What is infotainment?

Infotainment explained: sat-nav, hands-free phone and radio in one

BuyaCar team
Apr 26, 2021

If you've ever read a car review, chances are you'll have come across the word 'infotainment', and you may have wondered what it means. Well, the word itself is a mash up of the words 'information' and 'entertainment' and is broadly used to describe any form of user-interface present inside a car.

This could be the car's radio, a sat-nav or any other device or screen used to display all manner of useful information about your car such as fuel economy or even what's behind you when you're reversing. The most common format for a car's infotainment these days is a touchscreen, but there are other examples which make use of touchpads or fancy scroll wheels or even voice control.

Quite why it's referred to as 'infotainment' is a bit of a mystery, as there's nothing overly entertaining about what it offers, so here at BuyaCar we tend to refer to any onboard software as a media system or media display. But, for the sake of this article, we'll continue to refer to it as good-old infotainment.

Common features of infotainment systems

Alongside the most common infotainment features such as sat-nav and radio, some manufacturers like Mini and Ford offer systems that will read out text messages that you receive or even Facebook updates. With that you're given the option of replying or liking the updates by dictation, using voice control.

There are also good number of infotainment systems that recognise phone-pairing services such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which cast your smartphone's display onto the dashboard, so you can operate your phone easily and legally through the car's display. It also means you can use apps such as Spotify and Waze when driving.

Infotainment screens

Screen size and resolution differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, but naturally, the more you spend, the bigger, better and brighter a display you will generally get.

Moving away from the 'entertainment' side, the amount of information readily available to the driver is quite extraordinary really. Trip computers will analyse fuel consumption, while the numerous on-board sensors will measure type pressures to spot any punctures or general deflation, and provide useful updates on yours car's general health, alerting you to any problems that may arise. It will also remind you when a scheduled service is due.

As mentioned above, some systems will also allow you to also alter certain performance characteristics of your car, too. In more upmarket models, you'll have a range of driving modes to choose from, and through these you can modify things about your car such as how firm the suspension is. This means you can personalise the feel of your car depending on your mood, with soft and comfy settings for cruising down a motorway, yet firmer, sporty suspension for when you decide to have a little fun on a twisty road.

Likewise, there are settings for how a car’s engine will perform. Meaning you can select a lower power mode when you are driving at slow speeds, for example in town. When the going gets fast, you can then move up to a more potent mode.

Controlling infotainment screens

Navigating through all the features listed above is no easy feat. Carmakers have come up with many different ways to make it easy for motorists to use, one of the best systems is BMW’s iDrive (as shown below) being one of the best on offer. It uses a rotating knob to help move through the system. Mazda also used a rotary control system. Other systems, use track pads, gesture control, buttons and in Lexus’ case, a mouse-like design.

But one element of infotainment that has become so widespread is the touchscreen. Even many of the cheapest hatchbacks on sale can be equipped with a touchscreen on the dashboard. Not all touchscreens are made equal, though, and many of the less expensive versions can be unresponsive and difficult to navigate without constantly looking down at what you're doing, which is not ideal when you ought to be focused on the road.


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