Car makers the world over are in the early stages of leveraging smartphones for fine-tuned control over their vehicles. From remote starting to door lock status to full-blown diagnostic and monitoring, the companion app for your new car may be the most important option to consider the next time you go to the dealership.
RLX, MDX and TLX models with the additional AcuraLink Connect Package Subscription can use Acura’s app to remotely lock, unlock, flash the lights or sound the horn. Users find it to be unhelpful, slow and frustrating, especially because the only thing the app does consistently is make you enter your password every time you want to use it.
Audi’s host of app’s are largely superficial, which makes some sense since their new Virtual Cockpit HUD in the car itself is an impressive feat of technology. However, one particular model—the A3 e-tron to be specific—gets some fantastic app-love. Audi does seem to stumble out of the gate since registering the app to your car is a big process that doesn’t always go smoothly but, if you’re in the lucky bunch of people who have the A3 e-tron, got through the registration process, and are savvy enough to know what to do with it, Audi’s e-tron-specific app will let you monitor battery levels, remotely control in-car climate, track usage and routes taken, and even schedule timers for several of the car’s functions.
Bimmer’s app has definitely hiccuped over the years with stories about certain models not having the right connectivity hardware and then mysteriously working despite no change to said hardware. When the BMW Connected app does work, it offers remote status of many systems within the vehicle, even able to check if your car’s moonroof was accidentally left open. Unfortunately, that’s where the useful stuff ends and what’s left is largely diagnostic redundancies of information you would normally get from the car’s dashboard itself.
GM’s app actually offers a lot of tech-forward options for their vehicles (Chevy, Caddy, GMC). Registering car to app genuinely seems streamlined here in comparison to other car makers and gives the vaunted “remote start” option to your little slice of Detroit heaven. Tire pressure monitoring, fuel levels, remote starts, remote alarms, even on-star integration are all present in GM’s app that does exactly what an app should do—be a better version of your key fob.
Ford has opted for simplicity when it comes to their app, the perks of which are only accessible to those who pay for their car to have a subscription to its services. Mimicking that of a minimalist key fob, the remote access app has only four buttons; lock, unlock, find and start. For most Ford owners who are already getting fantastic phone integration via the Microsoft Sync systems found in most Ford vehicles, that’s enough.
The official vehicle maker of the NFL has officially pissed off a lot of their customers by charging for app connectivity that rarely works. It’s a cool idea to remote start your car and remote set your temperature so it’s perfect when you get in it. It’s a lot less cool when you thought you started your car only to arrive at it and find out it never turned on.
Infiniti, in our own experience, tends to be on the bleeding edge in terms of bringing tech to their vehicles. Surround cameras and well-designed touchscreens have been hallmarks of Nissan’s bigger brother for a while now. Their app is rather ho-hum but it does hit all the right points and has a couple big-brother-esque features, like Drive Zones, to tell you when your car is going off somewhere it doesn't belong.
8. Land Rover
If you’re rocking around in a newer Land or Range Rover, you know that the thing has more options than most cars out there. Land Rover’s app does its best to address the toggles on all those options in a single place. Security settings let you check to make sure you’ve completely locked your car and GPS lets you find it in a busy parking lot. You can also explore the trips you’ve taken, ostensibly for when you need your company to reimburse you for expenses.
Like some of the other car makers out there, Lexus offers up an entire suite of apps but, honestly, who the hell needs Lexus to tell them movie times? The nuts and bolts remote app, on the other hand, is supposed to perform similar functions to the Land Rover app we described above. Unfortunately, the app was last updated in November of 2016 and, according to Lexus owners, have been a buggy disaster since. Carrying a $250 subscription annually, it seems Lexus owners should hold out until the luxury brand can get their act together.
10. Mercedes Benz
The Bavarians continue attempting to push the limits of what a remote app can do for their cars. Of course, like their cars themselves, that comes at a premium. Aside from the usual lock/unlock/remote start functions, Benz also includes a valet mode on its newer vehicles that will alert you when your car is being moved without authorization. It’s a piece of security usually reserved as an aftermarket addition and we’re happy to see it make its way into OEM options instead.
We’ve seen good things from Porsche’s app, but it does have some inexplicable omissions in it that are headscratchers; namely that you can lock your doors, but unlocking is not an option. What’s left are some nicely integrated options for unlocking, mirror-folding and climate control from inside the car or out.
No list about car tech can be complete without Tesla. Easily the highest rated app (and car company) on this list, Tesla’s app gives a more extensive diagnostic about the car than other apps, mostly because a Tesla actually has more systems to maintain than your average vehicle. Still, in terms of reliability, Tesla’s app seems head and shoulders above the competition, even if it’s missing a remote start function.
We can’t help but think that VW’s app may have actually be the cause of their recent emissions scandal since the app reads and charts some serious detail about your car’s economy. Remote locking and climate control are present, but it’s the diagnostic info contained in the app that’ll be keeping our focus going forward.