Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, parent company of seven U.S. brands — Alfa Romeo, Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati and Ram — has unveiled the latest version of its popular Uconnect multimedia system, dubbed Uconnect 5. The system will debut later this year on a new model-year 2021 vehicle. Like most new multimedia systems, Uconnect 5 promises a faster, easier-to-use experience thanks to upgraded processing power and display technology, plus a more robust operating system. We already like Uconnect 4 a lot, having declared it one of the best systems on the market. Has FCA messed up a good thing? No, it hasn’t. We got to spend some brief time with the new system, and it’s safe to say Uconnect 5 is even better than the outgoing system.
Uconnect 5 promises speeds up to five times faster than the current system thanks to a combination of streamlined software and boosted processing power. But the jump in computational ability will drive some new features as well, with a major focus on the ability to customize things. It starts with an all-new home screen, something Uconnect hasn’t had in quite some time, but it’s a card-based home screen that’s configurable in multiple ways, depending on how you want information presented.
“Our aim was to enable all functions to be done with no more than two touches of the screen, and most functions we’re trying to get to with just one touch,” said Vince Galante, FCA’s Uconnect design chief for user experience.
In addition to the new home screen, now you can customize up to six different profiles, including a valet profile, that’s switchable with just one touch. Profiles include both music and vehicle operation, with things like climate control, seat positioning, mirror adjustments and audio settings.
Other new features include SiriusXM satellite radio’s 360L service, which allows for personalized stations and settings. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are still available, but now you can connect wirelessly through the system — making FCA among just a handful of automakers with wireless Apple CarPlay and among the first to launch wireless Android Auto. You can also connect to two devices at once, switching between them with the touch of a button. Do you have Amazon Alexa connectivity at home? Well, now you can have it in your FCA product too, with full Alexa integration allowing home-to-car and car-to-home control for both the vehicle’s systems and home automation.
If you prefer to use FCA’s onboard navigation system instead of something off your smartphone, that gets an upgrade too, with new TomTom maps upgradable via over-the-air updates. The system will also include TomTom live traffic updates, plus connected and electric-vehicle services. New voice-recognition technology brings more natural, conversational tones to requests and controls.
How It Looks
But what everyone will want to know, given the positive reception for FCA’s Uconnect, is how the changes affect usability and design. I’m happy to say that this shouldn’t be an issue at all: The new format and layout are still similar enough to the current system that Uconnect’s familiar usability hasn’t been impacted. In fact, our first impression is that it’s only improved thanks to the new customization abilities. Taking cues from smartphones, where users reconfigure screens to maximize utility with shortcuts, apps and arrangements they find easiest to use, Uconnect 5 looks to be even more intuitive and user-friendly without getting a little too Big Brother — territory in which we fear Ford’s new Sync 4 system may encroach. We’ll reserve final judgement until we can try it in a vehicle later this year, but initial impressions are good.
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