By on September 18, 2018

J.D. Power and Associates is supremely interested in multimedia systems these days. In fact, in now incorporates audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation (ACEN) into its initial quality study. If an automaker wants one of J.D. Power’s tombstone-shaped awards, it now has to ensure its multimedia equipment isn’t vexing to consumers. Unfortunately, ACEN has proven the most problematic category for new vehicle owners since its addition to the annual survey three years ago.

The research and marketing firm recently decided to break out its ACEN scores to see which vehicles had the best infotainment systems. However, in this instance, what constitutes superior hardware is simply a lack of customer complaints. For J.D. Power, multimedia system quality is determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles over the first 90 days of ownership.

Since potential problems include everything from technical failures and overall features to how well the system was explained by the dealer and plain general satisfaction, decoding what makes a particular system truly bad is difficult. But a lower frequency of complains always means a better product. Which models shined the brightest? 

It might surprise you, but the 2018 Ford Mustang possessed the “lowest” score of any vehicle. With just 7.3 reported issues out of 100 units, the Stang easily bested every other vehicle on the survey. Interestingly, J.D. Power decided to place it in the “midsize” category — which also credited the Kia Sorento and Nissan Frontier for possessing vastly superior infotainment systems.


The Kia Rio walked away with top honors in its class. With only 9.3 problems reported over 100 vehicles, Kia’s subcompact had the best overall score of any pint-sized mainstream model. In J.D. Power’s small car segment, its score kept it just ahead of the Chevrolet Bolt and Kia Sportage.

The small premium segment fared much worse, likely due to the complexities of the interface. Luxury vehicles typically contain additional features and digital options that mainstream vehicles lack, resulting in a harder-to-navigate multimedia system. Leading the pack for fancy shmancy small vehicles was the BMW 2 Series, with 16.7 reported issues out of 100 vehicles. It was pursued by the slow-selling Acura ILX and more-popular BMW X1.

J.D.’s “compact segment” showed the Kia Forte as the best for in-car infotainment. The Forte managed an impressive 10.2 problems out of 100 cars. The Chevrolet Cruze was runner up, with the Hyundai Ioniq and Volkswagen Beetle tied for third at 12.3 issues per 100 units. For the compact premium cars, Porsche’s 718 matched the Kia Rio as the auto with one of the least problematic infotainment system on the market (at least according to this survey). It was followed by the Porsche Macan and Lincoln MKC.

For large vehicles, Ford’s Taurus narrowly beat out the burly Expedition with 12.5 reported issues. They were tailed by the Chevrolet Silverado, which had 13.1 problems per 100 vehicles. Meanwhile, the BMW 7 Series bested the rest of the premium large vehicle segment by a wide margin. It managed just 10.5 reported problems out of 100 cars while the Genesis G90 and Cadillac Escalade saw 15.1 and 16.1 issues, respectively.

Other than J.D. Power’s complete inability to effectively categorize automobiles, the takeaway from this study should be that mainstream models have easier to use infotainment systems. Ford, Kia, and Hyundai consistently performed well using the outlet’s ACEN assessment. On the luxury side of things, Porsche and BMW seemed to walk away with more victories than the rest.

However, why is another question. Hyundai Group definitely has ease of use down pat without culling functions, but an automaker like BMW is more complicated. While iDrive has become easier to manage in its later incarnations, it’s a more complicated system then what you’d find on your average Kia. BMW’s Motion controls are cute but also a little clumsy. And there’s loads of menus. Still, there are also a few alternative ways to navigate the brand’s infotainment systems. Perhaps BMW has simply struck a decent balance between heaps of features and the various ways you can tackle them. Don’t like motion controls? Use the touch screen. Don’t like the touch screen? Use the iDrive knob.

“In-car multimedia has been a problematic category for automakers for several years, as ever-more elaborate navigation, voice recognition and entertainment systems have proliferated in vehicles of every type,” said Brent Gruber, Senior Director of Automotive Quality Practice for J.D. Power.

“While the area is still the leading cause of new-vehicle complaints — with voice recognition technology continuing to lead the way as the number one complaint for a sixth consecutive year — we are seeing some serious improvement across the board, with some manufacturers really raising the bar on delivering quality multimedia technology experiences for their customers.”

We’d still recommend actually interfacing with a vehicle’s multimedia display extensively before you buy, as you might find yourself more or less digitally inclined than your contemporaries. But it’s definitely worth taking these results for a mental lap before you start shopping.

[Images: Ford; Kia]

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48 Comments on “These Are the Cars With the Best Infotainment Systems, According to J.D. Power...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    I have Uconnect and Beats Audio and have experienced zero problems in three years.

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      I’m not prone to like Chrysler products, but Uconnect is the tops: Responsive, not-tacky looking and intuitive.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Posky

        Absolutely agreed. While not the most robust multimedia system (save for the performance page), Uconnect is one of the easiest packages to navigate and pretty responsive overall. It’s also inoffensive to the eyes and doesn’t ape smartphone/tablet visuals.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        And the ability to configure all kinds of vehicle functions, like what the keyfob does when you push the unlock button, adding the tenths reading to the odometer, etc. Pretty cool.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Agreed, midlevel (7”) Uconnect in my Jeep is a billion miles ahead of my wife’s Acura.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      Yeah, something smells fishy with these “awards”. Having used a TON of assorted infotainment systems over the past several years, I can authoritatively say that FCA’s UConnect system is the best of the best. Kia and Hyundai are excellent as well.

      Ford Sync is middling at best, and without Navigation it is subpar.

      Toyota and Lexus Entune is terrible, as is iDrive and any current Nissan/Infiniti console save the Frontier. It amazes me that luxury marques like Lexus and Infiniti dont put more money into cabin tech.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Yeah, it *baffles* me how bad the UX is on Toyota’s system in my parents’ high-trim Camry Hybrid (a few years old, but still).

        Likewise, when I test-drove a Crosstour a few years back, it’s like Honda wasn’t even *trying*.

        I realize car companies aren’t software companies, but they also need to realize that *they need to be*, or contract out to professionals.

        UX matters; it matters enough that sufficiently bad UX in the electronics will make me *pick a different car to buy*.

        Because if it makes me hate the car and maker every time I have to use it, I won’t buy.

  • avatar
    NoID

    If not for glitches/quality problems during roll-out of new model years I’d bet good money UConnect would have been at the top (bottom?) of the pile. I’m certainly biased, but it’s the best system I’ve used.

    On the flip side, Alfa’s is horrible.

    GM’s MyLink, at least the iterations I’ve used (refreshed 5th gen Camaro and Equinox, both rentals) is terrible. The only Ford I’ve driven in any recent memory was a rental 2016 Mustang, and it was my first use of Apple CarPlay. It is memorable only for its lack of evoking anything in my memory now as I reflect on it, so from that perspective I suppose it accomplished its mission.

    To double back…UConnect is hands down the best.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      Ford’s Sync 3 isn’t too bad (especially compared to the terrible MyFord Touch) but the graphical design of it is just so ugly and looks unfinished.

      Kia’s UVO is another one where I found it pretty good but it had a lot of weird ugliness to it. UConnect is hands down the best though.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    My 17 Z71 1500 W/T infotainment is frustrating to use to put it lightly. At night when you put the truck in reverse the backup camera on the screen lights up so bright it floods my view of the passenger side view mirror; very dangerous. The home screen (aside from looking like it was designed in 1987 with a MS Dos knock off is cluttered with useless apps that either don’t function (store which GM never bothered to finish designing apparently) and phone and messaging buttons that have no apparent use since I have an IPhone and it forces me into Apple car play.

    Ugghh, Apple car play then mutes every single time I check a text message and brings up Siri for some god forsaken reason. Of course then I get frustrated because I have to keep slamming my finger on the cancel button which won’t load for 45 seconds before finally resuming my song and my ability to use my phone. Rinse and Repeat 30 seconds later when I get a reply to my text message.

    Not even going to get into Toyota’s infotainment it makes the slow and outdated system in my Silverado look like a NASA control room. Even the one in the new updated Camry is only marginally better than the units GM introduced in 2004 and 2005.

    I’m okay with the MyLink in the SS other than it needs an additional 1GB of Ram to properly run smoothly. Oddly the MyLink setup looks light years newer than the CarPlay going into the newer GM products. Can’t explain that one.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      The (MyLink?) system GM put in my ’14 C7 Stingray Z51 is all kinds of terrible. The radio presets are down right painful to manage. I’m very tech savy and it still took me watching about 4 different YouTube videos to figure it out. Its doesn’t help that the screen is slow to respond and requires very deliberate presses to make things happen. I haven’t messed with the voice commands but once setup the best way to control things is thru the steering wheel buttons. Pairing my phone and making it work went smoothly, so that was a plus. Overall the system seems very outdated even when compared to my wife’s ’14 Infiniti Q60.

      GM’s audio system with the Bose Audio Pilot noise canceling is garbage too. My ’03 Nissan 350Z used a similar system (microphone plus subwoofer feedback) and apparently in the last 15 years they haven’t improved it at all.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        What was your deal with managing the radio presets just hold down the button when you find the station you like and it instantly saves it? It has 4 preset pages which I find unnecessary, however I haven’t found any issues with it. Kinda annoying when you change the volume and want to change the station at the same time. The radio is too slow to make the volume disappear to make the presets reappear.

        I’ve never used a system with the noise cancelling, (who wants to cancel the warm and inviting sounds of an LS3?) so I don’t have experience with that.

        I see everyone give big accolades to the newer GM setup with CarPlay, but honesty I think car play is more frustration than it’s worth. Having to cancel Siri everytime I get a text message drives me nutty on long drives when I need to put navigation through car play.

        • 0 avatar
          pb35

          MyLink in my SS is the only reason that I’m glad it’s gone (the SS, that is). My new car has Cue and I must say it’s loads better than MyLink! How’s that for faint praise?!

          You can set the number of preset pages in the settings, somewhere. I think I had mine set for 3.

          I had 2 Chargers before 2 SSs and I agree with the consensus that Uconnect is the best.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    The other issue aside from complexity is that things which don’t have anything to do with the car get counted as ‘issues’. My Galaxy Note 4 worked perfectly with my ’15 Hyundai Genesis streaming Pandora; when I switched to the Note 9 recently, I discovered that there’s a bug in Pandora when used with more recent Android versions which causes it to not connect to infotainment systems (of multiple flavors) correctly. Anyone who already had a recent phone and got a new car would report that the car’s connection to the phone doesn’t work, even though it has nothing to do with the car.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Ah, so that’s the issue with Pandora. It only works occasionally with Sync3 and my Galaxy S9. I assumed it was the car, rather than the phone. I find just using it through bluetooth is easier.

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        TMA1, if Pandora won’t connect, you can nudge it into doing so by going to the advanced options and toggling ‘auto connect to car’s (or similar) off and on, and then reconnecting. It’s a PITA but it works temporarily. Lately mine updated and seems to work between phone restarts as long as you do the toggle thing first; previously you had to do it every time the car started.

        It’s quite frustrating; I’d really like to know more about how a bug like this manages to occur and then persist…

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          Thanks, that worked for me in the past, but became less effective when I bought the new phone. Bluetooth is fine, the only thing I seem to lose is the thumbs up/down ability.

          Everything works fine when use Android Auto, except I lose the ability to use my factory navigation system, which is a bit more graphically useful than Waze.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I noticed today that Pandora issued an update to work better with Apple iOS-12 on our devices.

      I did the upgrade but noticed no difference.

      Maybe Pandora has/or will have an upgrade to work better with Android.

      In the past we found that a new Samsung phone version of Android often would not work on our older Samsung phones, thereby rendering them obsolete.

      Not so with iOS-12. I did the upgrade on all our phones and iPads, and it runs on all of them.

  • avatar
    raph

    Whelp like a Tesla head you dont send and IQS questionnaire out to brand nutswingers like pony car guys. They are just too invested in the product to get a real world answer.

    If somebody is doing an IQS survey they are probably better off contacting people who drive rental cars or owners who just buy transportation.

    The problem with the nutswingers are we will live and make excuses for otherwise glaring design flaws or exaggerate the issue if we feel it hasn’t lived up to whatever standard we impose.

    Rare is the nutswinger that can admit they are a brand whore and offer objective analysis

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Considering my recent experiences with FCA, Ford, GM and Hyundai systems of late, I’m really surprised by JDPowers’ conclusions; I disagree with all of them, particularly the Fords. Overly complex, in no way intuitive… the Fords have to be the WORST of the worst, though maybe they’re reasonably good once you get them working. The FCA uConnect by comparison is one of the easiest to use. The Hyundai was ‘blah’ and the GM seemed pretty good (I’m buying a ’19 Colorado, so I get to experience that one long-term.)

    I do agree, however, that anything that’s dependent on a smart phone for operation should not be blamed on the car but rather on the operating system of the phone.

    • 0 avatar
      RSF

      The Sync 3 system in my F150 has been perfect in the two years I’ve owned the truck. Android Auto is flawless with my Pixel phone. It’s also easy to use and responds instantly. Not sure what else I would want.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Ford’s have to be the WORST according to you. Shocker. I bet according to EcoBoostFlex, too.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I and my parents both have always had bad luck with any Fords we’ve owned, so their reputation for me goes back a long ways. Most of them were purchased brand new. GM has always been better but their decisions in the ’90s and ’00s pushed me away to FCA. I’ve been happy with FCA but they just don’t make the truck I need (or want), so I’m going back to GM for that.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        Oh Johnny boy. You’re so bitter.

        Please go outside, take your SSRIs, maybe get a job. It will help you immensely.

        And for the record, uConnect has and always will blow Ford’s infotainment out of the water. Just the facts cupcake.

  • avatar
    forward_look

    I haven’t gotten any rental car nav system to work right without spending an hour reading the manual, and my phone works fine. Sometimes I can’t even get the radio to work.

    • 0 avatar
      Eliyahu

      My most recent rental was a Hyundai Tucson. Plugged in my iPhone, paired it, and it worked pretty well. This was the first time I’ve bothered to try and connect the phone to any rental car, so I was impressed with the ease of use once it was connected.

      As to JD Power, they should get an award on their business model. It works, even if the ACEN doesn’t.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    JD Power, an authority on pretty much

    nothing.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I’m happy just mounting my phone to the dash and and let it do it’s thing. I’m considering AA to get a bigger screen and get a backup camera, but I’m not totally convinced yet.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    NVM who’s the best…tell me who’s the worst so I can avoid them!

  • avatar
    Groovypippin

    JD Power and Associates is making even less sense than they normally do here. Most brands have pretty much an identical infotainment system in every vehicle they sell (with a few exceptions). So why are these rankings done on a per car basis? If a brand has the same system in every or most models that they sell and the number of complaints is wildly different from vehicle to vehicle, doesn’t that tell you that that the statistics are utter crap? It should.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    The infotainment system, like the glovebox door, should NOT be something we focus on, write lengthy articles on, etc.

    It should be invisible to the user, doing what it’s supposed to be doing while the user drives the freaking car.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I’ll safely file all this in my “who gives a rats @$$” folder.

  • avatar
    Shawnski

    Sync3/Shaker in my GT350 is easy and it cranks. Very American; honest and in your face. My wife’s X5 Idrive/Harmon Karden on the other hand, while beautiful to behold with good understated sound, is NASA complicated and fussy especially Apple Play.

  • avatar
    W210Driver

    When I read the headline “best infotainment systems”, I expected to read a detailed report on the ease-of-use, features and so forth to determine which manufacturer offers the most intuitive and user-friendly system which can rightly be awarded a prize.

    Instead, JD Losers delivers some puzzling infotainment reliability slugfest and picks the winners based on the lowest amount of problems. This report tells me absolutely nothing.

    Another reason to avoid JD Powers…

  • avatar

    Trust me Sync is the mess everyone says it is. The Bluetooth setting were off again in my 2014 Fusion. I had to reset everything again.

    Ford – what a disgrace!

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I’ve got 2 versions of sync equipped vehicles and I have no beef with them. I prefer u-connect (I get it in rentals frequently) but both bas sync and sync 3 have been perfectly fine. Therefore you are wrong…everyone didn’t say it was a mess.

      My you connect beef is that FCA seems to be stingy with steering wheel controls…lots of my rentals don’t have em, but it’s a minor beef.

      Best infotainment I own honors goes to my Alpine cassette deck in my golf cart

      • 0 avatar
        MLS

        Perhaps you haven’t noticed: Chrysler typically positions audio controls on the back of the steering wheel. Keeps the front relatively uncluttered with just the cruise control, phone, and gauge cluster info screen buttons.

    • 0 avatar
      MLS

      Are you a bot?

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    My 2014 Sync – no touchscreen – is not intuitive but it is fairly reliable.

    I do get annoyed that it defaults to radio on every start up, not my USB MP3s. And sometimes – rarely – Bluetooth just doesn’t work.

    My 2012 Countryman was more robust and little simpler to figure out – again, no touchscreen.

    I was just happy to buy a newer car without a touchscreen.

  • avatar
    TheEndlessEnigma

    I travel a lot for my job and rent a lot of cars, from many different manufacturers. The Ford Synch3 is still the best one out there. While other systems my “look” better, the Ford system does a much better job than anything else out there doing what is necessary, controlling car system, running nav and connecting (Bluetooth or USB cable) your phone/tablet/etc device.

    The GM system requires you to interact with Onstar, the Chrysler system is clunky and imprecise and other systems from non-premium brands are also rans. When it comes to voice interaction I have to give the lead to the Ford system, it tends to do a significantly better job at properly reacting to voice prompts and has a very good voice reproduction that is easy to understand.

    Just my opinion.

  • avatar
    MBella

    What’s killing infotainment reliability are the phone interfaces. The phones update too frequently and the auto manufacturers can’t keep up. It seems like every major phone update will prevent Android auto from working correctly. Then the customer blames the car. I started having issues in my Silverado. I thought it was the truck. Then I got a company car from my employer’s brand and it had the same issue. A few months later, another major phone update and it started working.

    While I’m not a BMW fan, I give them credit for retaining the control knob. I hate touch controls in cars because you have to look at what you’re doing. With the knob, it’s detents allow for use without looking at the screen. I know most people like the touchscreens, so I’m happy they give you multiple options.

    • 0 avatar
      Groovypippin

      +1 – People get made at their infotainment systems when they should be getting made at smartphone operating system upgrades that cause a massive slew of problems.

  • avatar
    Ion

    Realistically I have SYNC3 in my 16. After the first update and swapping in the upgraded USB ports I mainly use apple carplay. The 18’s would have CarPlay standard so that’s probably what’s scoring them so high. That said sync3 is better and faster than the Microsoft Sync I had in my 13.


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