CARS.COM — Smartphones and tablets have changed the way we live. They've also changed the type of technology automakers put in their newest cars and SUVs.
As part of Cars.com's 2017 Three-Row SUV Challenge, we ranked each model's multimedia system. But in this story, we dive deeper to see which SUV best serves the overall needs of the connected families that purchase them — and the results are a little different. A clear favorite emerged during a day spent evaluating multimedia systems, counting USB ports and pairing phones. Here's how they ranked:
4. 2017 Toyota Highlander
While the Highlander has thoughtful storage areas for portable devices, like a dashboard tray with an integrated cord organizer and a huge center console bin that's big enough for a tablet, it's lacking an important feature all the other SUVs in this test had: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. Toyota has steadfastly refused to add this technology to its lineup even as it's proliferated across other brands. The Highlander's five USB ports, one of which provides a data connection with the multimedia system, put it mid-pack among competitors' USB port count in our test.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
From its impressive screen clarity to its overall ease of use, we were really impressed with the Atlas' touchscreen multimedia system — and the high judges' scores bear that out. We also liked the deep phone bin where the dashboard and center console meet. The Atlas has two USB data ports, and the multimedia system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. But there are just two additional USB charging ports in the second row, giving our Atlas four USB ports in all, the fewest of the SUVs in this test.
2. 2017 Honda Pilot
The Pilot's touchscreen multimedia system is harder to use than the others because of its overreliance on touch-sensitive controls, but the system offers a good level of connectivity, with three USB ports in front — one of which is a data port — and two additional USB ports in the second row for a total of five in all. The system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the Pilot's massive covered center console bin is perfect for storing portable devices out of sight.
The Pilot was also the only SUV in our comparison that had standard rear-seat entertainment. The system has a 9-inch screen, wireless headphones and plays Blu-ray discs. It also has an HDMI port, so your kids' Xbox One can be a mobile device, too.
1. 2018 Chevrolet Traverse
The Traverse offered the best personal-device connectivity. It had seven USB ports scattered throughout all three rows of seats, and three of them support data transfer with the multimedia system. One of the ports is located behind the system's available 8-inch touchscreen; press a button on the dashboard and the screen slides up to reveal a hidden storage area. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is included, too.
The sheer number of ports and plugs might have been enough by themselves to give the Traverse the win, but in addition to keeping your devices charged, Chevrolet also aims to keep them connected while they're away from your home network. Standard 4G LTE connectivity with a Wi-Fi hot spot provides internet access on the road for up to seven devices and includes a 3-gigabyte/three-month trial, after which an AT&T data plan is required.