It's nearly impossible to drive our long-term Dodge Charger and not interact with the huge 8.4-inch touchscreen, and yet we've hardly touched on the car's infotainment technology in previous monthly updates. Perhaps that's because the Uconnect system, which manages the stereo, heated seats, climate controls, navigation, Bluetooth, and backup camera, works so well. The controls are intuitive, displays are legible, and common procedures are logical and straightforward.
The user-friendly approach is a welcome respite from systems that pack more features into the same or smaller touchscreen real estate. Maybe it's the fact that Dodge rolled out its Uconnect system without the braggadocio of Ford and General Motors; maybe it's because the designers put simplicity and usability ahead of seldom-used, gimmicky features. Or maybe it's just a better product than the competition. Whatever the explanation is, our staff has taken to the Charger's Uconnect system and its 8.4-inch touchscreen with near-universal praise. Chief among our compliments is that the Charger strikes the perfect balance of functional buttons and knobs for critical tasks with the sleek minimalism of a touchscreen interface. We also like the large on-screen buttons and the clear (though not particularly crisp) graphics. Most of all, we love that the Charger's Uconnect system eschews the pretentions and problems of MyFord Touch and Cadillac's Cue and simply works. The folks at Ford and GM would be wise to study Chrysler's Uconnect system.
The one obvious outlier in the system is the Garmin navigation with its goofy, gigantic icons and visibly slow graphic refresh rates. There are times when you are left waiting for the roads to appear as you cover ground faster than the processor can keep up. (Chrysler has introduced faster and more attractive non-Garmin navigation software in the 2013 Ram 1500.) While the staff had written off the navigation system as merely adequate, new insights in September had us rethinking what we'd previously dismissed. When senior web editor Phil Floraday's wife got behind the wheel, she came away with the opposite conclusion of virtually every staffer. "She loved the Garmin interface because it's exactly what she has in a portable nav for her Subaru," Floraday said. "There's no complex address input method to figure out and the graphics were familiar."
Road test editor Christopher Nelson -- as much of a Luddite as any 23-year-old can be -- also expressed a liking for the navigation system. While he holds no strong feelings for the familiar Garmin graphics, he does favor its ease of use. "Typing a location into the navigation is as easy as typing," he said. "With no cursor or knob to cycle through letters and numbers, I can enter an address into this navigation system faster than I can in most of the cars that pass through here. Credit the large screen and the on-screen keyboard."
At the opposite end of the technology spectrum, power user and associate web editor Ben Timmins marveled at Uconnect's ability to keep up with his social life. "Our Charger's Bluetooth system is one of the few systems I've ever used that understands how call waiting worked. I deftly switched from one phone call to the other, hung up on one, and switched back to the other with nary a glance from the road," he wrote.
Unfortunately, we've also found the Bluetooth system to be reliably unreliable. "The pairing process is inconsistent," Timmins noted. "Some days it's ready by the time you're at the end of the driveway. Other days it takes you all the way to work before it recognizes that your device is in the car. Annoying." He's not the only peeved staffer who has noted phone-pairing issues, either. "It took three tries to finally pair my phone to the car," said associate editor Donny Nordlicht. "The one that did it required shutting the car off, opening the door to cut the power, and then restarting it." Despite that, Nordlicht's overall opinion of the system remains high. "All other aspects of the infotainment system are responsive, quick, and easy to use."