CARS.COM — Forget about fuel economy, acceleration times or reliability. What many new-car shoppers want to know is if they'll be able to integrate their smartphone with a car's multimedia system.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which allow operation of smartphone apps for navigation, text messaging and music through their car's dashboard touch-screen, steering-wheel buttons or voice commands, have rapidly become must-have features for many in the market for a new vehicle.
Related: Which 2017 Cars Have Android Auto?
The auto industry is racing to keep up with the growing demand. Less than a year ago, fewer than 50 vehicles were offering one or both, or were scheduled to. For the 2017 model year, the list has grown to more than 100, and more announcements are expected in the coming months.
General Motors now offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on 30 models. Ford wasn't even on the list a year ago, but for the 2017 model year, it becomes the first full-line vehicle manufacturer to offer CarPlay and Android Auto on every vehicle line it sells (Ford and Lincoln brands).
Android devices dominate the U.S. smartphone market, but more 2017 vehicles will be available with CarPlay than with Android Auto. BMW and Porsche will offer CarPlay on most of their models, but so far neither has announced plans to add Android Auto. Mercedes-Benz offers both systems on most models, but you can only get CarPlay on the GLS-Class and SL-Class. The Nissan Maxima also has CarPlay only for 2017.
Stay tuned, though, because automakers will continue to add vehicles that offer one or both systems during the current model year and beyond.
Don't hold your breath waiting for Toyota to join the crowd. Toyota is following its own path and doesn't intend to offer CarPlay or Android Auto. Instead, it is developing its own system and currently offers Scout GPS Link, which allows integrating a smartphone navigation app with the vehicle multimedia system, on several Toyota and Lexus models.
The ability to seamlessly integrate smartphone apps with a car's multimedia system answers a crying need from millions who rely heavily on their handheld device for many, if not all, of their communication, navigation and infotainment needs.
Here's a reality check: Everyone may not be fully satisfied by current versions of CarPlay, so don't count on every app working equally well in the car as it does on the phone alone. CarPlay works basically the same on all vehicles, but each manufacturer has different multimedia systems with different controls and displays, so what you see and get might vary.
That is why it remains imperative to find out before you buy a car how well your phone and apps will work with that car. Try it out before you buy.
Shoppers also should be aware that CarPlay may not be available on every version of a vehicle that offers it. For example, you can't get it on the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu L trim, which is the base model, and Kia makes it available only on models with the UVO multimedia system, a feature reserved for more-expensive models. Though Ford offers it on all of its vehicles, it also requires the Sync 3 infotainment system, which is optional on many models and not available on some.
One final caution: The list of vehicles that will offer CarPlay for 2017 is based on information obtained from the vehicle manufacturers in September 2016. The rollout over the past two years hasn't always been on time, so it is possible that availability could be delayed on some models until later in the model year or even until the 2018 model year.
Editor's note: This story will be updated as 2017 model information is released.