Detroit Free Press
Published 2:29 PM EDT Sep 21, 2019
The editors at WardsAuto have published their list of 10 new vehicles delivering the best “user experience” — a combination of driver assistance, smart phone connectivity, voice recognition and controls — and that list includes vehicles from Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes, Lexus, Range Rover, Subaru and Volkswagen.
“We’re seeing new approaches to questions that have plagued the auto industry for years,” WardsAuto managing editor Tom Murphy said. Wards evaluated 23 vehicles — all either new, or with substantially new systems.
Automakers from the U.S., Germany, Japan and Korea and vehicles priced from $40,705 to $101,095 made the list. Wards’s editors evaluate the vehicles in multidriver road tests.
German brands’ strong performance is particularly noteworthy. For years, Audi, BMW and Mercedes relied on cumbersome rotary controllers. Those controls remain in some vehicles, but German brands have added user-friendly touch screens and voice recognition.
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On the other hand, lane departure assist and lane centering features remain a sore spot for many vehicles.
“Some keep you centered, some do the drunk weave from one side of the lane to the other,” Murphy said.
A recent J.D. Power survey also singled out lane departure systems for criticism, saying that 23% of customers complain the systems are “annoying or bothersome.”
Here are Wards’ 10 best vehicle user experiences, with comments by the judges:
Audi A8 luxury sedan
$101,095 as tested.
“An overall user experience that is high-tech, intuitive, visually stunning and luxurious.
“The A8 is loaded with elements that surprise and delight, from the adjustable rear seats in the limousine-like second row, first-rate driver assistance technology and illuminated seat belt buckles to the always impressive Virtual Cockpit reconfigurable gauge cluster, manageable dual touchscreens and the nifty sliding electronic vent controls that also provide haptic feedback.”
BMW 330i sport sedan
$59,920 as tested.
“The Bavarian design team manages each year to move the UX bar a little higher.”
“Impresses at engine startup with light bars that sweep across the display screen reinforcing the BMW brand logo. Phone pairing is lighting fast, and voice controls work quickly and flawlessly, even with natural speech commands.”
Chevrolet Blazer SUV
$50,765 as tested.
“The Blazer’s DNA is closely linked to the Chevy Camaro sports car, and the connection is evident in its unique HVAC delivery where a twist of the oversized vents adjusts the temperature and fan speed.”
“Wards judges were smitten with the latest Chevy infotainment system, which includes a new marketplace app for mobile shopping and has excellent natural language recognition. The 8-inch (20-cm) high-definition touchscreen is set high on the dash to reduce glance time away from the roadway and its big icons are easy to see.”
$61,330 as tested.
“Ford steps up its user experience in the redesigned Explorer utility vehicle with a new 10.1-inch (26-cm) vertically oriented LCD tablet touchscreen atop the center stack for navigating myriad infotainment offerings.”
“Phone pairing is fast, charging ports are plentiful, driver assistance technologies work well, and response time to voice and physical commands is quick.”
$47,605 as tested.
The 2020 Palisade has “near-luxury trappings, loads of connectivity and a strong suite of standard safety items.”
“The Palisade’s lane-centering technology works especially well, too, and its (adaptive cruise control) offers four gap settings instead of the typical three.
“Then there is the outstanding value of a safety-laden, three-row, family-hauling SUV for under $50,000 to make the Palisade accessible to a wide audience of buyers”
$51,750 as tested.
“The large, horizontal display screen … seems to hover above the instrument panel, in clear view of the driver, and the head-up display is vibrant and colorful, with turn-by-turn navigation directions if desired.
Wards praised the adaptive cruise control “for its smooth acceleration and braking. The RX even keeps sight of the road through odd construction-zone lane markings, and the lane-keeping system does its job effectively without nannying the driver.”
$51,925 as tested.
“The lead product for the groundbreaking Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX, and the technology is an all-star performer underpinned by two, 10.25-in. (26-cm) displays that create a stunning widescreen cockpit.
“Artificial intelligence drives natural language processing activated by simply asking, ‘Hey, Mercedes.’ Artificial intelligence adapts the car to fit the preferences of individual users.
“Wards judges discovered the A220 isn’t just intelligent, it’s downright genius.”
Range Rover Evoque
$59,215 as tested.
“The Land Rover logo appears in the head-up display and main infotainment screen; available Wi-Fi keeps occupants connected; the navigation within the dual-screen Touch Pro Duo infotainment center provides up-to-date traffic and weather.
“Judges also enjoyed the convenience of the Activity Key wearable. While not new to Jaguar Land Rover products, the RFID-based technology is an all-weather wrist band owners can use to lock and unlock the Evoque in place of their key fob.”
$40,705 as tested.
“The Outback receives an all-new version of the Starlink multimedia system with a tablet-shaped 11.6-in. (29-cm) high-resolution touchscreen conveniently uniting items such as audio, HVAC and controls for the car’s X-Mode driving dynamics.”
“Subaru’s marvelous EyeSight Driver Assist Technology keeps track of traffic movement, operates ACC and helps drivers stay in their lane. EyeSight also helps reduce or avoid frontal crashes with pre-collision braking, and it can perform pre-collision throttle management to slow the hatchback if it anticipates a crash.”
$44,055 as tested.
“The app-rich Car-Net system that puts VW squarely in the connectivity game. Car-Net allows drivers to run some apps from their smartphones directly to the infotainment system and also will connect to an Apple watch.
“Judges appreciate the proximity-sensing touchscreen that illuminates controls as your hand approaches the screen. The result is a center screen that keeps clutter to a minimum but allows instant access to controls when you need them.”
Contact Mark Phelan at 313-222-6731 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan. Read more on autos and sign up for our autos newsletter.