Apple CarPlay started out as a luxury feature, but these days the slick iOS connectivity feature can be found in vehicles for every budget. If you are unfamiliar with CarPlay, you might think it makes playing music from your phone easier in your vehicle. Sure, it does that, but also so much more. Think of it as software that allows your vehicle’s infotainment screen to become a large iPhone. You’ll have access to Audible, messaging, podcasts, Spotify, and many more, all with the familiar iOS look, functionality, and massive app store. If you have an iPhone or a MacBook, keep the Apple ecosystem going in your ride, with one of these great vehicles that support CarPlay. It’s the closest you can get to an iCar, for now.
The mid-size truck segment had shrank over the past two decades, seeing the end of the Dodge Dakota, Ford Ranger, Chevy S-10, and Mazda B-series. Finally there was only the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma, until the all-new second generation 2015 Chevrolet Colorado hit the streets after a three-year hiatus. Apparently the truck went to grad school during that time, as it came back smart with the welcomed inclusion of Apple CarPlay. In addition to the perfect size, attractive front end, and new Apple technology, the Colorado offers a choice of four- or six-cylinder gas engines, and the class’s first 2.8L turbo diesel for full-size torque and towing. The interior looks and feels like a more expensive truck, and long-term reliability scores have been high. Vehicle critics and Colorado owners love it, and received validation in the form of MotorTrend’s Truck of the Year award.
Small SUVs and crossovers are probably the hottest segment right now, and Jeep jumped in with a winner in 2015. The subcompact Renegade is a Fiat 500X underneath that body, but while it is a “cute ute,” it’s also a real Jeep, complete with optional Trail Rated badging and equipment. Front-wheel drive is standard, but four-wheel drive is available in all trim levels. The top of the line Trailhawk trim adds a lift kit, alloy wheels, and protective skid plates. Chicago Tribune called it the only off-road capable vehicle in its class. Not only does the inclusion of Apple CarPlay make this ride smart, but 4WD Selec-Terrain system allows you to take off from a stop in snow, or not dig a trench in mud. UConnect has matured into a solid infotainment system with its 6.0 release, and now supports CarPlay. The Renegade delivers surprising interior space thanks to its blocky shape. If you’re taller than 6’2″, do yourself a favor and get the sunroof for a dramatic increase in headroom.
US News ranks the Kia Soul #1 in compact cars, as it looks like an Otterbox case, and it’s just as useful. Kia’s best-selling model is function-over-form, but like an iPhone, that functional minimalism makes its own design statement. A repeat visitor to Car & Driver‘s 10 Best list, the Soul is surprisingly charming, like a low-key Mini Cooper. With 97 cubic feet of room for the passengers, and 24 cu/ft for cargo, it holds more than the Mazda CX3 or Nissan Juke. The interior matches the slightly quirky design, but in an inoffensive way, and it’s practically laid out with roomy seating for five. Kia’s UVO infotainment system matched with an eight-inch display makes for a great combo. Like CarPlay, the Soul just works.
If the Subaru Crosstrek were a person, it would be a buff hipster MIT grad with a man bun. It certainly stands out in a crowd, but with an assist from CarPlay, it’s also smart and capable for everyday life. Based on the capable Impreza, the Crosstrek quickly exceeded the original car in sales. This is probably due to the increased storage capacity, raised ground clearance, and avant-garde exterior design. It’s a funky and bold design that slots between the regular Impreza sedan and the larger Outback wagon. It’s fun too, with a rare for the class five-speed manual, if you don’t want the optional CVT to handle shifting. The 2.0L flat four cylinder is proficient and gets solid gas mileage, scoring mid-30s on the highway. Car & Driver called it an athletic chassis, and the brakes didn’t fade even in mountain descent tests. If you’re looking for a vehicle with no competitors, this is your entirely different ride.
Want a compact crossover that thinks it’s a driver’s car? The VW Tiguan is based on the Golf, and carries over the sport compact’s direct steering feel and inspired chassis. The turbocharged 2.0L inline four cylinder generates 200 horsepower, and backed by a six-speed auto, the Tiguan offers a sporty driving experience in a practical crossover that you can live with every day. There’s 24 cubic feet with the seats up, and 54 cu/ft in back. The interior has a stately German accent, but it translates well even at this affordable end of the segment. CarPlay works as well as the rest of the interior. Safety was obviously a part of the initial design, with 4.5 stars from NHTSA, “Good” scores from IIHS, and five stars from NCAP. The Tiguan was entirely redesigned for 2018 as a larger three-row SUV. While the sport decreased as the weight increased, the added tech and safety features might be worth a look.
Stately design, perfect ergonomics, capability, massive storage, and a high price of entry. Nope, it’s not the iMac Pro, but the excellent Volvo XC90. Since 2015, the second generation XC90 has delivered uncompromising luxury in a standout utility vehicle. The design is Volvo’s new classy global design language, and it’s a winner. The suspension is double wishbone at all four corners with springs similar to the Corvette. That means cornering capability is unrivaled in an SUV this size, while still offering a smooth ride. The interior looks like something out of a five-star hotel, with everything leather and metal. The large nine-inch center screen is like an HD tablet, featuring CarPlay and a Wi-Fi hotspot generator. The XC90 has some of the very best seats available in a vehicle, at any price point, and the Tesla-level air filtration system can protect you from the airborne zombie plague. Oh, and the center console shift knob is made of crystal. Go test drive one and you won’t buy anything else.