ferrari right now, though.
There are a few ways to control the system: touch the app icons on the capacitive touchscreen, use the relevant physical buttons located either side, scroll through the apps using the rotary dial at the screen's bottom right, or ask Siri.
Ferrari says it'll never make an SUV, so the FF is its all-seasons/all-reasons supercar: the only Prancing Horse with all-wheel drive, the only one to have a large (ish) boot and four usable seats, and there's a honking great V12 under the snout. All it needs now is a higher-res screen to do the price tag justice.
The chic and premium DS brand has helped Citroën rebound from a sales nose-dive thanks to smartphone-wielding hip young things; more Mini-sized DS3s are sold in the UK than the cheaper-and-less-cheerful C3 on which they're based.
With a style-conscious demographic like that, connectivity is king. Now the once-size-up DS4 and slightly muddier DS4 Crossback are set to be the first Citroëns with CarPlay.
CarPlay arrives in November, standard on all cars fitted with the optional SMEG+ 7-inch touchscreen; it's all controlled via the touchscreen or Siri voice control. MirrorLink will be simultaneously introduced for Android phones, with Android Auto following later in 2016.
The last DS4 brought avant-garde style to a segment dominated by German predictability and French fecklessness. Let's hope the driving experience is less avant-garde this time around.
Yes, the A-class has just been given a mid-life facelift, but while the first revised cars miss out, CarPlay and Android Auto compatability IS coming next year, with exact timings and pricing TBC.
SE models get a 7-inch iPad-a-like Central Media Display, while Sport trim levels and beyond upgrade to an 8-inch screen. You can also choose from a standard Audio 20 infotainment system, or bells-and-whistles Comand. Whatever the spec, you'll control everything either with a rotary dial, or by holding down the Linguatronic button on the multi-function steering wheel for voice control. No touchscreen here.
The A180 D is said to be very frugal on fuel (ahem), but spec the A45 AMG and you'll get a an outrageously powerful 376bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine built in Brixworth, just like the turbo V6 that's taken Lewis Hamilton to one world title and counting.
Lightly tickled exterior styling disguises the 911's biggest shake-up since it switched from air- to water-cooling back in '97: 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat sixes replace the charismatic old 3.4 and 3.8s for more power and better mpg.
Some will be mourn the old engines' passing, but not the last-gen Porsche Communication Management System. Its mix of scattered buttons and resistive touchscreen prodding has been replaced by an all-new 7-inch capacitive touchscreen that you don't actually need to touch: a proximity sensor gets your gist, meaning less eyes-off-the-road fumbling.
Best of all, CarPlay – but not Android Auto, sadly – comes as standard equipment. It's all controlled via the touchscreen, or Siri voice control. Turn up your iTunes or streamed music and you won't even notice those rasping engines have disappeared.
Volkswagen's Golf-based, seven-seatMPV might not turn heads, but there are a bewilderingly abundant 47 storage compartments for your offspring to stuff with sweet wrappers, and – if VW can still be believed after diesel-gate – as much as 69mpg from the 1.6 TDI motor.
A selection of different infotainment systems are offered, with a standard 6.5- or optional 8-inch touchscreen powered by a Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, the latter bringing the Discover Navigation Pro system.
Both screens will be offered with CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink under VW's AppConnect umbrella. Everything is controlled either via the touchscreen or Siri/Google Voice. You'll pay £165 on S trim, a pointless fiver less on SE and SE Family models, and nothing at all on top-spec SEL.
For all the high-end cars that'll feature CarPlay, a low-rent, cheap-as-chips hatch is probably a more logical home for it: the brand doesn't need to develop or buy in its own, quite-possibly-shonky system, and cash-strapped customers aren't asked to spend a fortune on options.
Hence the incoming Suzuki Baleno – due next year to battle Fiesta et al, priced from around £12k – offers CarPlay connectivity through Suzuki's clunkily named Smartphone Linkage Display Audio system. It's a 7-inch touchscreen controlled via touch or Siri voice control. Right now, Suzuki is pondering if it'll charge extra for CarPlay, but it has confirmed customers will be able to upgrade older models with Smartphone Linkage Display Audio to work with the system.
Concerned you can't stretch to the aforementioned Ferrari FF? Try the entry-level, snip-at-£155K California. It's recently updated inside and out, and, like the FF, you'll pay the same, faintly astounding £2,400 for an extra button marked CarPlay and a place to plug your phone in. You get the same options to control the central touchscreen interface too: touch, press, twiddle or Siri.
Unlike the V12 FF, there's a twin-turbo V8 under the bonnet that accelerates you to 62mph in 3.6 seconds, and a retractable hardtop that folds away in around 20. So you can soak up the rays, stream your Spotify tunes via CarPlay, and let Apple Maps do a better job of the navigation that Ferrari's factory system. Shame the California is Ferrari's duffest drive.
Audi's just-launched A4 costs from £25,900, looks disappointingly similar to the old one, but is packed with tech: a 7-inch display with 800x480 pixel resolution is standard, as is the Audi Smartphone Interface, which supports both CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Technology Pack (£1450) brings MMI Navigation Plus, Audi Connect (complete with wi-fi hot spot and in-car internet) and an 8.3-inch monitor with 1024x480 resolution. Scroll through your apps using the rotary controller, the multi-function steering wheel, or voice control.
You can also spec a monster 19-speaker, 755-watt B&O system, a pair of detachable tablets built into front seat-backs to keep the kids entertained, and Virtual Cockpit. The latter is a configurable 12.3inch LCD display that ditches analogue dials for a super-trick sat-nav screen/speedo/rev counter combo that's configured to your liking.
The Ibiza is Seat's best-selling, cheapest model. The little hatch's sharp styling has always complemented its up-for-it Balearic moniker, but was let down by an interior offering all the appeal of a Magaluf back alley.
So that's where Seat has splashed the cash for this mid-cycle nip-and-tuck, with better quality materials, revised design flourishes and – key for us – a second-generation Easy Connect infotainment system. Full Link combines with Easy Connect, Seat's catch-all for CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirror Link connectivity. It's all controlled by the central capacitive touchscreen, or voice control.
The Ibiza line-up spans everything from a three-cylinder 1.0-litre to the feisty Cupra hot hatch. Option up the Seat Sound System – six speakers, ten-litre sub, tidy little amp – and you'll be havin' it large on the M25 until 4am.