In-Car Tech

Here's everything you need to know about FCA's UConnect 5

Uconnect 5 takes a logical leap into the future by helping FCA catch up with other brands' in-car software technology and capability.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

FCA's infotainment system is generally regarded as one of the best. Now, that system is getting a makeover as part of a generational redesign. Uconnect 5 will go live in vehicles this year.

Why is this generation so important?

Before, different vehicles and brands had various facets of the Uconnect system. Uconnect 5 is scalable across all FCA brands and, according to a release, "lays a foundation, bringing access to a broad catalog of applications to answer the rapidly developing demand for an improved user experience (UX)."

FCA Uconnect 5 2020Users are able to choose the look of their Uconnect screen based on what functionality they use most. Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

In a nutshell, that means that no matter what FCA vehicle you hope behind the wheel of, the infotainment system user experience will be pretty much the same.

It's built on an Android operating system but that doesn't mean it's only interacts with Android phones.

Basically, the Android platform is what coding, etc. the system uses in the background. Uconnect 5 is able to connect with any number of non-Android devices as part of its functionality.

UConnect 5 allows for deeper personalization.

Personalization is one of the things that a recent survey by Lexus revealed as a highlight of a true luxury experience. It's something more buyers are seeking. Uconnect 5 is an Android-based operating system that features several fully-customizable interfaces and allow users to store up to five different profiles. These profiles store a user's favorite temperature, seating position and mirror placement settings, among other features.

UConnect 5 is adaptable.

FCA products have three different types of screen layouts - portrait, landscape, and square. Engineers worked to make the Uconnect 5 UX fit each of the different screens. Screen graphics can be customized for every vehicle and trim level.

Uconnect 5 allows users to customize their screen to put the icons they most frequently touch in the locations that make the best sense for them.

FCA Uconnect 5 2020Users can personalize their Uconnect 5 experience. ©Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

This version of the system uses a card-based format. This makes grouping functions and simplifying the screen possible for users based on their preference. FCA says that, "once inside a card, information and icons can be accessed in no more than two button pushes."

It's five times faster than UConnect 4.

Sure, the Uconnect 4 system was good and responsive, but five times faster?! I'l take it.

There's an Alexa skill.

Amazon Alexa-enabled devices are able to connect directly to the Uconnect 5 system. Users can interact with Alexa in the vehicle and connect with their Alexa enabled device at home, the office, or beyond. FCA says, "... occupants can ask Alexa to play music, podcasts and audiobooks; add items to their to-do list; check news, weather, traffic, sports and other real-time information; and access tens of thousands of Alexa skills. Responses and streaming audio are delivered through the vehicle's audio system, allowing anyone in the entire vehicle to easily interact with Alexa."

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will now be on 100 percent of FCA's North American vehicle offerings.

The public is asking for it and FCA has listened. Uconnect 5 also adds wireless connectivity for the systems.

FCA Uconnect 5 2020Voice recognition is a big part of the system and helps keep eyes on the road. Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Uconnect 5 will recognize your voice.

This system marks the first time Uconnect will have voice recognition available on all product lines. It will have software, microphone technology, and natural voice capability. That means that the system can understand conversational commands like, "Find an available EV charging station near me."FCA says that the system also works when there's a high level of background noise. That's good for Wrangler buyers who want to use voice recognition and take their doors off on a sunny day.

The Uconnect wake up word varied by vehicle brand.

Want to use voice recognition? Say the name of the vehicle brand you're driving. For example, "Hey Chrysler, change the temperature to 70 degrees." Will this force customers still referring to their pickup truck as a "Dodge Ram" to finally realize it's just "Ram"? Only time will tell.

Two phones can be connected at once.

Two phones in the vehicle will be able to connect to Uconnect's Bluetooth simultaneously. The system can manage input from both at the same time but one can be given priority in the system over the other.

Navigation is built-in.

FCA's navigation system, like Subaru's, is powered by TomTom. The system now includes traffic as well as EV and connect services.

Similar to how navigation works on your phone, there's one-box search functionality. Unlike with smartphones, the system works even without internet connectivity.

There are also last mile directions if walking once parked is necessary. Those directions can then be carried with the driver when they exit the car via the Uconnect smartphone app.

Unlike personal devices, even without internet connectivity, search and guidance continue to work with the system simply switching to offline map data.

The system offers navigation routes based on how much juice you have left.

According to FCA, "Dynamic Range Mapping helps the driver to visualize the vehicle's range by displaying on the map how far they can drive with current fuel/charge levels. If the range is insufficient to make it to the selected destination, Uconnect 5 will make suggestions for recharging /refueling with a cost comparison. A warning appears on-screen, prompting the user to choose a charging point/fuel station which is available and within range."

FCA Uconnect 5 2020The Uconnect 5 system is more integrated with the world around the vehicle allowing for more a more customized user experience. Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

By 2022, FCA will offer more than 30 nameplates with electrified powertrains, half of which are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or battery-electric vehicles.

Uconnect is finally getting a mobile app.

Most automakers now offer an app that connects owners to their vehicles. Using FCA's Uconnect app, drivers can start their car's engine, lock or unlock the vehicle, or receive a notification. According to the automaker, "Assist Call, owners can contact the Uconnect customer care team for help with their vehicle or instructions on using a Uconnect system. Stolen Vehicle Assistance can help police track a vehicle's location and Family Drive Alerts delivers notifications to concerned parents when boundary, curfew or speed limits are broken. Owners can also receive a notification when someone else drives the vehicle while in Valet Alert mode."

The system can also push notifications to the driver about needing an oil change or other necessary maintenance requirements.

Uconnect's navigation now has multi-lane guidance, like Apple CarPlay.

Instead of trying to figure out which lane you're supposed to be in based on a small drawing on a screen feet from the driver's face and off to the side, the new system offers multi-lane guidance directly in front of the driver, projecting the information as well as speed camera, traffic and hazard warnings to the vehicle's cluster screen.

SiriusXM with 360L is no longer exclusive but you can still get it.

Uconnect 5 will offer FCA product buyers a 12-month trial of SiriusXM with 360L when the purchase a new vehicle. SiriusXM with 360L offers personalized programming powered by Pandora with hours of downloadable content, including live sports, free on-demand shows and performances, and interviews.

FCA Uconnect 5 2020Users can pay for gas using a credit card without having to swipe at the pump. Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Uconnect 5 allows drivers to order food and reserve a table while behind the wheel.

Called Uconnect Marketplace, the cloud-based in-vehicle commerce platform allows users to over food, find the nearest gas station, save money on fuel purchases and make dinner reservations, all from the comfort of the vehicle. Drivers can also locate and pay for nearby parking, authorize pump-and-pay fuel stations, and schedule service appointments at FCA dealerships.

Uconnect 5 interacts with a faster Wi-Fi hot spot.

FCA has improved their 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot with speeds that are now five times faster. The hot spot can connect with up to eight devices. Each Uconnect 5 equipped vehicle comes with a complementary three-month in-car internet subscription.

The screen has a night mode.

Dimming the screen only goes so far. FCA has developed night mode functionality for Uconnect that helps reduce eye strain whether driving through tunnels or along the road at night. There are independent settings for each of the screens in the vehicle.

Uconnect can updated itself over the air.

Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) updates will allow FCA to push updated software to your vehicle. This works in a similar fashion to the way your computer, smartphone, or tablet lets you know that there's an update available.

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The Hemi Orange package brings unqiue style to the Durango.

Dodge

The Dodge Durango isnt the newest or most refined SUV on the market, but it offers great comfort, good tech, and a handful of raucous powertrian options. The long-running family hauler is due for an update, but in the meantime, Dodge has given it a new Hemi Orange package with unique styling touches.

Dodge already offers the Hemi Orange package fo the Challenger and Charger, and now it's available for the three-row Durango. The package is available for the R/T trim, which comes with a 5.7-liter V8.

Dodge Durango Hemi OrangeDodge offers four exterior colors with the package. Dodge

Much of the Orange package's content comes on the outside, where Dodge adds orange and gunmetal hod stripes, black taillights, and grey/orange badging. The SUV rides on black 20-inch wheels, and Dodge offers different black "Lights Out" 20-inch wheels. Four exterior colors are available: Destroyer Grey, Diamond Black, Octane Red, and White Knuckle. Inside, the Durango gets orange sticthing and unique patterns in the upholstery. Dodge says the stitching extends throughout the interior, including to the gauge cluster, armrests, console lid, and steering wheel.

Two upgrades are available for the Hemi Orange Durango. The first is the Orange Plus Package, which adds a power sunroof, a 19-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, and a load of driver aids. The Tow N Go package is available for four-wheel drive models, and brings the 20-inch Lights Out wheels, orange brake calipers, and a Bilstein high-performance suspension system.

The Durango R/T Hemi Orange is available now. It carries a price tag of $1,995. The Orange Plus package costs $4,500 and the Tow N Go package costs $5,095.

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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