By David Thomas on February 19, 2013
There is nothing that can salvage a brutal commute to work like a good "shuffle" from your iPod. It can be even better when piped through a great car stereo. And lately vehicle multimedia systems let you view album artwork and change tracks by using voice commands.
The 2013 Dodge Dart I recently tested surprised me with just how good even a compact sedan can sound today.
Everything I could throw at it from my digital music collection sounded robust, whether it was punk rock, heavy metal or alt-country. Even more surprising is that this six-speaker system is standard in all trims from the $18,790 SXT up to the $20,790 Limited model I drove. Both prices include the $795 destination charge. The 8.4-inch Uconnect display with navigation is a reasonable $495 option.
There were two tiny flaws that drove me nuts, though.
The Uconnect system uses Gracenote, a technology that reads music and attaches data to it. The problem is Gracenote overwrites the data you have on your device, like album covers. So for a majority of my music — I have somewhat eclectic tastes but it's not like I'm listening to avant-garde jazz — no album covers show up on that dazzling display.
Then there's the most atrocious Gracenote atrocity. It cuts off the final three seconds of every song when you're listening to a list of songs via shuffle or even alphabetically. Some songs naturally fade at the end, but a three-minute punk song could pack a lot into the final three seconds.
For the rest of the songs' elapsed time I was in aural heaven, at least for a rock 'n' roll fan.
I tested the similarly sized 2013 Buick Verano the next day. It featured a nine-speaker Bose system, which is standard on higher trim levels like the 1ST I sampled ($29,105, not including the $885 destination charge). The difference in sound quality was stark.
The Bose system made metal band Pantera sound gutless. My favorite kick-you-in-the-pants Rancid track — "Lock, Step and Gone" — sounded listless. Don't even get me started on how Pearl Jam was treated. Turning the bass levels up didn't do much to help things.
The only tracks that did resonate in the Bose system were softer, acoustic-driven songs like something from Wilco's last album. But those sounded terrific in the Dart, too.
However, the Buick's MyLink multimedia system — that also uses Gracenote — didn't mess with my album artwork and certainly didn't cut off the last three seconds of each track.
If Dodge can fix Gracenote in its system it will indeed be perfect.
Update: To be fair and balanced, last night I tested a new 2013 Toyota Avalon. It did not display a single piece of album artwork from my iPhone.
*Editor's Note: I tested both systems using the custom equalizer setting with bass, midrange and treble set identically.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David