Five all-new utility vehicles from Acura, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Lincoln and Subaru make up half of this year’s Wards 10 Best UX list, illustrating that a first-rate user experience goes hand-in-hand with daily functionality in the industry’s hottest growth segment.
For the third year in a row, WardsAuto editors recognize exemplary user experiences with its 10 Best UX competition to honor new and significantly improved vehicles for their driver-assistance technologies, connectivity, digital displays, voice-activation systems, intuitive controls and infotainment.
This year’s winners in alphabetical order (with sticker prices as tested):
- Acura RDX ($48,395)
- BMW 640i ($84,010)
- Cadillac CT6 ($76,515)
- Chevrolet Equinox ($39,655)
- Ford Mustang ($51,470)
- Hyundai Santa Fe ($36,555)
- Lincoln Navigator ($96,150)
- Ram 1500 ($66,650)
- Subaru Ascent ($45,670)
- Volkswagen Jetta ($27,795)
“It’s important that we pay tribute to the automakers that are focused on making it easy and enjoyable for consumers to interact with their vehicles,” WardsAuto Senior Content Director Drew Winter says. “Nobody wants to be frustrated by technologies that seem like a great idea in the lab but turn out to be annoying in the real world.”
In July and August, editors evaluated and scored 25 vehicles available in the U.S. with all-new or re-engineered UX features such as display screens, interfaces or apps. There is no price cap, but overall value is a consideration.
Similar to our evaluations for Wards 10 Best Engines and 10 Best Interiors, judges interact with and drive the vehicles during their routine daily commutes in metro Detroit.
The editors pair their phones, use entertainment apps, program navigation destinations and search for radio stations with voice commands and test the functionality of adaptive cruise control, lane-centering and blindspot detection.
Acura scores a technological coup with its innovative True Touchpad, located in the center console of the ’19 RDX and proportioned to provide a one-to-one interface with the screen above. The new device is so logical and intuitive it earns extra points from our judges. (Click here for Acura RDX gallery.)
We look for consistency in measuring UX performance, and Acura’s new approach is so dependable a driver’s focus rarely is diverted from the road ahead. When one does need to look away from the bright, clear HUD and instrument cluster, the eye-level center screen offers clear and concise information at a glance.
The RDX also benefits from Honda’s excellent driver-assistance systems, many of which were introduced on the ’18 Odyssey minivan. Judges praise the reliable full-range adaptive cruise control as well as a lane-keeping system that endeavors to guide the RDX in the center of the lane.
The BMW 640i GT delivers outstanding functionality, impeccable audio, easy-to-manage systems, voice messaging, an almost hologram-like head-up display and the industry’s first wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity. (Click here for BMW 640i gallery.)
Driver-assistance systems are spot-on, providing steady steering correction, smooth and assured braking and precise stop-and-go adaptive cruise control.
BMW’s iDrive, now in its sixth generation since the German automaker introduced the idea of a single-knob controller 17 years ago, now is so intuitive to operate that we prefer it over many other systems in the marketplace. And while gesture control is still in its infancy, our judges find it fun and reliable.
In vehicles with myriad systems competing for attention – especially so-called driver’s cars like BMWs – having a dependable voice control system like the 640i’s allows the driver to keep focus on the road and thumbs off the smartphone.
We could say Cadillac’s stunning Super Cruise hands-and-pedal-free semi-autonomous driving feature is enough by itself to put the CT6 in the winner’s circle, but the luxury sedan features far more than its industry-leading driver-assistance system when it comes to user experience. (Click here for Cadillac CT6 gallery.)
Our judges are wowed by the CT6’s welcoming approach sequence in which the headlights blink alive, puddle lamps and door-handle pockets light up, and Cadillac-logo sill plates illuminate. Another voice-command winner in our evaluations, the CT6 prompts many judges to eschew its touchpad in favor of verbal commands backed by touchscreen and steering-wheel controls.
Then there’s Super Cruise. Not even Tesla with its much-ballyhooed AutoPilot offers this level of driver assistance, while guaranteeing the safety of occupants and fellow motorists.
Super Cruise performs flawlessly, from long-distance drives to rainy commutes to bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic. One judge even suffered the first reported case of Super Cruise-induced driver boredom, watching the road from behind the CT6’s green steering-wheel illumination indicating the system is active.
From the value end of the Wards 10 Best UX list comes the remarkably well-equipped and capable Chevrolet Equinox. We admit nearly $40,000 is pricey for a family runabout, but we’ve seen less UX content, connectivity and versatility in vehicles at twice the price. (Click here for Chevy Equinox gallery.)
Our judges are impressed by the Equinox’s redesigned, highly legible fonts and clear resolution on its large center touchscreen, providing easy access to audio settings, navigation and mapping, with cellphone-like pinch-to-zoom capability.
The Chevy’s strong voice controls win points as well, with easy and natural prompts resulting in lightning-fast and nearly 100% accurate responses. Judges like how the system responds with a “Yes?” prompt when the voice-activation button is pushed.
The driver-assistance package is excellent at detecting and pacing other vehicles on the road and does a good job of alerting the driver and making subtle corrections to keep the vehicle in its lane.
The Ford Mustang GT wows us with pure driving enjoyment as much as with its trick electronics and alluring gauges. We’re getting used to brand-specific puddle lamps, but we still get a kick out of the Mustang’s pony logo projected on the pavement every time we approach the car. (Click here for Ford Mustang gallery.)
Backed by Ford’s unflappable Sync3 voice and connectivity system, the Mustang starts out on solid ground with simple and easy phone pairing and straightforward voice controls. Sync3 listens and responds with little fuss.
The Mustang’s midcycle refresh incorporates all-new instrumentation, and the huge, 12.0-in. (30.5-cm) reconfigurable LCD gauge cluster is a delight in every mode.
From the animated pony galloping across the instrument cluster to its wraparound “racetrack” tachometer (one of three distinct settings) to its rubber-burning electronic line-lock sequence, we find the Mustang’s displays and overall user experience perfectly reinforce its rich brand legacy.
The redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe CUV (in Ultimate trim) is loaded with exemplary UX features: two USB ports in front and two in the second row, an easy-to-reach center stack with hard buttons on either side and a 360-degree camera view to help get in and out of tight parking spaces. (Click here for Hyundai Santa Fe gallery.)
Voice control is first rate, capable of finding Starbucks and McDonalds as well as smaller, locally owned places like a quaint bed and breakfast. The Santa Fe’s head-up display is so good that some editors tended to view it more than the gauge cluster. The HUD can be customized to show loads of information, including turn-by-turn directions with crisp color and resolution. Voice controls are great, allowing quick navigation programming.
Not to be overlooked are the Santa Fe’s fantastic driver-assistance offerings, including rear cross-traffic alert that works flawlessly. Lane-keeping centers the vehicle while alerting the driver with a gentle torque nudge. Stop-and-go adaptive cruise control responds in a natural way, accelerating reasonably fast when the car ahead moves or changes lanes.
The Lincoln Navigator, already a Wards 10 Best Interiors winner this year, earns UX honors for doing so many things so well. (Click here for Lincoln Navigator gallery.)
From the sidestep that deploys and greets the approaching driver like a rolled-out red carpet to the seemingly infinite options for customizing functions and information displays, Lincoln designers and engineers left no stone unturned in delivering an unforgettable user experience.
The softly lit, high-resolution screens provide a dazzling light show at startup, and the Navigator goes on to check all our UX boxes: a wireless phone charger, excellent driver-assistance systems, third-row USB ports, top-notch voice activation, lightning-fast phone pairing, a WiFi hotspot, standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and transmission shift buttons to free up center-console space.
The Navigator’s head-up display stays bright even when the driver has polarized lenses, and the 3D mapping graphics are the most realistic we’ve seen this year.
And what user experience is not elevated by merlot-colored leather, a rocking sound system and massaging seats?
The Ram 1500 also earned Wards 10 Best Interiors honors earlier this year and now lands a 10 Best UX trophy. It is loaded with driver-assistance technology and clever features to reinforce the user experience for everyone from fishermen to carpenters. (Click here for Ram 1500 gallery.)
Let’s not lose sight of the Ram 1500’s groundbreaking infotainment hub: a 12-in. (30-cm) vertical touchscreen that only could fit – dimensionally and aesthetically – in a fullsize pickup.
Everything happens on this screen: Uconnect phone pairing, audio and media control, climate adjustments and upgraded navigation. Newly offered is Sirius XM with 360L, a seamless music, sports and entertainment service allowing personal profiles to be synced with a mobile phone so the occupant can keep listening after leaving the car.
The touchscreen can be customized – for instance portraying in the Longhorn model a backdrop that resembles rugged leather – and can display images from a rear-facing camera to help the driver hitch a trailer. Directly in front of the driver, a new 7-in. (18-cm) TFT cluster carries over the rugged animated leather backdrop, bookended by two analog gauges brilliantly finished in bronze filigree.
The Subaru Ascent is an all-new three-row CUV, the largest vehicle ever produced by the Japanese automaker and positioned to capitalize on America’s love for liftgates. (Click here for Subaru Ascent gallery.)
One of our 10 Best UX judging criteria identifies ways a vehicle surprises and delights occupants, and the Ascent delivers with its upscale materials, generous proportions and jazzy start-up sequence that projects a starry sky animation across three screens on the instrument panel.
Subaru redesigned its interface a few years ago with the launch of the Impreza, followed by the Crosstrek, and now the Ascent benefits from this excellent system with hard buttons for audio, apps and navigation, as well as volume and tuning.
From there, the 8-in. (20-cm) Starlink multimedia touchscreen opens a world of possibilities: Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, quick smartphone pairing, audio streaming and traffic information.
The Ascent delivers on multiple fronts: USB ports in all three rows, a bladder-busting 19 cupholders, 120V power outlet, excellent Harman Kardon sound system and worthy driver-assistance systems anchored by camera-based EyeSight, a pioneering collision-avoidance technology.
The least-expensive vehicle making this year’s list – and yet impressively equipped – is Volkswagen’s popular Jetta compact sedan, now redesigned for its seventh generation as a ’19 model.
Despite its modest $27,795 price, the new Jetta employs upscale materials and leaves no indication that shoppers on a budget need to settle for less. (Click here for VW Jetta gallery.)
The Digital Cockpit reconfigurable instrument cluster appears for the first time in a Jetta, delivering breathtaking graphics, mapping and functionality and typically found until now in much more expensive Audi and Porsche luxury cars.
Other UX features not commonly found in small cars: ventilated front seats, BeatsAudio premium sound, quick and easy Bluetooth phone pairing, text-to-voice messaging and a first-ever gentle reminder that is greatly appreciated by the absent-minded: a message at vehicle shutoff that reads, “Please do not forget your cell phone.”
The redesigned 8-in. (20-cm) Discover Media touchscreen is easy to read, intuitive and chock full of vehicle information and entertainment options, without being overwhelming.
Completing the Jetta user experience is a full suite of driver-assistance technologies that instill driver confidence: adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning and lane keeping assist, to name just a few of the features.
The 2018 Wards 10 Best UX winners will be honored at a special ceremony during the WardsAuto User Experience Conference on Oct. 2 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, MI.
Winning vehicles will be on display. For more information about the daylong conference, click here.
Visit WardsAuto in the coming days for additional articles, videos and photos from the 2018 Wards 10 Best UX competition.