Cars, the technology that shaped the 20th century, must get along with the personal electronics that are building this century. But it's a titanic struggle, and there are vehicles that make a more valiant effort to cope with the new tech reality than others.
These are those vehicles. We've chosen the 10 that advance the art of in-cabin technology. Some make the list because of their advanced capabilities, while others push the art of the interface to new levels.
Best Overall: Audi A8 (From $72,200)
Technology is the ultimate luxury for large flagship sedans like Audi's A8 and more powerful S8. Onboard WiFi is the latest, so it's part of the Audi Connect system in Audi's biggest car. Up to eight devices can hook up to the A8's password-protected WiFi network that plumbs into the Internet using a high-speed LTE connection.
So hand each of your kiddies an iPad and waft along serenely while they narcotize themselves with YouTube videos. The media interface is also impressive and includes Google Earth real-world navigation graphics and Google Voice Local Search to help you hunt out travel resources.
Most Engaging: Ford Focus Electric (From $39,200)
Ford's modified version of its Sync media interface and MyFord Mobile app for the new Focus Electric is structured for the electron hoarder. The "emotive" instrumentation sprouts butterflies when the vehicle is driven virtuously and the regenerative braking system is used efficiently, while communication between the car and smartphone updates the state of the battery charge. It also locates the car and nearby charging stations, aids in route planning, presets interior temperatures so it can warm while hooked to a power source, and generates driving efficiency profiles.
Best All Electric: Tesla Model S (From $94,000)
Tesla's advantage is that it has so little experience building cars that it didn't know what it couldn't do. So the all-electric Model S sedan features a massive 17-inch central touchscreen in its dash that allows access not only to the car's functions but a direct, full connection to the Internet. That includes video display even while the car is in motion: something never available from established manufacturers. Of course the Tesla Model S system will take media from smartphones or other media players through Bluetooth and two USB connections, but it's that screen that makes everything so usable.
Best for Mom: Infiniti JX35 (From $41,250)
Infiniti's JX35 crossover vehicle is available with "Infiniti Connection" tech that shoots information about the vehicle to most smartphones through a dedicated app. And beyond that, it syncs with Google calendar so that information (soccer games, piano lessons, Pilates classes and happy hour at Mel's) can be accessed through the vehicle's central information screen. Throw in the optional and spectacular "Around View Monitor" that uses four cameras to generate a 360-degree mosaic of what's surrounding the vehicle and running a family becomes easy. Well, easier.
Best Road Tripper: Honda Odyssey (From $28,675)
Of all the minivans, only the Odyssey features an HDMI port in its available onboard video system. That means a Blu-Ray player or other video-streaming device can be brought aboard and played over the Odyssey's overhead 16.2-inch display. And there's a 115-volt two-prong plug at the third-row seat to actually power such devices, too. One other neat trick: The viewing screen can be split to display video from both the van's DVD player and the outside source. That's almost too much entertainment.
Best Family Sedan: Toyota Avalon (From $30,990)
The new 2013 Avalon sedan is available with the full-featured version of Toyota's Entune suite of onboard applications that display data retrieved by smartphones on a large screen in the car's dash: from apps that include those for Movietickets.com, Bing, Open Table and Pandora. Yes, all the usual technology connections are also available, but one of the best things the Avalon has going for it is the "eBin" that's forward of the shifter on the center console. It's a nook for a smartphone that includes a grippy rubberized surface. That's something simple that keeps the cupholders open for, like, cups.
Best Luxury Sedan: Lexus LS 460 (From $71,990)
The LS 460 is Lexus' biggest sedan and it carries the biggest LCD screen, too: a 12.3-inch expanse that can simultaneously display both navigation and entertainment system statuses. Real estate counts and this is a big lot. Among the information that can be displayed on that big screen are elements of the standard "Enform App Suite" that include iHeartRadio, Yelp and Facebook. All those apps pump in their information through a smartphone, and then the LS 460's elegant joystick-style controller makes it easy to use all those apps without distracting the driver excessively.
Best Value: Scion TC (From $19,480)
As in every Scion, the TC's onboard entertainment system fills a dual-DIN hole in the dashboard. And while the standard Pioneer-branded head unit may not be cutting-edge, it does the simple things well: Bluetooth audio, HD Radio and iPod integration through USB. Plus, since you can rename the unit for Bluetooth reasons, there won't be confusion should there be multiple Toyotas or Scions in the family. But it's that standard dual-DIN rack that can be filled with all sorts of equipment without gouging the dashboard or disentangling a complex factory head unit that makes it best for roll-your-own tech fiends.
Best Workhorse: Ford Super Duty (From $29,875)
Ford's Super Duty pickups are built to work, and that means they must accept the electronics of a mobile office. There are dozens of different cab configurations in this truck line, but most include center consoles large enough for laptops or hanging files. And any device can be plugged in using a conventional 110-volt/150-watt two-prong plug inside the center console or two 12-volt power-points. On trucks equipped with the Ford Sync media system, there's another two-prong plug on the dash. Also available is a configurable LCD Productivity Screen on the dash that monitors fuel economy, towing performance and drivetrain operation.
Most Controversial: Cadillac ATS (From $33,095)
Cadillac's new ATS small sedan has virtues beyond its polarizing Cadillac User Experience (CUE) media interface that strives to work like an iPad... and it needs them. CUE is built around a LCD touchscreen in the center of the dashboard that links to a smartphone through Bluetooth. Proximity detection sensors in the CUE system let less frequently used commands fade on screen in the context of how the system is being used at any one time. If you like the iPad, CUE can seem intuitive. Others have found CUE frustrating. But not-for-everybody can mean perfect-for-you.
- Technology & Electronics