How Apple CarPlay turns the 2018 Hyundai Kona into a better car

If you buy a crossover at the low price of $19,500 (about £15,000, AU$27,000), you might not expect there to be too many high-tech features. Many crossover models from Lexus, Chevrolet, and Ford cost well north of $20,000 (about £15,300, AU$28,200). The newly introduced 2019 Ford Edge costs almost $30,000 (about £23,000, AU$42,200).

The 2018 Hyundai Kona is a different beast, though. For under $20,000, you won’t find high-tech features like pedestrian detection, braking mitigation, or even adaptive cruise control (at least in the model I tested). However, the Kona does support both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and that turns the center display into an all-purpose car computer.

Familiar and easy

I tested CarPlay with a brand new iPhone XS Max on loan from Apple. The connection worked perfectly after selecting an option to allow CarPlay to work and accepting the connection on my phone. Immediately, the display changed from only a few basic options for radio and navigation into a familiar interface designed by Apple for ease-of-use.

Photo credit: Josiah Bondy

I tested making phones calls to myself on another phone, started a new GPS nav route, played music from the Google Play Music app, and talked to Siri. On the Kona, you can configure a button on the steering column to activate Siri after a short press or a long press. Using the voice assistant while I was driving, I asked about the weather, concerts in my area, the hours at the library, and left myself an entire grocery store list without ever taking my eyes off the road.

I’ve tested CarPlay many times before, but mostly on higher-end cars like an Audi A6 and a Ford Expedition that already offered many tech features. What impressed me about CarPlay and the Kona is that, if I was the buyer for this entry-level crossover, I’d be happy to find out I can use a digital assistant, a familiar navigation system, and control all of my music easily.

Voice only

I’ve been testing cars for about seven years now (and working as a journalist for 17 years). This trend of using the user interface from Apple or Google (with the Android Auto operating system) is one that has lasted for a few years, and the car companies must be happy with the arrangement.

Photo credit: Josiah Bondy

The car features on a lower-end vehicle priced for everyday drivers and not the luxury market are a good match for Apple and Google, which could take advantage of this market condition by enhancing their offerings even more, and eventually by partnering with companies like Hyundai to tap into the car systems. I could see CarPlay working with the climate settings soon, allow you to set the temperature by voice. With Google, drivers could set up a payment system as well to pay for your McDonald’s order in the drive-thru lane.

It’s certainly coming. Maybe someday the Apple interface will be the only thing you see, including the speedometer, some of the safety systems, the radio, the voice control, and all of the climate control settings. This would free the car companies up to worry less about the car interface and more about actually making sure the safety features work.

Photo credit: Josiah Bondy

For now, the Kona is a basic crossover that I liked mostly because of the price and the fact that it has a no-frills design. It’s enhanced greatly by the genius of Apple. 

 On The Road is TechRadar's regular look at the futuristic tech in today's hottest cars. John Brandon, a journalist who's been writing about cars for 12 years, puts a new car and its cutting-edge tech through the paces every week. One goal: To find out which new technologies will lead us to fully driverless cars.  

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