We do everything with our smartphones these days and with the last iPhone count topping the 728 million mark globally, it only seems logical that most drivers want to make the most of Apple's functionality when behind the wheel.
Of course, that's a little bit naughty and illegal here in the UK, unless you are interacting with your phone via Apple CarPlay, which essentially beams car-friendly apps directly to a touchscreen in the car.
Unfortunately, this connectivity has only really been rolled out in most new cars over the past year or so, meaning anyone with slightly ageing wheels has to put up with a CD player and some crackly FM radio.
Not any more chums, because ensuring your ride is technologically bang up to date is simply the case of removing an old head unit or stereo system and replacing it with a much more accomplished and capable Apple CarPlay-enabled system from the likes of Pioneer, Sony, JVC and Kenwood.
Thanks to recent advances in slimline design and the continual shrinking of electronic gubbins, even those with smaller spaces (typically referred to as single DIN car stereos) can now enjoy the large and reactive touchscreens typically enjoyed by those with much newer vehicles.
So, if you fancy ditching that crackly FM radio and installing kit that happily chats to your iPhone, you need to check out the best car stereos and head units that money can currently buy.
What’s the best head unit on sale?
This all depends on your budget, because really simple single DIN units, like the Kenwood KDC-BT720DAB can be purchased for as little as £119, but it still boasts full DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity to your phone.
However, the absolute best stereo system you can buy now is the Pioneer SPH-EVO62DAB-UNI Car Stereo (opens in new tab), purely because its innovative design means even the oldest and most cramped car stereo spaces can now benefit from DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and all manner of modern connectivity (it’s even reverse camera compatible).
All of this is pumped through a beautifully crisp and rather revolutionary floating or tablet-style touchscreen display, which is a doddle to use and looks absolutely brilliant wherever it is installed.
How to buy a new head unit or car stereo
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 £130 for the most basic unit with Apple CarPlay 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 iPhone 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 Apple CarPlay 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 from Halfords (opens in new tab), for example, and they will offer to fit it for you.
This usually takes a couple of hours at the most and the cost around £70, depending on how complicated the fitting process is.
The best Apple CarPlay head units you can buy
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 possible 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.
The super clean, super simple 6.8” Capacitive touch screen of this JVC model looks great when installed in any car and it packs all of the features you’d expect of an updated infotainment system. Apple CarPlay essentially opens up access to a number of apps housed on the your favoured smartphone, while the DAB+ tuner and Bluetooth compatibility mean you remain entertained, even when the phone isn’t physically plugged in.
The addition of two phone pairing and voice command recognition are extra niceties, but it is the lack of physical buttons that make this unit feel really clean. Just bear in mind you’ll need a decent sized hole in your existing dash to fit this one.
At a whopping seven-inches, this Sony unit offers tremendous bang for the buck, especially as it seems to be on offer almost everywhere at the moment. Granted, it is not the most handsome unit out there but it packs both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, DAB+ radio and awesomely powerful amplification with 4 x 55W Dynamic Reality Amp 2 for clear and detailed sounds.
It’s also ridiculously fast and sports one of the fastest wake-up times on the list, although you will need to option the additional DAB antenna should you wish to make the most of that functionality, which is a bit stingy in our eyes.
Plus, you can't activate Apple CarPlay without physically plugging the phone in. That's not a huge deal, but it is an extra faff that some of the other units on this list neatly get around with Bluetooth functionality.
Sitting at the lower end of the price spectrum, this Automodz unit packs the basic features you need to get Apple CarPlay running in the car. The screen isn't particularly bright and it is slow to load, but it does exactly what you need it to.
There's a USB at the front of the unit for easy plugging in and some physical volume buttons for ease of use. The head unit also has an audio output of 45W x 4, which can help improve the overall quality of sound pumped into the cabin.
It's not particularly pretty or flash, but it does the job in hand well. Just bear in mind you'll need a large aperture to install this 7-inch screen.
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 Apple CarPlay comparability, but it is a very cheap option for this on much tighter budgets.