The newest BMWs have this function that makes my geek heart happy. Foot on the brake, you hit the start/stop button, and the infotainment system—that big screen in the center of the dashboard—becomes a tiny version of your phone, condensed down to the half-dozen or so apps you need while driving.
You don’t even have to take your phone out of your pocket or purse, because, unlike most other cars with Apple CarPlay, BMW’s system connects over Wi-Fi. It’s brilliant, borderline dystopian convenience.
CarPlay, in any form, makes the default menu systems in every modern car feel obtuse and lethargic. Even in $100,000-plus models, it can take several taps to find the A/C, and you’ll have to wait three beats for the next screen to load.
Besides, CarPlay is arguably safer than mounting your phone on the windshield or dash, because the software blocks the stuff that you shouldn’t use while driving. If you tap on Messages, you can select a text convo. But if the car is moving, the screen won’t show the actual text. It reads them to you, then asks if you’d like to dictate a response. (Yeah, voice-to-text is still fallible, but it’s good enough to curb my texting-at-stoplights habit.) It’s worth checking the option if you’re buying new, or paying $300 for an aftermarket system.
Count me among the remaining few who consider it a joy to drive really far on an unfamiliar route. I like the existential simplicity of having no responsibility except to keep going. (One thing our auto editor told me: Never get off an exit that has A and B ramps. Those roads are either divided or super busy, and thus obnoxious when you’re trying to get back on the highway. Look for the really tall gas station signs, which are right next to the highway).
CarPlay preserves all the best parts of driving, but adds just enough functionality to satisfy the modern parts of our brains that have grown accustomed to being able to know exactly where we are on a map, or instantly listen to any song ever made ever. It’s a functional balance that no other car system has ever really beat.
The Tesla software update that gives us sci-fi-grade Level 4 autonomy is still far away. Until that’s ready, this is how I’ll drive.