What is infotainment?

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

James Wilson
Apr 17, 2019

Infotainment is a portmanteau, so understanding what it means is as simple as deconstructing it. The result, we find it stands for a combination of information and entertainment.

Applied to cars this means an infotainment system is something which encompasses features such as sat-nav, fuel economy, phone connectivity and increasingly, a car’s performance settings.

Modern systems tend to be predominantly touchscreen (but that isn’t a requisite) supported by combinations of buttons, trackpads, control wheels and even hand gestures. The reason for all this support is it only takes a few lumps and bumps in the road to make trying to use a touchscreen infuriating and a sure-fire way to draw your eyes from the road.

Common features of infotainment systems

Some manufacturers like Mini and Ford offer systems that will read out text messages that you receive or even Facebook updates. You've got the option of replying or liking the updates by dictation, using voice control

Some infotainment systems recognise phone-pairing services such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which replicate your phone's display on the dashboard, so you can operate your phone easily. It also means you can use apps such as Spotify and Waze when driving.

Infotainment screens

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

Moving away from the entertainment side, the amount of information a car will tell you these days is incredible. As mentioned above you can see and alter certain performance characteristics of a vehicle. Such as how firm the suspension is, allowing you to have soft 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.

Depending on the system, you will also be able to see data such as your MPG, how far you can drive until empty, whether your tyres need more air and the number of miles until your next service.

Controlling infotainment screens

Navigating through all the features listed above is no easy feat. Car makers 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.

Other systems, use trackpads, gesture control, buttons and in Lexus’ case, a mouse-like design.


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