Combining smartphones and driving is a recipe for disaster — unless you have a system to keep your hands free and your eyes on the road. In a presentation this week, Honda rolled out its latest connected car technology in the 2014 Civic, making the central console in the vehicle function just like a mobile device, complete with a 7-inch capacitive touch screen.
Although the 2013 Accord, a four-door sedan, represented Honda's first foray into connected car technology, its 2014 Civic (available beginning Dec. 4, starting at $18,190) aims to provide a more comprehensive system. One big upgrade is the addition of Apple's Siri Eyes Free feature, which allows owners of the iPhone 5 and later iPhone models to use voice commands.
The new Civic actually has two smart car interfaces: Display Audio and HondaLink.
Display Audio is the simpler feature of the two. A 7-inch touch screen on the car's central console allows drivers (and front-seat passengers) to access music, audiobooks, vehicle information (like maintenance reminders) and navigation features. Pandora fans will be pleased to know that the popular Internet radio service is one of the default audio options.
HondaLink is considerably more robust, and relies on a user's smartphone (iOS or Android) instead of the Civic's built-in hardware and software. After connecting your smartphone to HondaLink, the service offers four primary options: Connect, Navigation, Aha and Launcher.
Connect lets users access weather and maintenance information, and Navigation is a standard GPS directions feature. Aha is a comprehensive app that offers audio, social media and local interest information. The Launcher can also connect other approved apps with the Display Audio screen for more convenient access.
The Display Audio and HondaLink features will be accessible via steering-wheel controls as well, to help keep drivers' hands exactly where they need to be.
iPhone users will also be interested to know that Siri's Eyes Free mode will be compatible with the Civic 2014 — a first for a Honda vehicle (although a handful of other cars — including Acuras, BMWs and Chevrolets — already support this feature).
Siri Eyes Free is an automobile-specific configuration of Apple's voice-activated Siri navigation tool. In the Civic, users will be able to issue commands to Siri by pressing down a button on the steering wheel, provided their iPhone is hooked up to the car via Bluetooth.
At present, HondaLink only supports the iPhone 5, 5s and 5c, although a similar feature for Android phones, called Android Mirrorlink, will be supported in 2014.
While these features may be useful for prospective Civic buyers, there's no push so far to make every Honda car connected. The next connected car is currently slated to be the 2015 Honda Fit.
Everything that the 2014 Civic offers has been done before by other manufacturers (although not necessarily in the same price range). During the presentation, Honda representatives promised that future apps would take full advantage of the car as an immersive, powerful connected platform, but they declined to say what that actually means. For right now, you essentially get smartphone apps on a friendlier screen, along with voice control, if you have the right phone.
The 2014 Civic does not promise anything revolutionary for the automobile market at large but may be worth a look from loyal Honda buyers or technophiles in the market for a new ride.
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