Hooniverse Asks: What's the Worst Infotainment System You've Ever Experienced?

Here in the car world, we get exposed to a lot of different manufacturers’ wares, and it’s occasionally a struggle to remember just how a particular car does a particular function. It’s not too bad determining whether you push or pull the right-hand stalk to get the wipers going, but when it comes to changing a radio station, or god help you, figuring out how to turn off a blasting heater when controlled by some inscrutable touch screen, it can make you question your sanity.
Fortunately, most present day infotainment systems, those big screens in the center stack, only control the audio, maybe nav, and interface with your mobile phone. That doesn’t mean that car company’s can’t make them frustratingly obtuse in their operation. Take Honda for example. For some reason, Honda decided to replace the standard for a century volume control knob on their CR-V’s system with an ’80s-chic chiclet-sized rocker. It’s non-intuitive, slow to use, and only partially redeemed by redundant controls on the steering wheel. Why did they do this? Well, apparently because they wanted to hide the CD slot behind the LCD display, requiring it to motor out of position should you want to use that antiquated audio medium. Honda has thankfully gifted buyers of their 2018 CR-V with a proper volume knob. 
The thing of it is, Honda’s system, knob or not, is still not as awful to use as is Toyota’s. Seriously, what the hell, Toyota? Infotainment systems don’t need to be so bad. In my experience Kia’s system isn’t awful, nor surprisingly is Mitsubishi’s. In fact, one of the better ones I’ve used of late is Volkswagen’s heavily revamped MiB system that debuted on their lineup in 2016. What about you, have you experienced the frustration of having to decipher a non-intuitive infotainment system, perhaps on a new car, or worse a rental that you’ll never see again? What in your experience has been the worst experience you’ve had with one?
Image: Engadget

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23 responses to “Hooniverse Asks: What's the Worst Infotainment System You've Ever Experienced?”

  1. P161911 Avatar

    American cars still came standard with crap like this well into the 1980s.
    Digital tuning was a godsend. Those push button presets never brought it back to quite the right station. Also, crap like this is why Crutchfield exists.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Tbh, round dial FM band radios are really no problem at all to my mind. Scanning, fine tuning, listening is a finger tip exercise of mere seconds. It does come from someone who decluttered by throwing out radio and TV 13+ years ago though…

    2. outback_ute Avatar

      It is a bit of a stretch to call that “infotainment!”
      Also, at least you can use it without having to consult an 800-page manual…

  2. Maymar Avatar

    My ’93 Escort (admittedly, bought for $100) came with two factory radios. One had an unlistenable cassette player (really fuzzy. Broken head or something?), and the one I used had a short so it’d frequently lose my presets and go to the lowest station available.
    As far as modern systems go, I was driving a new Nissan Rogue for a few days last week, and the voice commands are a little obtuse. Most of the ones I’ve dealt with are as simple as hit the button and “tune [band and station name]”. Nissan wants you to specify it’s an audio command first (after sitting through instructions), and then only their specific way of phrasing to tune to a specific station. And most of the time, it got me wrong (trying to tune to First Wave as either thirty-three or three-three got me to channel 83 either way).

  3. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

    “In fact, one of the better ones I’ve used of late is Volkswagen’s heavily revamped MiB…”
    You are mistaken. MiB doesn’t exist.

  4. iBran Avatar

    I really like the knob-driven interfaces from BMW/MINI, Audi, and now Mazda. I think most critics of these systems just haven’t spent enough time with them — yes, there’s a learning curve that requires practice and patience, but the payoff is worth it. Navigating by gesture without having to lose focus from the road — that’s the way it should be. Forget these touchscreens and their glare and fingerprints and Windows 3.1-era UIs.
    (Honda/Acura still can’t get the knob interface right, and for some reason Mercedes-Benz’s still feels overly complicated)

  5. Wayne Moyer Avatar
    Wayne Moyer

    My first car was a ’86 Nissan Sentra and that had a nasty infotrainment center. Mostly because that four banger motor sounded horrible. It sounded really tinny and it wasn’t the kind of noise that made you want to push it hard. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a25c4ed6423572ac598fb92cd7608ace9033b3283bf25306e7121ee86a890a1b.jpg

  6. Hillman_Hunter Avatar

    I want to rip on Cadillac’s Cue, but that’s too obvious. By far the worst I’ve experienced is in the current and previous Acura MDX. Acura have somehow embedded simple controls like seat heaters and the most basic HVAC into a labyrinthine system of sub-menu and sub-sub-sub-menu, which produces a 99% probability that you’re either going to crash into something while trying to reduce heater fan speed or you’ll just drive the effing thing into a bridge abutment to be done with it.

  7. 0A5599 Avatar

    I can’t wait to read mdharrell’s take on this topic.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      Snow day! I am officially required to stay away from campus!
      Oh, um, the topic. Blah, blah, stupid MiniDisc player in the Maestro, something, something.
      Snow day!

      1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
        Wayne Moyer

        I went to the link and it said the brothel was shut down as well? Your school is amazing.

      2. tonyola Avatar

        How does it feel to be classified as non-essential personnel?

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          I can’t say it came as a surprise.

      3. 0A5599 Avatar

        Check the link again. It only says normal operations are suspended. You might still need to show up.
        Minidisc sounds way impressive for your fleet. I was really expecting something where you turn a crank to hear Pop Goes the Weasel.

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          The difference is that the crank would still work, whereas I don’t actually own any MiniDiscs.
          Nothing else in the fleet has a sound system, except for the British domestic market dual-band AM radio (LW and MW) in the Allegro.

          1. 0A5599 Avatar

            I was exaggerating about the hand crank. I actually envisioned some sort of grindstone application, with the tire providing the means for powering the music box. Maybe even have four music boxes, so whenever you “tire” of a song, just activate the music box on a different wheel.

      4. dukeisduke Avatar

        MiniDisc player? Tell us more!

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          It’s a Sony MDX-C6500R, the European-market version of the C6500X. It may be functional, for all I know. It has way too many buttons and lights so I’ve just left it to itself. The faceplate it removable as a security feature, which means I can keep it in the glove box at all times and not have to look at it.
          I’d have been happier with the stock radio or, even better, the stock blanking plate, but at least this way I can gripe about its obsolete disc format. Sony stopped supporting it shortly after I got the car, which endears it to me a little.

  8. Kiefmo Avatar

    My dad’s ’88 Dodge Ram 50 came with no infotainment, but a “radio prep kit” that was already wired to 12v, two speakers, and an antenna. He never put a radio in it, so when it became mine to drive in ’98, that was the only thing I asked for come Xmastime. So, my dad and I went to a place in town that only did car audio exclusively — a place called Custom Radio. The kind of place that almost ceased to exist after Best Buy and Circuit City really ramped up that business line.
    Anyway, we picked out a decently powerful 4-channel AIWA CD player and some Clarion speakers that would fit in the tiny 4″ speaker holes. The sound was loud, but had no bass whatsoever. To remedy this, I saved up my lawnmowing money (which I could actually do since gas was relatively cheap back then) and bought some thin speaker boxes loaded with a 8″ driver and 1″ horn, which were only 4-ohm and could be driven by the rear outputs of the AIWA head unit. I ran some speaker wire from the wiring harness, under the carpet, to the boxes that were placed behind the back seat. Now, I had some seriously loud tunes with decent bottom end in that little loud truck. It wasn’t a neighborhood-rumbling stereo, but it was awesome for the rock I listened to back then.
    Anyway, all that to say that “no infotainment at all” was the worst I’ve experienced, but luckily, I only had to put up with it for a month.

  9. Sjalabais Avatar

    For years, I’ve ended up with 15$ Chinese mp3-players w/ USB connectors in my cars. I don’t listen to music that much, but when I do, I am so old-fashioned that I want 32 GB of everything at my disposal. The issue with cheap Chinese crap though is that they don’t display any info, and show no folder structure. Navigate 8000 or so songs with a three digit number counter as your only support? That’s even beyond Soviet levels of customer trolling.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      Not being able to navigate to a specific song never bothered me, as someone who often fitted Lidl/Aldis finest SD card head units to my cars. Just loaded up a big SD card with songs, podcasts, DJ mixes and radio shows, and letting it play through over a few weeks, sort of like an offline Pandora. 😀

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Haha, that is, sort of, the only way to use them. My wife likes to mess with my mind when she has my car, and clicks herself 50 or so songs back, then smiles devilish.

  10. cap'n fast Avatar
    cap’n fast

    I once was delusional and purchased-new- a ’79 firebird (“the screaming chicken”) which had one speaker and an 8 track player in it-wiring there for the rear speaker but it was backordered. it was interesting. it was ugly. it had an oldsmobile engine with 7.5 compression ratio in it. it had a bonneville axle ratio.(2.43) it swapped ends in the south florida rain. yes indeed. infotainment. warbling one channel stereo in a car too frightening to take ones hand off the steering wheel to change the tape.
    got better after i swapped in 62cc chamber heads from a 68 cutlass. if yer gonna die any way just make sure your going as fast as you can.